Discovering the Relevance of Words
This started a few months back, and I am 100% stealing this idea from a friend of mine who I am sure does not read the site. And if he did visit the site on a whim today, probably wouldn’t choose to comment. Anyway, this friend, we’ll call him “AP Human Geography Teacher” because he teaches AP Human Geography, which, to me, sounds like anatomy– but isn’t.
For the sake of the story it is a relevant detail that AP Human Geography Teacher is smart (such that “smart” = scored a 34 on the ACT and can speak knowledgeably, albeit often arrogantly, on just about any subject including non-academic areas such as music, movies, or sports –though, it must be noted that he thinks punting on third down would be a sound strategy and Jacoby Ellsbury is not one of the fastest players in the Major League).
In setting the scene, we will say the story begins on a Tuesday. Why a Tuesday? Didn’t feel like a Monday, and a few days need to pass before the climax of the story on a Friday.
(I am playing fast and loose with the word “story’ here, what you are about read hardly qualifies as an anecdote)
I was getting my morning coffee and dropping by to say hello in the English wing when AP Human Geography Teacher drops into American Lit Teacher’s room and drops off a copy of The Great Gatsby, saying, “good book,” as he sets it down on the stack of student copies.
“You don’t have a copy?” I asked, surprised, possibly assuming it had gotten damaged in a flood or lost in a movie.
“Naw, I pretended to read it in High School.” And without thinking about what that meant I went on with my life.
Cut to Friday. For the sake of setting the scene, let’s say we are in a bar. The conversation shifts to Gatsby.
“Let’s be honest,” says AP Human Geography Teacher, “we’ve all pretended to read at least one book.”
To be clear, we were not talking about the book that you don’t read for class but hope to pass the test (and, sadly, usually do. Easily.) We’re talking about that book you did not read but have gleaned enough information about to join in on a conversation about it or quote from it. You represent to other people that you have read the book. When its name is brought up you chime in about what a great book it is. If someone makes an esoteric reference about it, you use social context to figure out if you should laugh or just shake your head. You’re pretending. We’ve all done it. We all do it a lot.
I joined in the conversation and threw out a few books that I’d pretended to read for class (pretty much anything other than Catcher in the Rye for high school and most of the curriculum for Studies in Fiction my junior year of college). I have since read most of those books –other than Robinson Crusoe, I gave it 100 pages and that’s all he gets.
We also talked about movies you’d pretended to have seen. (People do this more often and are usually more willing to admit it).
Finally, the honesty dam broke and I had to admit:
I’ve never actually read 1984.
Relevant detail: AP Human Geography Teacher has a sign on his wall espousing that We’ve Always Been At War With Eastasia. I had often referenced this joke. I had learned enough about 1984 by listening to others talk about it, read essays, articles, etc. that draw from it, and having the common knowledge of an allegory that I could effectively reference the book without having read it. I felt dirty.
But the honestly of finally admitting it was great.
I went home and found the free ebook and read it that weekend. Great book. I assumed it was good. It was great. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two sections and then the third section, at the ministry of love, I felt dirty and awful and didn’t want to read it– and that is when I knew what an amazing work of humanity this book truly is.
I have now read 1984 (so you don’t have to feel dirty if you read We’ve Always Been At War With Eastasia – a pictorial essay), but I had pretended, quite effectively, for years.
Why? Probably because people had expected that I had read it and I didn’t want to let them down. Probably because I wanted my image as an intelligent reader to stay in tact. Probably because it was so easy to quote without fully understanding (seriously, pay attention to how many people use the term Big Brother incorrectly).
But, I have now read 1984 and there was never a time when I had not read it. I had always read 1984.
QOTD – Honesty time: What book have you pretended to read?
(or, failing that, what movie have you pretended to have seen?)