20 Books People Pretend to Read (and Now Your Confessions?)

pretend ulyssesThe good folks at Book Riot conducted a survey of 828 readers, hoping to find out what books they’ve faked reading. The top five books (all available in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections) may not come as a surprise:

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. Ulysses by James Joyce
  3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  5. The Bible

Nor will the remaining 15 astound you (give or take a couple). But we’ll let you head over to Book Riot for the complete list. Wait! Stop! Before you leave, let us know what books you’ve fudged before. It’s anonymous and all in good fun. Look forward to your confessions.



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  1. cheri says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:07 am

    honest to god, i’ve never faked reading a book. no need. i just flat out say, “naw, i haven’t read it b/c i didn’t want to”. in that category: moby dick, pride and prejudice, most of dickens, lord of the rings, and f’in harry potter.

  2. sean says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:09 am

    book #5 … you can tell when someone has read the whole bible … the become an atheist.

  3. Glen says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:11 am

    The Faerie Queene

  4. GameBoy says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:16 am

    I’ve borrowed Clockwork Orange from library like ten times, always gave up after first few pages. Huge amount of these made up words makes this book rather tiring to read.
    But at leat I do not say “yeah that’s great book, I’ve read it ten times.”.

  5. Rebecca White says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:19 am

    I don’t fake reading books. All summer I’ve been getting these lists: “how many of these classics/Young Adult favorites/etc. books have you read.” I don’t exaggerate, even if I’ve read most of it (like the Bible) or seen the movie. For one thing, I have a deathly fear of the humiliation of being found out. For another, everybody I knows I read so much and so broadly – personally and professionally – that I don’t have anything to prove.

  6. John Conolley says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:33 am

    I make no bones about finding most of the classics unreadable, although I did enjoy Moby Dick. I absolutely can’t bear James Joyce.

  7. Richard Slattery says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:41 am

    Perhaps if you read Dubliners @ John Conolley you might gain an appreciation for Joyce. To dismiss him so readily is to deprive yourself of the pleasure of reading a giant of the literary world, in any language or era.

  8. Chris says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:44 am

    Well done for being honest. I lie constantly about the books I’ve read. It started early: I never read any Henry James, Joseph Conrad or Virginia Woolf but wrote essays about all three whilst reading English at university. The same is true of Tennyson, Matthew Arnold and Robert Browning. On the other hand, I read all of The Faerie Queene, Ulysses and The Man Without Qualities and bloody loved them. Paradise Lost? Skills. I pretend to have read Dostoevsky but in fact cannot get past the first page usually. Kafka, the same. Saul Bellow – urgh. Fitzgerald, Hemingway and anything by Don Delillo make my bowels churn.

  9. Bernard Krapcha says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:44 am

    I haven’t lied about reading any of them, but I will confess my thoughts on them.

    01. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    02. Ulysses by James Joyce
    03. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
    04. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    05. The Bible
    06. 1984 by George Orwell
    07. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
    08. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    09. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    10. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    11. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
    12. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
    13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    14. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
    15. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
    16. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    17. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    18. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    19. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
    20. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (21 mentions)

