May 28 2009 2:26pm

How to Lie About Books

I’m fond of reading. In fact, I recommend it. There’s no better way to avoid talking to weirdoes on the bus. Reading is good for you and everybody says so, even LeVar Burton, and he should know. Despite a visual impairment, he rose to the rank of chief engineer on a starship. I know these things because of how much I read.

Since the day Shakespeare ghostwrote the Bible for King James, we Anglophones have regarded reading as big stuff. But there’s no way you can read everything. Scientists calculate that it would take twelve hundred clones of Burgess Meredith—with fully functioning spectacles—a minimum of four hundred years just to read all the Count Saint-Germain novels.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of time. So it’s only natural that if you wish to present yourself as a well-read person, a certain degree of complete bullshit is required. There’s no shame in lying about what you’ve read. There’s only shame in getting caught. Then you look like a doofus, and an illiterate one at that. And there are few things upon which the literate world heaps more scorn than doofi.

When dealing with science fiction and fantasy fans, it’s especially crucial to avoid accidental self-doofication. As a general rule, one must appear to have read everything ever written. Fail to do so and you’ll instantly be bombarded with statements of disdain. “Oh my fucking god, you haven’t read Cryptonomicon? What are you, Amish?”

And so, lest we be tarred with such stinging epithets, we must learn to lie. Allow me to teach you my five simple rules for lying about books.

Rule #1: Change the Subject
When engaging in the secret art of literary bullshittery, the goal is to change to subjects as quickly as possible to something you actually do know a lot about. It’s not necessary to appear to be an authority on everything in a sustained dialogue. If you’re talking to someone who wrote a doctoral thesis on the use of Platonic philosophy in Ubik, but you’ve never read it, don’t start jabbering on about the Theory of Forms. Your chicanery will be exposed like a senator in a public restroom. Mention instead that you once saw an image of Philip K. Dick on a tortilla.

Rule #2: Be a Psychologist
While waiting for the opportune moment to steer the topic toward something you know about, pretend the person you’re talking to is your patient and you are an analyst. Say “Hmm” and “Really?” a lot, and “Why do you say that?” and “How does that make you feel?” This is called active listening but could just as well be called, getting ready to hijack the conversation. When a salient point comes along, pounce on it. “I see what you’re saying, and that’s exactly why I always wanted to be a cyborg.” Presto, the conversation is yours.

Rule #3: Don’t Be Negative
Some folks get the notion that ignorance is best camouflaged by aggressive displays of being a dick. They think the best thing to do is to gesticulate madly, yelling, “Watership Down? I wouldn’t wipe my sphincter with Watership Down!” This is the literary equivalent of a cornered lizard unfurling its neck frill and hissing. It doesn’t mean the lizard has read the book.

Rule #4: Carry a Picture of a Kitten in Your Wallet
You’re at a room party at a convention and find yourself in a totally indefensible position, surrounded by unyielding fantasy experts perseverating on Anne McCaffrey. They all want to know what you think of Rengades of Pern. You begin to sweat. Should you jump off the hotel balcony or punch one in the face and jet down the hall? Then you remember the picture of the kitten in your wallet. It’s a tabby covered in spaghetti. You whip it out and they all go “aww.” Every one of them has at least four cats at home. It’s going to be OK.

Rule #5: Remember Titus Alone
Sometimes your only recourse is to out-lit-nerd your opponent, to bring up something they haven’t read. For this, there’s no better ammunition than the third book of the Gormenghast series. Why? Because no one has ever read it. Not even Mervyn Peake himself. He wrote it while drunk in the late 1950s and couldn’t remember a word. His editor supposedly cut big parts of it, but the truth is he just didn’t read it. They printed it anyway since there was a paper surplus that year. The person who wrote the wikipedia page is guessing. (I’m sure someone in the comments section of this post will claim they’ve read it. It’s all right. I won’t contradict you. Your secret is safe with me.)


These five rules will cover up your ignorance in most cases. A little additional help is required to bullshit yourself out of a conversation about a few particular authors, though, so I’m offering more specific information. Feel free to add your own suggestions.

