Tales From The Water Cooler: Talked the talk? Now read the read


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This week, I was momentarily distracted from the gripping final chapters of Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu by a survey which found that 45 per cent of young people had lied about having read a famous novel to disguise their embarrassing lack of cultural sophistication.

This demonstrates commendable aspirations among those aged 16-35, especially when compared to the years between 10 and 16, when the opposite was true and, as I recall, admitting to having read a book without pictures was a red rag to a bully.

I try not to lie about my literary conquests, although I did welcome the 2007 publication of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, by the French academic Pierre Bayard, which apparently taught people how to talk about books they haven’t read. (I never actually read it.) But thanks in part to the soon-to-be-defunct Waterstone’s three-for-two offer, I have always bought more books than I read, and read a lot of books that nobody’s impressed by – leaving me to lie about having read all the canonical ones that weren’t in the three-for two. Now, with the promotion’s demise, that balance may be redressed.

Meanwhile, without the tyranny of the three-for-two – which encouraged everyone to read the same limited collection of crime thrillers, chick-lit hits and prize shortlists – people will presumably broaden their reading lists to include less hyped or less recently published works. Maybe, instead of buying books we don’t need or want, we’ll spend our money on something truly enriching. Maybe you, like me, will finally get around to reading À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. It’s about sponge cakes.