    01 – read it – much better book than I thought it would be and I actually liked it.
    02 – have read tiny bits of it, which is why I haven’t read it. If I ever decide to do peyote for the first time, I’ll bring it on the trip.
    03 – read it – really liked it, but I couldn’t write a paper on it and get into all the “depravity of man” symbolism, etc. Thought it was a kick ass book about some whacked out people stuck in an intercoursed-up situation with an obsessed maniac. Have it on my shelf.
    04 – tried to read it once and, in the mood I was in at the time, was bored out of my skull before I got five pages in. May give it another chance with a different mood.
    05 – read more than once, some bits more than others. Have actually studied it a bit and dug into the original language of the New Testament. I think it should be part of any college level western lit class, since without a working knowledge of the Bible, you’ll miss most of the allusions in most of western literature. Have it on my shelf.
    06 – read it way more than once. One of my favorites. Try to avoid room 101. (And why isn’t “Brave New World” on this list? Because no one would lie about reading it since we’ve all read it?)
    07 – read it more than any of the others. Took a name from it, used it at more than one job. Hell, I know the names of the Towers of the Teeth.
    08 – haven’t read it. Never cared to. Had a mild interest in it generated by the recent movie, but thought it silly to read a book because a movie had been made of it and bought the Bandini quartet by John Fante instead.
    09 – familiar with the story line, but haven’t read it. Liked the modern movie. Maybe I have a problem with Tolstoy’s works in general?
    10 – one of the few books I haven’t read, but really think I should. Not sure what I’m waiting for.
    11 – never heard of it.
    12 – loved it. Used the name of the main character as my user name on an IRC channel back when I was accessing the web with a 2400 baud modem.
    13 – I think I read it, maybe not. It’s kind of fuzzy.
    14 – uninterested.
    15 – read it and thought it was an interesting story, but too far overboard, like “Love in the Time of Cholera” (which I haven’t read, but can tell it’s overwrought from seeing the preview of the movie).
    16 – a fantastic book. Read this one many times – more than any other Dostoyevsky novel. It’s great.
    17 – never read. Never cared.
    18 – know the story but never cared to read it. If you’re talking Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities” is my favorite.
    19 – um, yeah – why in hell would anyone pretend to have read this? I can understand admitting that you read it, but pretending?
    20 – another really great book I’ve read time and time again. Sydney Carton is the only character in great classic literature I really identified with and thought I could be, given the time and place.

  10. jaimie49er says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:45 am

    Dante’s Inferno. I have NO idea why?!

  11. Chris says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:45 am

    In fact I just lied about having read A Man Without Qualities. I haven’t. It’s really long!

  12. Masha says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:46 am

    What do you mean by “fake reading”? How does someone fake reads a book?

  13. Biish says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:47 am

    I’ve been pretending to read David Foster Wallaces”s Infinite Jest for four summers in a row. I’ve made it to page 96.

  14. Masha says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:47 am

    “How does someone fake read* a book?”

  15. Masha says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 9:53 am

    I’ve tried to read Virginia’s Orlando 2 times and I can’t seem to “swim” with it. Please, help. Am I not normal?

  16. Carla Taylor says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 10:03 am

    Well I have to admit to fudging many on your list. I mostly fudged for high school literature classes. I can honestly say I attempted to read:
    Ulysses (several times) I JUST CANNOT STAND HIS STYLE OF WRITING.
    Everything by Kafka gives me a massive headache, literally.
    1984 I have attempted to read about 10 times. For some reason this book gives me a massive headache as well. Read and HATED Animal Farm.
    I did manage to finish Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, and the Bible. I tried to read Catch-22 but had to settle for the movie. I have read To Kill a Mockingbird about 10 times. First read it when I was 12.
    My additions to the “tried to read” list:
    Cry the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. Then I felt guilty for a long time.

  17. Leah says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 10:33 am

    Gravity’s Rainbow. I wouldn’t really say I faked it; I turned every page and read every word, but with zero comprehension or enjoyment. This was over 10 years ago when I forced myself to finish every book I started, thinking there would be some kind of revelation by the end. After that experience, I now walk away from a book whenever I get the feeling I might be wasting precious minutes of my life on something that will bring me no pleasure or insight.

  18. Lars says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 11:30 am

    Funny, because I read Gravity’s rainbow, and never had I such a great revelation or whatever great feeling as having just read the last page of that book. Goosebumps for hours! Ok, it a damn difficult, obscure book, but that ending gets me every time.

  19. Lars says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 11:36 am

    …but I can’t seem to keep myself from pretending to have read Ulysses, even though I read only about one fourth of it. Have actually read Dubliners and Young man, and loved these!

  20. Leisureguy says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 11:59 am

    I immediately thought of the game “Humiliation” (I think it was called) in David Lodge’s wonderful novel Changing Places. I’ve read quite a few (helped by the Great Books Program at St. John’s College, my alma mater), but haven’t yet made it through:

    Ulysses
    Moby Dick
    Infinite Jest (did buy a copy, though—does that count? :)
    Fifty Shades of Grey (what on earth is that doing in the list?)
    Harry Potter—read the first 3, then ran out of steam in 4.