Sir Terry Douglas Pratchett Adams: Rumored to be two people, Sir Terry D.P. Adams is a British humorist famous for Hitchhikers Guide to Discworld and posthumously granted knighthood for his ongoing work with endangered monkeys. Influenced by P.G.K. Wodechesterhouserton, he is a confirmed atheist who might believe in God.

Isaac Asimov: If you stack all the books Asimov wrote end-to-end, bring a parachute. The best thing about such a prolific author is you can just make up a book. People mostly talk about the Foundation series, but you can invent your own. Call it The Subatomic Monster. No, wait, that’s a real title.

Octavia E. Butler: Conversations about Butler generally revolve around vague references to race and gender issues. The vagueness, here, is a clear indicator that they haven’t read her either, so you’re safe. If you come across a serious, specific and detailed discussion of Butler, which may or may not include race and gender, just nod a lot and wait it out. If you don’t know anything about race or gender, you’re probably a sentient Dixie cup and whom you have or haven’t read is the least of your concerns. Your kitten photo will be of little use.

Neil Gaiman: Make up a humorous anecdote about the time you met him. This method is readily accepted because everyone knows someone who claims to have met him. Talk about how nice he is and how he’s fascinated by whatever it is you actually want to talk about. “There I was, in the hotel bar of the Atlanta Sheraton, practicing my Tuvan throat singing, when along comes this British guy and he busts out a perfect Dumchuktaar. It was Neil Gaiman. Turns out he’s half Mongolian. Nice guy!” This also works for Tim Powers.

Frank Herbert: My brother would be repulsed to learn that I’ve never read Dune. I’ve gotten around this gap in my reading by watching the movie and proclaiming that it was nothing at all like the book. No one has ever questioned this statement.

Ursula Le Guin: She’s won more awards than you’ve had hot mistakes. She’s most famous for A Wizard of Earthsea, which I may have read. She also writes poetry. Memorize this one and recite it to anyone who doubts you’re a big fan. Crows are the color of anarchy / and close up they’re a little scary. / An eye as bright as anything. / Having a pet crow would be / like having Voltaire on a string.

H. P. Lovecraft: The basic idea is that what you don’t understand will drive you insane and/or devour you or mate with you and it’s probably wet and gibbering and full of tentacles and this is also what he thought of Black people and Jews.

Neal Stephenson: If Stephenson comes up in conversation, ask the people around you if Stephenson is cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk. Let them battle it out while you eat corn chips. Also, sometimes Stephenson has this really amazing beard. It’s like a wizard beard. It’s the kind of beard you could defeat Flash Gordon with, or yell “Alakazam!” in all seriousness. Sometimes he trims it, which is disappointing.

J. R. R. Tolkien: You saw the movies, right? All you need to know is there’s no dwarf tossing in the book and no Tom Bombadil in the movies. Tom Bombadil is a sort of immortal hippy. For extra credit, mention that the loneliness of the Ents makes you sad. 

Adam Callaway
1. Weirdside
This is one of the more entertaining blog posts I have read in a long time. Thanks for the laugh (to cover up the self-loathing of actually using many of the aforementioned excuses. sadness complete.)!
3. Berry_K
I'm pretty sure I read Titus Alone. Or, perhaps, I should say that I'm pretty sure I looked at all of the pages in numerical order. I remember absolutely nothing about it, which perhaps proves your point.

Oh, and Tim Powers really is a nice guy. I remember one time I was on a panel with him at Baycon....
4. Adele Haze
I saw one guy reading "Titus Alone", but I'm not sure he ever finished it. It's useless to ask him about it, right?
Jason Ramboz
5. jramboz
Titus Alone? Heck, I never even managed to make it all the way through Titus Groan.
6. KatG
So PNH is publishing your novel soon, right? Right? Are you listening, PNH?
7. Ruefrex
I think this is the first time I'm posting a comment, but this is one of the funniest blog posts I've read in a long time. I would like to add a name to the list -- Stephen King. Holy God, the number of times I've been caught between two gibbering Stephen King fans... too high to count. And then there's the additional "What?!? You haven't read The Stand? But you'd really like that book!"

