Literary Bluffing. Stop It!

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Literary bluffing

Am I the only one who’s noticed that it has now become cooler to “have read” than “to read?” People are eager to jump in on conversations about books and articles that they haven’t read. Perhaps they saw a summary or a review, or heard about it on TV. Rather than actually read the piece in question, they proceed to offer opinions and facts based on that tiny snippet or summary. They want to seem like they’re in the know, even when they aren’t. I like to call this, “Literary Bluffing” and I wish it would stop.

It’s the same thing that used to happen in school with Cliff’s Notes, only on a larger scale. Back before the internet, there were books called Cliff’s Notes that summarized almost every book a student might have to slog through. (Shockingly, I just looked it up and these little books still exist! I figured Google would have put them out of business. Anyway…) Kids would read these and try to pass the test without ever reading the book. Of course, savvy teachers would read the Cliff’s Notes, too, and craft test questions that weren’t covered in the book.

This kind of thing is still going on only now, as an adult, it baffles me why. As adults we don’t have to pass a test. Rarely are we forced to read anything we don’t want to read, unless it’s for work. We’re free to choose the books and magazine/internet articles we read. There’s no pressure to read something horrible or not to your taste. So why would you ever care enough to pretend to have read something you haven’t read? What’s wrong with saying, “You know what? That bestseller didn’t appeal to me, so I read Book X instead,” and having a conversation about differing literary tastes?

But, no. Plenty of people just try to bluff their way through conversations about the latest bestseller, or the latest controversial news article or opinion piece. Why? I ask sincerely. If you know I’d love to have an answer.

Is it to look cool? Is it some hipster urge to make people think you’re up on all the latest headlines, when secretly you’re reading erotica in your bathroom instead of serious journalism? It’s okay if journalism or literary fiction or female-centric thrillers aren’t your thing. You can admit that and no one will care. 

Do you have to be the smartest person in the room and are unable to admit that there’s something you don’t know? Really? Get over it and just admit you know nothing. It’s much more freeing. 

Do you feel like people will judge you if you’re not reading the same things they are? Is literary bluffing some attempt to fit in with the cool kids? Here’s a hint: No one one cares what you read and if they get upset that you’re not reading the same thing they are, then maybe they don’t need to be your friend. The cool kids read. Period. It doesn’t matter what. 

Whatever the reason for all this bluffing, here’s the problem: It contributes to an ignorant society. Want to know how fake news gets started? It starts with a grain of truth, gleaned from a legitimate source, but then passed, telephone-game style, from person to person until it no longer resembles the original truth. But since no one will own up to not having read the original source, they just repeat it, adding their own flourishes.

It would be better if someone said, “Really? That doesn’t sound right,” and went off to find the facts. But since no one likes to look stupid, they say, “Right, right. I heard about that. It’s terrible,” and then they proceed to give a hundred reasons why it’s terrible without even understanding what it is that’s terrible. Then the next person takes those hundred reasons and repeats them and adds to them until people are all up in arms over… Nothing.

The consequences are less when it comes to fiction, but bluffing is still a stupid thing to do. People who really read the book can tell when you’re bluffing. We know that you’re reciting a review or the blurb copy. And we think you’re an idiot. Read the book, don’t read the book. No one cares. But lying about it just to look cool makes you look ridiculous. We’re laughing at you.

If you don’t care about fiction (or at least the latest bestsellers), just admit it. Try to start a conversation on another topic, or about books in general. If you don’t care about the news, just say, “I’m on a news fast so I’m not paying attention these days.” That’s far better than trying to bluff your way through a conversation you have no idea about, or contributing to the spread of fake news.

Reading is cool, but bluffing to make it look as if you’re a serious reader isn’t. If you want to be in the know, read. If you don’t, don’t. But don’t lie about it.

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

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