  21. Chris says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 12:10 pm

    I am not ashamed of saying I only made it to page 550 of Infinite Jest. After my suicide attempt, I couldn’t bring myself to finish it.

    And Joseph Heller. I have started Catch-22 more times than I have started anything in my life. I give up.

  22. Sidney says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 12:26 pm

    Took a college class on “Ulysses” taught by a professor who wrote his doctoral thesis on that book. This is the only way to go if you hope to understand what you’re reading. Also took two semesters of “The Bible as Literature” (Old and New Testaments) from a professor who had a PhD. in Religious Studies. Also the way to go if you hope to understand THAT book. I read both “Great Gatsby” and “Jane Eyre” one summer because I knew I was going to have to teach it to high school students in the fall. Teaching is by far the best way to learn things.

  23. Gregory Balderstone says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 1:01 pm

    I have carried Ulysees around faithfully but I have yet to finish it and now I can’t remember where I was.

  24. Jukka says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 1:52 pm

    Once someone said that take any book you want to read, and make a fake cover to it titled: “How to live with extraordinary large penis”. He said that would impress women. I haven’t tried it.

  25. Brian Gonigal says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 1:57 pm

    I’ve never faked reading a book, but I thought it was interesting that while I genuinely have read #s 6-10 of the big list, the top five consists of two I’ve tried to get through multiple times before giving up in frustration, two I’m just openly intimidated by their “dense” reputation, and one I just tore through one weekend on a whim as a sort of context for the Zombie version that I was really interested in reading, yet never got around to.

    Also, I was surprised to see 50 Shades on this list, rather than a list of books people pretend they *haven’t* read.

  26. Kathy says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 2:04 pm

    Lord of the Rings, the movie was great !

  27. Yiannis says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 4:04 pm

    I didn’t know that there was such a thing as fake reading. But what does it mean? People sitting with a book stack on their face just to show off or something (as per pic)? Or that they say they have read such and such books which they have never done?

  28. Droy says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 4:33 pm

    Read Moby Dick twice. My favorite book!
    Yes, read Dubiners to appreciate Joyce. Although it is quite depressing.

  29. Droy says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 4:45 pm

    Also, I own a copy of the first edition of the American edition of Ulysses only because it’s my favorite book cover design.

  30. Woodraw says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 8:16 pm

    ….I’ve actually read everything except Ulysses, but I must admit I’ve faked reading that

  31. Cindi says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 8:49 pm

    I’m with Rebecca. I read so many books in so many genres, I feel guilty that I haven’t read some of the classics. I HAVE read “Pride and Prejudice;” too many times to count actually. I’m always reading the Bible and I haven’t ever picked up the others. However, I did start “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” 2 years ago and still haven’t finished it!

  32. Bernhard says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 1:22 am

    I once faked reading the Kamasutra. Alas, this lie didn’t live, nor did the relationship…

  33. Pete says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 6:17 am

    Gravity’s Rainbow

  34. Frank says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 6:28 am

    Truly read TGG, TKAM, C+P (and Bros. Karamozov) and CITR. Read Ulysses but only after reading the Cliff Notes first. Even then, the “Cyclops” chapter was still incomprensible. Pretend read the novels of Samual Beckett. Wouldn’t you?

  35. Thom says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 8:14 am

    I did read a few all the way through. 1984, CITR, TKAM, LOTR (but I skipped over the songs). I read Harry Potter, out loud to my daughter (yes all of them.) She loved when I did Dobby’s voice (not like the movie, more like Yoda talking forward with and Urdu accent).

    Catch-22 was hilarious, but for some reason I just put it down and moved on without finishing.

    Jane Austen and the Brontes were… well…I gnawed off my arm and escaped.

    As for the rest of them, I just know a few passages that make me look smart when I quote them. If someone engages me in a deeper discussion about those, I spill a drink on myself and run away.