I've tried to read the dude, but he leaves me cold. But there are legions of his fans hijacking every conversation. Help me. Please. I beg you.
Jason Henninger
9. jasonhenninger
1-2 Thanks!

Tim Powers is the nicest person in the history of publishing, I think. And an excellent throat singer.

I'm sure he was just pretending. Maybe using it as a meditation technique.

You are being far too honest. Have I taught you nothing?

Tor declined my novel a while ago (very graciously, I might add. Nicest rejection ever!) but hey, any other publishers out there who are interested? Hmm? You don't have to actually read it. Just publish it and pretend you love it. I'll be satisfied.

Perhaps the best technique for bs-ing about King is to employ the Dune method and complain about how the movies are nothing like the books. This works well.
10. Muzzlehatch
Muzzlehatch. 'Nuff said.

Well, almost. I will allow as how Titus Alone is eminently forgettable, except for the fact that it made little or no sense. You are certainly safe in claiming to have read it, since even those who have read it probably don't remember much and will therefore be unable to catch you out.
11. Heidi C.
It's safe to say that the first Dune movie made had little to do with the books. The ones done by the Sci-fi channel were more true to the source, so you'll have to change your lie to keep up with the times, I'm afraid.

And yes, the lonliness of Ents makes me sad. However when they wreck Saruman's tower, they are bad ass.
12. Hyperion76
Feel free to improve upon this, but I think this author deserves a blurb.

Gene Wolfe

If a conversation about whether or not Wolfe's narrator is unreliable in a given book is too much for you, you can always divert the conversation away by bringing up how he invented Pringles (or the machine that makes Pringles, or that cool metal can, or a far-future citadel made entirely of said cans).
Dan Sparks
13. RedHanded
I'm still cracking up over the Frank Herbert comment.
I really wish you had a picture of the beard that could defeat Flash Gordon so I could imitate, and then defeat Flash Gordon wannabes.
14. Tim W.
Not only have I read Titus Alone, but I liked it, and can go on at length about how the Underriver scene influenced China Miéville. I have also read Mr. Pye, Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor, and the autobiographies of Peake's wife and son.

So... I'm the guy to avoid at cons. But you knew that.
Jason Henninger
15. jasonhenninger
Good point. Also, you could always start a diversionary argument among listeners by comparing the Lynch version and SciFi Channel version.

Pringles! What a vast, unparalleled contribution to science fiction fandom! Oh, little salty potato saddles of joy.

good pic of it here:

Look at this while I flee:
16. Mick M.
This post made my day. Work is almost bearable now.

Thank you.
17. lupercus
oh, thank you, man. now the titus alone stratagem is totally useless, and you're to blame.
Dan Sparks
18. RedHanded
That beard is awesome and he is bald too. Jesus, I think we found Ming for the next Flash Gordon movie.
19. Trollgod
But, but, but I have read Titus Alone. It's about Titus having to go out into the real world after he repudiates his heritage at Gormenghast, and it's very strange and dangerous out there, and it was a long time ago, and no, I don't remember any specific thing that happened.

And, I did meet Neal Gaiman once, almost, sort of. We were in the same room at San Diego ComicCon, and he walked by me close enough to reach out and touch (but I didn't do it).

And I thought about reading The Cryptonomicon. i did read Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, and Neuromancer and Burning Chrome. (You see how hip I was back in the 90s?)

Um, where can I get some good kitten pictures for my wallet?
Melissa Ann Singer
21. masinger
Literally laughed out loud at my desk.

Thanks everso.
22. edifanob
Great post!

Ambrosial stuff for the brain.
24. Eltonshane
Loved it! :D

I've met Tim Powers once. He did indeed come off as nice and intelligent, but I know nothing of his throat singing skills I'm afraid. I was attending a con in Tulsa. When I met him it was late. I was half asleep and more than a little drunk. I wish I could remember the conversation I had with him because in my half conscious state it seemed very enjoyable. I had to apologize to him for not being able to finish the conversation and I hope I actually finished the apology before my head actually hit the table.

