• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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What’s The Sense of Changing Horses In Midstream

In late May and early June of 1986, between grad school and my first day at Simon and Schuster, I rented an efficiency in Mt. Desert Island, Maine  for three weeks. I planned to write, clear my head, get over a break-up. After I got lost hiking for a few hours with only Madame Bovary and some yogurt covered raisins in my back pack, I called it quits. I was never very from the main road as it turned out, but I’m a big pussy with an overactive helter skelter imagination. I think it was day eleven.

My criteria for the books I took with me: books I had lied about reading. So in my cold little efficiency by the light of goose neck lamp, I read Madame Bovary, A Light in AUgust, and A Farewell to Arms before I bolted back to the city where I’ve always felt completely safe.

What books have you lied about reading or pretended to finish.

61 Responses

  1. Well, hell, nail on the head, small world, plus ca change, or some such cliche. It was Madame Bovary herself that I passed the test on in an undergraduate class without actually having read the book. State university, what can I say….

  2. I hated Light in August. It’s one of the few classics I read way back when. My education stopped at The Red Pony. No, actually, The Mouse That Roared.

    I used to lie about Infinite Jest, but now I just admit it. Annotation, feh. Also about finishing Housekeeping, but we’ve already talked about that. I’ve learned it’s so much easier to say, “Yeah, haven’t read it/couldn’t finish it” than trying to fake it, but you couldn’t have convinced me of that back then.

  3. I did a book report in History on a biography of Napoleon that I did not read and took a final for Romeo and Juliet that I did not read. “F’ and “D”.

  4. Clarissa. And I don’t feel even a little guilty. Has anyone really read this 1,500 page monster?

    • No. No one living, anyway. The last known reader of Clarissa was Miss Iphigene Abigail Snerd, who passed away in 1977.

    • Teri,

      Boy, I feel so silly …. but I not only read CLARISSA, but I remember loving it. How can that be?


      • Jody, I know 3 people who’ve read it, and read it enough to write papers on it. Now I know 4! It seems to me a monumental task — cheers to you. An accomplishment as big as reading Vikram Seth’s A SUITABLE BOY.

  5. I still haven’t managed to finish “Infinite Jest,” mostly because I haven’t had the time to read it all the way through and I lose track of the characters.

  6. I am such a product of strict Catholic School education! Never cheated on a test, have read all the books I say I’ve read (although, post-Katrina, I don’t remember all the details!) and have no problem admitting I am trudging through certain tomes (the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, for example, has been a multi-year task!).

    Too much effort to keep track of the un-truths! I have enough failings to keep me immersed in guilt!

    • Bless you, child, for I have sinned. These past nearly three years I’ve been trudging through The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 volumes. Part of the penance I do for not having been an English major.

    • Karen, what kind of Catholic schoolgirl do you call yourself?! 😉 A hefty percentage of the girls in my single-sex school cheated (I wrote their poetry for them and forged sick notes), sneaked out late on school nights to meet older married men at Pappy’s Lounge and fell asleep in home room, and did lines during Grad Night on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. The worst of my misbehavior, on the other hand, was to refuse to do any work outside of class (see comment below), but that’s only because my mother put bars on the windows, to prevent my going AWOL.

      • One of the lucky few that escaped the RC system after 8th grade! Sounds like you had the easier, high-school tour of duty. In FLA, yet!

        My elementary school years included all the “classic” nun encounters plus being thrown against a brick wall for incorrectly adding a series of numbers. Physical punishment was swift and often capricious, psychological abuse was a fine art — and most parents signed agreements with the school to allow corporal punishment, so the nightmare was complete. I quickly figured out that the nuns l-o-v-e-d a quiet, obedient child and opted to survive in that mode and bide my time.

        But I was no angel, either: in 7th grade I was in BIG trouble for masterminding the production of counterfeit hall passes. Yet, cheating on tests never appealed to me – I wanted to prove to myself that I could complete all the work inspite of the Dickens-esque environment.

  7. Proust. I could have written that. I knew what he was going to say. So, I say to myself I say, why bother. Yet, I still flip through Volume One, The Swann’s Reflection?, every now and again. It’s still boring.

  8. Kerouac’s “On The Road.” Sad, sad, sad.

  9. I don’t lie about not finishing, but I don’t offer it up (unless it’s in a public forum for the world to see…).
    So, I’ll put this under the It-bugs-the-hell-out-of-me-I-can’t-finish-these category.

    Madame Bovary and Herzog.

    I think it bothers me so much because the people that love them, love the understated humor. I love understated humor.

    On each one I went about halfway before quitting. No satisfaction to be found there…especially since I know it’s me and not the books.

  10. Alright. Jesus’ Son (does it even HAVE an apostrophe?). Can you believe that? One of the awesomest (so they say) books that my circle flings quotes from and sips noddingly about like so much two buck Chuck. I open it. Read a few pages. Put the fucker down. Okay, my confession’s over. Don’t tell anyone.

  11. I had to do a book report in grade 7. I didn’t feel like using any of the books I had actually read, so I made up the whole thing – book, author, plot summary, what I liked and didn’t like. I think I even had to present it to the class. I would have gotten away with it, too, if I hadn’t had an attack of the guilts and confessed. I learned early that guilt is a wasted emotion.

  12. I’m an avid indoorsman, but if I were to ever venture out hiking into the woods, I would know to bring along plenty of nuts, seeds, and raisins to scatter along behind me, so I could find my way back.

    Betsy, where were your common scents?