  36. Mary A says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 9:12 am

    Finally, someone who admits reading Harry Potter! My situation was the same-a daughter (just the age of Hermione) and we read them all together, then again individually multiple times. I am a high school English teacher and read Wuthering Heights and Heart of Darkness (Conrad) in order to teach them, as well as Frankenstein, Brave New World, 1984, lots of Shakespeare and much other “dark side” British literature.The thing about “the canon” of western literature is that they (both the authors and those who read them and were influenced by them) didn’t have TV, just lots of time on their hands to contemplate the human condition.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum, I have also read Twilight and Hunger Games series (and others) to keep up with what the kids at school are reading.I survived without having to gnaw off my arm. :-) Now when I have time to read something for pleasure, I try to pick a book of literary merit, but not one that will make me feel stupid…or want to bang my head against a wall (e.g., Glass Castle, Life of Pi,The Devil in the White City, Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, certainly no Joyce or Dostoevsky!Just good reading.).

    And maybe “fake reading” something is listening to it on audio? That’s how I have gotten through some of those I kept putting down when I was trying to actually read hard copies, like Austen and the Brontes.

  37. ukh says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 10:06 am

    In hindsight I wish I had faked reading some of them rather than actually wasting my precious time.

  38. Margaret Rose STRINGER says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 12:17 pm

    Why would anyone have to pretend to’ve read “Pride and Prejudice”, I wonder? – terrific, absolutely readable book.
    Whilst I appreciate ukh’s comment, I’ve never stuck with a book I wasn’t really enjoying: those are the ones I give to charity.
    As for Kathy … “The Lord of the Rings” *marvellous* books: didn’t even bother with the movies once I’d seen the first few minutes of ‘The Brotherhood’.

  39. Jake A. says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 1:20 pm

    I’ve read a few stories in The Dubliners. It reminded me of Buscemi’s movie “Trees Lounge”, a slice of life that doesn’t give a definitive ending. Rather, you get the real world sense that life goes on. I think it’s great to broaden your horizons through literature. However, form your own opinion on books rather than relying on someone else’s opinion. And don’t continue any book that doesn’t meet your needs in someway.

  40. Leon says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 8:48 pm

    read 4 of those. Pride and Prejudice is on my list. The New Testament was very interesting, in an educational mystical symbolic ancient text kind of way. I pretended I was an alien life form trying to understand humanity and it actually made it a very interesting read.

    War and Peace is not a hard read at all. Caman guys. It’s just long. Put two or three of those longer books you read on a weekly basis together and you make one War and Peace. And you should read it, it will literally change your life. Okay at the very least, you will really like it. I don’t know many people who have ACTUALLY read it who disliked it. And it’s one of my faves.

    But post-Dubliners Joyce is too bizarre for me.

  41. Jessica says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 8:52 pm

    I have read #1 and # 5 on the list in their entirety. I have read the New Testament more than once too, and I am not “an atheist” after having read the Bible all of the way through either. I have not read any of the others and I flat out refuse to read Moby Dick. I will one day read War and Peace. I like the Russian writers.

  42. Jelly says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 10:19 pm

    Moby Dick.. I didn’t “fake” reading it. But I tried to finish it 3x’s. My high school English teacher said this book changed his outlook on life! Huh?!

  43. Sumaiya Hafiz says . . . | July 25, 2013 / 11:01 pm

    Well i’ve read 5/6 books outta this list. I never wanted to read lords of the rings. And i think many pple fakes reading Harry Potter. Bible i haven’t read but intend to read it along w/ Al Qur’an.

  44. Kelly says . . . | July 26, 2013 / 2:40 pm

    I’ve read Pride and Prejudice 4 or 5 times. The only book I can think of that I’ve said I’ve read, but only really partially read is Brave New World, and I’ll finish it some day. I do own a lot I haven’t read though.

  45. muckle john says . . . | July 26, 2013 / 3:41 pm

    War & Peace is not difficult at all, nor is it boring (well, except for a few short parts). I’ve read it 5 times. Really. I highly recommend the translation by Pevear & Volokhonsky. It’s faithful to the original and has a lot of helpful annotations. DO NOT READ the Constance Garnett translation! That’s what started the inaccurate ‘boring and difficult’ bad rap.