As for Terry Brooks, The Sword of Shannara was such a blatant rip-off of The Lord of the Rings that anyone who doesn't realize this has not read both. I refuse to read anything written/stolen by Terry Brooks again.
25. Carterkirk
Caution: If all the people in the conversation are relying on your tips, it might cause an endless time loop, or suck them all into an infinite black hole.

This was a brilliant blog, thank you!
Liza .
26. aedifica
Carterkirk @ 25: Or it will lead to everyone whipping out pictures of their kittens, which would be no bad thing at all!
Ashley W
27. a_neonta
There is actually a book called How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read.
Blake Engholm
29. UncrownedKing
What happens when I walk into a gathering and people are holding pictures of kittens like a Colt 45 at one another?

Back away slowly or hope you have something better than a Garfield Cartoon in your wallet?
Jason Henninger
30. jasonhenninger
I've read it, of course. What did you think of it?
Richard Fife
31. R.Fife
Uncrowned, you have obviously walked into Catnarok.
32. Fangorn
Don't worry about the loneliness of ents. We have big hands.

And another piece of advice: Read Alice in Wonderland. You can steer any conversation in a suitable direction by commenting on some aspect of the story.

Alice does seem to be a lot more lonely than the ents, yet it doesn't make us sad, does it?
Irene Gallo
34. Irene
Mr. Jason -- As the worlds slowest reader, I am eternally grateful for the tips. Lucky for me, I have a phone fully loaded with cat pictures. Now I'm just wondering if these tactics apply when the person I'm talking to is an author we publish?
Eugene Myers
35. ecmyers
Well done! You've both entertained me and solved the problem of my reading backlog. Anyone who can refer to The Twilight Zone, Reading Rainbow, and Gormenghast in the same blog post deserves to be praised--or at least imitated.
Brian Slattery
36. brianslattery
And here I've just been flaunting my ignorance like a sucker.
37. writerfish
I never read Return of the King but I always find that saying "I was so mad when they didn't have the scourging of the shire in the movie!" makes me look like I'm a serious Tolkien fan. Thanks for the tips!
38. barista
There is one sentence that can reduce anyone you could meet in this context to an awed silence.

"Gravity's Rainbow only really starts to make sense the third time you read it."

When hearing that line, the brain of Cthulhu itself began to melt.

There may be some person on the planet not reduced to gibbering by this line Probably a refugee from some animist Siberian minority hiding in a cave deep under the Urals since Czarist times, teaching each generation to read and write from the single sacred text, the collected works of Dostoevsy. Asked by this weird and eldricht creature, what that sense can be, just say one word: perihelion. Then touch your lips with a trembling finger.

Works for me.
39. mordicai
This...was very entertaining. I read it out loud to my wife.
40. Terry Brooks Fan
Dear Eltonshane.
I hope this finds you well. I can agree with the comparisons, however I have read both and prefer the easier read of Terry Brooks that J.R. Tolkein.

To say that it is a blatant ripoff is a bit harsh. I also want you to look at the shannara series, It currently has over 20 titles related to it, all by the same man, spanning many generations. Do you think J.R. could have continued his series and have been as successful?

I think if you continued the series, you would have an appreciation for it, and I think you may end up liking it. Take care
41. FancyInk
This post is priceless. Thanks!
Andrew Mason
42. AnotherAndrew
writerfish: 'scouring', not 'scourging'. (Details like this are important in avoiding detection.)

eltonshane and Terry Brooks Fan: what looks from a distance like a rip-off may turn out at closer inspection to be a genre convention. Agatha Christie wrote many books about how a clever private detective with a stupid sidekick outwits a stupid police detective. She stole this idea off Conan Doyle, who stole it off E.A. Poe. Her fans are well aware of this, and don't mind; it's the more specific details of her plots which are new. I'm sure something similar is true of Tolkien and Brooks.
43. Peter Springett
Great post. Yes, I've read Titus Alone. No, not a word although there might have been some strange Leopard People stalking around somewhere.

