"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." Ring any bells? How about
: "The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats." Many will not have read the novel from which these are among the opening lines - but nearly half of us are happy to lie and say we have, a survey reveals today.
George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four comes top in a poll of the UK's guilty reading secrets. Asked if they had ever claimed to read a book when they had not, 65% of respondents said yes and 42% said they had falsely claimed to have read Orwell's classic in order to impress. This is followed by Tolstoy's War and Peace (31%), James Joyce's Ulysses (25%) and the Bible (24%).
The poll, conducted to tie in with World Book Day today, also reveals that many of us are impatient readers - we skip to the end - and are not particularly bothered about how we treat the actual book - we turn the page to keep our place.
While 33% say they have never lied, a clear majority have. The writer Francesca Simon, creator of the Horrid Henry children's books, believes it is possible to get sucked into making false claims. She recalled an Oxford don asking her if she knew the works of Italo Calvino. "I said that I'd heard of him and she started questioning me over which books I had read and I couldn't get out of it. It felt lamer to then say 'yes I've heard of him'. Like saying 'yes, I've heard of Shakespeare'. I think she just thought I was stupid."
When asked to name the writers they really enjoyed, 61% of people ticked JK Rowling and 32% John Grisham.
For anyone who has received a book as a gift with an ever-so-slightly thumbed feel to it, your suspicions are probably correct. A total of 48% of people admit buying a book for someone else and reading it first, something Simon happily admitted. "But I'm the daintiest reader in the world. No one can ever tell."
The days of embossed leather bookmarks are of course long gone and 62% of people in the poll admitted they turn the corner of the page to keep their place. "I consider that mutilation," said Simon. "I would never do that, what's wrong with using bookmarks - tickets, pieces of paper?"
Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, admitted he had bent the truth. "My first degree was in theology, I got a 2:1 at Durham. I'm embarrassed to say I never finished the Old Testament."
The results are based on 1,342 responses to a survey on the World Book Day website, and Douglas said that in many ways the results were reassuring. "It shows that reading has a huge cultural value in terms of the way we present ourselves as intelligent and engaged people."
He said he was far from surprised at the turning down of pages or the 14% of people who admit writing in a library book. "I used to be a librarian and I can tell you books come back in the most horrendous condition. Turning down corners is better than surgical stockings hanging out of Tolstoy."
Of course lying about books you have read can be better than admitting to the books you have not. In David Lodge's novel Changing Places two academics play a game called Humiliation, in which the winner is the one with the most shameful admission. The obnoxious American Howard Ringbaum is initially reticent but throws himself into it, admitting to not having read Hamlet.
He wins the game but loses his job.Our guilty secrets: the books we only say we've read | Books | The Guardian