  46. Sadie H. says . . . | July 27, 2013 / 11:13 pm

    Pride and Prejudice – read it. All of it.
    Ulysses by James Joyce – never read, never faked
    Moby-Dick by Herman Melville – read it.
    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – never read, never faked
    The Bible – read all of it, not necessarily in order
    1984 by George Orwell – read abridged version, but I don’t always mention that. ;)
    The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – read the first book and the Hobbit
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – not yet
    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – not yet
    Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – nope
    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – nope
    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – nope
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – read it (Also met a childhood friend of the author, fwiw.)
    Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James – never.
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – read it, LOVED it.
    Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky – nope
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – read it, loved it
    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – abridged version
    Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling – not yet
    A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (21 mentions) – abridged version

    I’ve also read Ben-Hur, Ivanhoe, Gone With The Wind, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, The Scarlet Letter, many of Shakespeare’s works, and several books by Jane Austen not mentioned here.

  47. Bruce T. says . . . | July 29, 2013 / 1:32 pm

    I’ve read Joyce’s ULYSSES and enjoyed it. Haven’t read any of the the other four.

  48. beesal says . . . | September 30, 2013 / 12:20 pm

    the writer of this blog asks people to anonymously comment on what books they have lied about reading…not to brag about how many books on the list you have read!…

  49. BogMom says . . . | October 28, 2013 / 7:35 am

    The whale tale. . . nnI was supposed to read it in high school, but didn’t. By reading a two or three paragraph summary of the plot, I managed to pass the test. nn”Moby DicknMakes me sicknBut it sure does makenOld Lady [name withheld - the English teacher ] tick.”nnDecades later, when I was homeschooling my son, I borrowed the book on tape from the library to listen to during a long car trip. I expected to listen to a chapter or two before becoming bored and switching to a different book on tape. So I was surprised to be enchanted by the book, and stunned that I particularly enjoyed the long passages about whales, which is what I couldn’t get past when I was in high school. Fortunately, my son liked the book, too. We listened to the entire book.nnPrior to listening to the Moby Dick on tape, I would occasionally have a nightmare that I had never graduated from high school, that my college degree was invalid and/or my employer had found out and was firing me. Listening to Moby Dick seemed to satisfy my brain that I had finally finished high school. I haven’t had that nightmare since.

  50. Reader says . . . | October 29, 2013 / 8:34 am

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (85 mentions) – read it – don’t understand the obsessionnUlysses by James Joyce – pretended to read it, and then pretended to listen to it on tape – IMPOSSIBLEnMoby-Dick by Herman Melville – pretended to read it in HS and finally listened to it on tape – aside from the 100 pages (hours?) on whale biology it was pretty fabulousnWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – remember none of it but I think I read itnThe Bible – pretended to read the New Testament for AP English (poor Jewish girl was at a significant disadvantage….)nThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – ‘fessed up to never readingnFifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James – can I pretend to NOT have read this trilogy?? These books truly represent the decline and fall of our civilization. nTwo other books I have faked: n1. Candide (finally saw the opera and cannot believe I got an A on my oral presentation of this – proves my teacher never read it either)n2. Marcel Proust in English or French – tried both, have occasionally pretended, but could not do it.

  51. Plantagenet King says . . . | October 29, 2013 / 6:30 pm

    I lied about reading your article – I skipped straight to the comments.nDidn’t read most of those either…

  52. Grace Williams says . . . | December 2, 2013 / 4:44 am

    I said that I had read the Lord of the Rings trilogy when in reality I had only read The Hobbit, I couldn’t face reading the other three.

  53. Muhammad Mushir says . . . | December 16, 2013 / 9:23 am

    For heavens sake NOT Pride and Prejudice please in this list. People are reading it, PROOF we have six different prints/editions in our market even.

  54. Jackie Chan says . . . | May 29, 2014 / 3:55 pm

    I read exactly half of Pride and Prejudice. I got to page 200 and thought “If I keep going, I will have to read the equivalent of everything I just read again.” So I put it down and never picked it up again. Apparently something actually happens in the last half. Two couples get married at the end.

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