Big Book Phonies: Buying Novels Just to Look Smarter

Pictured: Just one of my bookshelves, with stacks of manga up to the ceiling!

I just read an article posted yesterday on the Daily Mail’s website called “The books we buy to look more intelligent: How the average shelf is filled with 80 novels we have never read.”

A British survey found:

  • 70% of books on people’s shelves have never been read
  • 40% admitted their collection is for display only
  • 57% only display literary classics, even if they haven’t read them
  • 47% prefer “trashy” novels they would never show
               The books Brits pretend to read the most are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Wuthering Heights. On the flip side, the authors they consider “guilty pleasures” are Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult, Jackie Collins, Helen Fielding, and Danielle Steele.
               Obviously, this article has flaws, since it doesn’t include how many people were surveyed or their demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, education level, etc.). I don’t even know how the survey was given, whether by phone, online, or randomly asking people on the street. Thus, the results should be taken with a grain of salt.
               I found this article both depressing and amusing. The handful of books on my shelves that I haven’t read are the ones that I haven’t read YET–my to-read list is just backed up right now. But I will get to them eventually, because I could never spend money on a book without even attempting to finish it.
               I bet if this survey was conducted in my town, the results would be even worse. Most people here probably don’t even OWN 80 books! I could count all of my mine, but it would take forever: I’ve filled my two bookshelves to the brim, shoved piles of books in my closet, and stacked hundreds of manga on top of my largest bookshelf so that they reach the ceiling (see photo above). Packing these books when I finally move out of my parents’ house is a recurring nightmare for me!
               But I always tell my students that if you haven’t read a book, don’t pretend to know it. I can tell a mile away. Read it or don’t, period. What if someone strikes up a conversation about To Kill a Mockingbird with you, and you rant about the evils of animal abuse? You’ll just look dumber when your friend realizes you can’t talk the talk.
               That being said, I can understand the pressures to read literary classics and avoid popular fiction. The Jane Austen bandwagon is so huge, sometimes I feel like less of a woman for not finishing Pride and Prejudice. But while I might tell people I read it, I always clarify that I read only the first 50 pages before I got so bored I stopped. I might try it again, but if I don’t, that’s okay. Everyone has different tastes, and I think that as long as people read, it doesn’t matter what the books are.
               I also love Sophie Kinsella, and we should stop treating popular novels as “trashy” or “guilty pleasures.” There’s nothing wrong with reading, or writing, chick-lit/romance novels, and if anyone looks down on you, then screw them. Nobody likes a pompous reader anyway.
               So the moral of my story: be proud of what you read, and don’t waste your money on trying to impress your house-guests. Try to read some classics, but don’t beat yourself up if they’re not your cup of tea. Reading should be a reward, not a punishment.
               What do you guys think of this survey? Are you a big book phony? Do you feel pressure to read certain books? Are there books we “should” or “shouldn’t” read? Post your thoughts!!!
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3 thoughts on “Big Book Phonies: Buying Novels Just to Look Smarter

  1. This is SO my husband! He bought a bunch of classics from Barnes and Noble to put on our shelf. I’m like, “Are you gonna read these?”

    “Eventually,” he said.

    Yeah. 3 years later: unread!!

    And on Jane Austen: I feel the same. I do want to give her another try, though. 🙂

    • Haha that’s cute. And it seems like Jane Austen’s everywhere, even the chick-lit section has dozens of books with titles like “Looking for Mr. Darcy” or whatever. It’s inescapable!

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