What People Really Mean When They Say, “Yes, I Read That Book”

No, I haven’t read that book, but here are nine reasons why I'm never going to admit that to you.

  1. “Yes, I have actually read that book.”
  2. “No, I haven’t read that book, but I own it and know enough about it that I don’t want to let you get credit for reading it when I may as well have read it but simply haven’t yet, and because one day soon I will pick it up it seems most logical to say, for the economy of things, that yes, I’ve read it.”
  3. “No, I haven’t read that book, but man Shelly looks gorgeous tonight, so, hell yeah, I’ve read whatever book you’re talking about.”
  4. “No, I haven’t read that book, but I also loathe the condescension that comes when I tell people I haven’t read that book. I don’t need your lecture on how brilliant it is or how life-changing, because all you’re doing is taking one book—one!—and using it to intimate that you’ve read many other books, which no one can technically contradict and so I don’t want to give you the satisfaction of feeling well read when I suspect you’re a pompous pedant.”
  5. “No, I haven’t read that book, but the way you asked it implied that I ought to have read that book, which now suddenly makes me question my literary endeavors—like, am I a total moron? I feel like I read a lot of books but then at every party I go to people are discussing some fabulous book that I haven’t even heard of! And so I go out and buy that book and read it, but guess what? No one ever brings that book up again! So, no, I haven’t read that book, but I’m tired of feeling dumb so I’ll just go ahead and say yes.”
  6. “No, I haven’t read that book, but it doesn’t really seem like my answer is going to matter to you, as either way you’re probably going to launch into some long-winded diatribe about its significance or its beauty or whatever, without regard to my familiarity with the book, but I think if I say yes then I’ll be able to stop your boring rant much faster than if said no, so, yeah, big time yes.”
  7. “No, I haven’t read that book, and frankly, it’s kind of annoying that you keep asking me if I’ve read such-and-such because books are very useful cultural currency, are they? There are too many books and they take way too long to read for any two people to have read the same books, let alone a bunch of people at a party, which to me means that you’re less interested in whether or not I’ve read that book than you are in telling us that you read it, which I find even more irksome and so am saying yes to irk you back.”
  8. “No, I haven’t read that book, and I don’t think you have either, as from just these last few minutes I can tell you are a wildly insecure person who lies to seem accomplished. But since I’m not a complete jerk, I’m not going to call you out on it; instead, I’ll say that, yes, I’ve read that book, so that for the briefest of moments you experience the terror of knowing that I’ll be able to call you out on it if you screw up your lie. So, yes, I’ve read that book. Go on…”
  9. “Yes, I’ve read that book. I actually wrote it. I’m Rebecca Solnit.”

Featured image: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.com

About Jonathan Russell Clark

JONATHAN RUSSELL CLARK is a literary critic and the author of An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Tin House, The Georgia Review, and numerous others.

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