People often lie about reading classic novels, survey finds

In one episode of the sitcom “Seinfeld,” George Costanza tries to impress his girlfriend by joining a book club. The first book he has to read is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” by Truman Capote. For George, the novella is a slog: “If it’s not about sports, I find it very hard to concentrate,” he says. So he watches the movie adaptation of the novel instead.

Most people, in turns out, have done something like that to try to look smarter than they really are, according to a new British survey of 2,000 people.

The survey, widely reported in the British press on Friday, found that 62% of Britons had lied about reading classic novels. It was the single most common strategy people employed to look smarter, followed closely behind by wearing eyeglasses or changing the color of one’s hair (52%), and the supremely annoying “correcting other people’s grammar” (26%).


“Women are more likely than men to bluff that they are well read when they have often only seen literary classics dramatised in films or on TV,” the Daily Mail wrote. “But men are more likely to fib when bragging of their academic achievements and jobs. They are also twice as likely as women to cite famous quotations to appear wise and worldly.”

What are the books people most often claim to have read but really haven’t? The top 10 in the British survey are:

1. “1984" by George Orwell -- 26%

2. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy -- 19%

3. “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens -- 18%

4. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger -- 15%

5. “A Passage to India” by E.M. Forster -- 12%

6. “Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkein -- 11%

7. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee -- 10%

8. “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky -- 8%

9. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen -- 8%

10. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë -- 5%

With the exception of “The Catcher in the Rye,” all those books have been made into films. Salinger famously refused during his lifetime to sell the film rights, therefore condemning millions of people to looking stupid and having blank looks on their faces when the book is a topic of serious conversation.

Of course, George Costanza’s strategy of watching the movie instead of reading completely backfired. He didn’t realize that “Fred,” who is portrayed as heterosexual in the movie, is clearly not heterosexual in the book.

And speaking of sitcoms: The British survey was conducted as part of the publicity campaign for the release in Britain of a new DVD collection of the American series “The Big Bang Theory.”


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