Everything you pretend to know is a lie
Everyone lies about books.
Everybody pretends to have read something they haven’t. We do it for a lot of reasons. No, wait, no we don’t. We only do it for one reason. We don’t want other people to think they are smarter than us.
Be honest. If your smarmy coworker asks you what you thought of Dave Eggers’ new book, do you say:
(A.) Oh, I haven’t read it yet. You must be my intellectual superior because you have. Feel free to bring that up whenever I try to make a cogent criticism of your work.
(B.) It was all right, but I don’t think he’ll ever top “A Heartbreaking Work.”
It’s a formal nicety. Your coworker probably gleaned all of his knowledge of James Fenimore Cooper from watching “Last of the Mohicans” on TBS, but he’ll still spend his coffee break discussing Cooper’s representation of Native Americans.
Book bluffs are simple maneuvers. They mix vague opinions and undetectable lies into an impermeable shield. For the rookies, here are some simple pieces of advice when lying to your literary frenemy.
1. Defer the subject to something else you have read.
A coworker may ask you about “Finnegan’s Wake.” This is a trap. No person in the history of the universe has ever read “Finnegan’s Wake.” In fact, James Joyce didn’t finish it. Its last 100 pages are blank, but nobody’s read far enough to notice yet. When your coworker asks what you thought of “Finnegan’s Wake,” simply say you liked it less than “Dubliners” or “Portrait of the Artist.” Then, start talking about either of them instead.
Warning: This strategy is less effective if you haven’t read “Dubliners” either.
2. Give a vague opinion.
No one will ever question a vague, middling opinion, as demonstrated by my Eggers’ example. If someone asks you about a book you haven’t read, shrug and say, “It was OK, not their best work.”
If you compliment the book too much, the person will ask what you liked about it. Similarly, they may ask what your objection is if you trash it. Keep it middle of the road and they can’t question you.
(If Mr. Know-It-All persists, tell him that all opinions are subjective and, thus, valid.)
3. The University Maneuver
If someone asks you about some classic, just reply, “I haven’t read that since college. I hardly remember it.”
If you’re feeling especially saucy say, “Oh, you’re just getting to that now. I read that as a freshman.”
Warning: Do not attempt the University Maneuver with any books that have been released since you graduated. You will only make yourself look stupid.
4. Watch the movie.
Most books have been turned into movies. (I learned this when I got lost in a Blockbuster while trying to find Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze.) Don’t feel like reading “Sense and Sensibility,” rent the movie. The same works for “Pride and Prejudice,” “Wuthering Heights,” or pretty much anything by Mark Twain.
If you can’t find a movie, don’t panic, there’s normally a BBC miniseries available on Netflix.
Warning: Doublecheck the movie’s fidelity to the source material before discussing the book. Otherwise, you'll find yourself saying, “I loved how ‘The Scarlet Letter’ took a serious issue and turned it into a carefree sex romp.”
These four tips should get you through any literary discussion with a know-it-all coworker. When in doubt, mention “Finnegan’s Wake.” It’s a guaranteed endgame maneuver… unless they counter with Tolstoy in the original Russian.
--Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com