  13. Midnight’s Children. There I said it!

  14. I reviewed Arthur Ashe’s “autobiography” without cracking open the covers. Just used the back. Very admirable man. Just like you thought he was. Book costs 19.95. Next.

  15. Moby Dick, Bleak House, Don Quixote, and Freedom. Kill me now but I can’t finish any of them. And I did read In Search of Lost Time loving every sentimental sentence.

  16. The Corrections and 100 Years of Solitude.

  17. I don’t know if this counts, exactly, but I never read Catcher in the Rye in high school. All my friends in Honors English knew I hadn’t read it, and watched in incredulous disgust as I borrowed someone’s Cliff’s Notes® to scan in biology class during the period before the exam. Not only did I pass the test (which included an essay question), but I got the highest A in the class. College was another matter entirely. I couldn’t get away with anything there, and flunked out.

  18. Talking with a woman I did some work for, I casually used the phrase A Perfect Storm to describe what happened when a guy working in the area recently felled a tree that landed on some high tension electric wires, snapped the lines and they fused into some low voltage distribution lines, blowing the meters of every house on the system, popping light bulbs, frying computers, tv’s, microwaves, furnances and causing outlets to emit smoke and turn brown. She seized on my reference and said, “Ooh, ‘A Perfect Storm’! That was a great book! Of course, the movie wasn’t as good.” and looked at me, expecting agreement. I just nodded; I had seen the movie but never read the book. (The movie was actually pretty good. )

  19. I just pretended to read this blog post.

  20. My daughter once gave me her copy of ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ for Christmas, telling me it was GREAT, would really be enlightening, was one of her favorite books, etc. I read the thing cover to cover, actually loved it. But I kept talking to her about it and after a while she really sort of disengaged. A few years later, in a completely unrelated conversation with a number of people, she happened to bring up that book saying ‘oh, I never did finish that book, barely got 1/3 through it actually’. Now I always double check…did you REALLY read this book you are raving about?

  21. I’ve lied about finishing a few of my friends’ books.

  22. Ha! There are no books I haven’t read, only books I haven’t read YET.

    • I like that. I’m always saying, “Haven’t read it yet but it’s on my to-read list” and I’m just about always telling the truth. My mental list of books to read is terrifyingly long and dark and twisty.

  23. The um.. Bible. I lied to the Jehovah Witnesses at my door. Yes, I did. Hell for me.( I’ve dipped into it. Love parts. That must count.)

  24. Ulysses, could not get past the first chapter…

  25. I saw this post last night and didn’t even consider responding because, frankly, I couldn’t even tell you how many.

    I’ve given that practice up, though — now I just admit I haven’t read it, no matter how embarrassing it might be.

  26. And none of you has read Heart of Darkness. Just admit it. But you should.

  27. Middlemarch. Tale of Two Cities. The Scarlet Letter. I seem to have a 19th century block going on here.

    • Oooooohhhh…Mary Lynne, you have to try To2C. I just finished teaching it to my 8th graders, and I love it more with each year….

  28. I’ve never been able to get into Shakespeare. There, I said it.

    • Neither could I until I performed in Macbeth. I was running lines with the actor playing Macbeth, and it all came alive in a flash. It was a simultaneous deflowering and a conception. Shakespeare’s power of language is in the speaking and hearing of it, less so in the mere reading. It’s a living thing, for sure. Since I haven’t been in a production since, I haven’t read him much either. I should at least recite sonnets or something, though.

  29. war and peace. i needed a fucking whiteboard to keep track of the names. same with the gulag archipelago. too many characters? too few brain cells?

  30. My ex’s memoir he asked me to critique. It was awful and angered me so I couldn’t force myself past the third chapter. I was so mad at him I told him it was great and he should try to get it published.

  31. At the moment, I can think of just two classics that I haven’t YET read:

    Anna Karenina


    Kardashian Konfidential.

  32. Couldn’t finish “Bleak House.” Parts of it are wonderful, but it was written for another era when people were willing to put up with long boring sections because novels didn’t have as much competition.

    I admire the man who wouldn’t read Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities.” He asked, If the man had no qualities, why did it take 500 pages to tell his story?

  33. A horse once got zapped with a powerful virus, which caused it to lie down and moan. The vet was called. Meanwhile, the virus leader said to his fellows, “This bloodstream is about used up. At the next turn, let’s try the other one.” Meanwhile, the vet had arrived and shot the horse with a powerful anti-virus medicine. The virus leader and his companions thus ran right into that and all were killed instantly. Which just goes to prove to never change streams in the middle of a horse.

    • Webb, I’m not following the logic of your conclusion. It sounds to me like the virus leader was correct in what the next course of action should be, but he wasn’t able to implement his plan in time to carry it out.

      So, the conclusion that I’d reach is: “Have your stream changing procedures well-rehearsed, so you can do it quickly and efficiently in the middle of a horse.”

      Question: Just how many fucking streams do horses have, anyway?

  34. I have a dear relation who keeps giving me schlock fantasy novels and raving about them. I try, I never succeed, but I read enough to lie about having finished them and then quickly change the subject.

    I actually don’t think I have ever lied about reading a book in any other context. Mostly I can’t talk about books where I live. I’ve read Moby Dick twice, but the first time I was stranded in the third world for two years with no electricity – got around to War and Peace and the whole freaking Bible while I was there too.

    Still haven’t read Madame Bovary. Couldn’t get through Infinite Jest because I couldn’t stand to be in the guy’s mind anymore, but nobody believes me saying that since he killed himself. He was on a good track but he hadn’t gotten there yet.

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