My advice? Take a four week vacation and read something fat by Pynchon. Gravity's Rainbow or Against the Day for real masochists. (Not three times, please, Barista). If anyone has the temerity to ask, 'Yes, but what does it mean?' remember that Pynchon, like so much modern fiction resists traditional forms of exegeis. Shorthand for 'I haven't a clue' and a riposte that works pretty well for pretty much anything on your syllabus written since 1910.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
44. pnh
Actually, Mervyn Peake's later work, including the last volume of the Titus trilogy, was written while he suffered from Parkinson's Disease. The Parkinson's Disease Society of the UK sponsors a set of awards for creative work performed by people with Parkinson's, as part of their general effort to raise people's awareness of the disease and how it does and doesn't affect those who suffer from it.

But certainly it's a lot more hilarious to say that he wrote his final book "while drunk." I look forward to more wonderfully funny gags about the illnesses and disabilities of SF and fantasy authors, here on
Jason Henninger
45. jasonhenninger
Your reaction startles me, I must say. I wasn't making fun of anyone's disabilities. Why on earth would I make fun of someone for having Parkinson's?

I got the "drunk while writing" idea from Stephen King, who wrote Cujo in a blackout (or so he says in On Writing). As for Peake's suffering from Parkinson's, this is the first I've heard of it. My comments were meant as a joke about a ponderous and difficult to read book, and no more than that.
Jo Walton
46. bluejo
I really don't like this post.

Usually the humour in this sort of thing comes in revealing a deeper truth about the thing being parodied, and I don't see that here at all.

But my real problem with it is that the attitude that seems to pervade it that anyone who takes books and reading seriously deserves to be mocked, that people who talk about books are only doing it as a form of pretentious social competition, not because we really love books and care about them.

This bothers me, because books, and conversation about books, matter a lot to me. There's already so much of this kind of thing, so many people who do despise people who take books seriously, who despise anyone who reads, and doubly despise anyone who reads SF. I'm sorry to see this sort of thing here, and even more sorry that we're at 42 responses with nobody saying a word against it.

Obviously I should relax and take a joke at my own expense that feels like being kicked in the teeth, but I'll save that for something funnier.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
47. pnh
I'm with Jo, I'm afraid. This would have worked better if it had included some actual jokes, but lacking either funny observations or amusing flights of fancy, it mostly just comes off as mean.
Blake Engholm
48. UncrownedKing

Thanks for the Buzz kill

AND @ 47 and @ 46. Like the police and a fun party.
Irene Gallo
49. Irene
I never read this as Jason making fun of books or readers. Far from it. But rather the feeling that just about anyone can have when suddenly finding themselves not up to the conversation around them. As a “visual person” working among the most well-read colleagues imaginable, this post was both hilarious and a sigh of relief.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
50. pnh
Jason: A basic rule of writing, and one doubly important in genres such as horror and humor that are defined by the effects to which they aspire, is that it doesn't matter what the writer "meant to" do.

There are other genres, and categories of human activity, where this is equally true.
Blake Engholm
51. UncrownedKing
Agree with Irene. I'll add, that a person who can't learn to laugh at themselves may have some deep routed insecurities.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
52. pnh
Yes, that's definitely Jo Walton's problem, her "deep-rooted insecurities." Very insightful, UncrownedKing.
Richard Fife
53. R.Fife
I'm of two minds here. I'm a slow reader, have some hideously glaring gaps in my knowledge repetoire (I have yet to read Brooks, or most of the classics such as Heinlin, Asimov or Le Guin), and sometimes feel very intimiated by "general SFF" discussions. So yes, like Irene and Uncrowned, I had a chuckle.

But, as PNH and Jo brought up, this was a roast more than a parody. Now, I love roasts, but hot damn can they be pretty mean, and I have to wonder "these are that guy's friends?" I think it says something for thick skin that the GoH at a roast can take it, but at the same time, is it really that funny?

I have to wonder, if this same post had come from someone who is "amazingly well read" (or at least claimed to be), and was giving a guide to the "pleabs" that could not keep up, would it have seemed as offensive, or would the "in good humor, taking a shot at myself" have won out?
Blake Engholm
54. UncrownedKing

Do you feel better? Now that thats out of your system, do you feel better? lol I thinks its funny you have taken this much offense and are now lashing out at us. I will allow you to throw your tantrum. Place you in your room and allow you to pitch your fit in there. Once you have calmed down, maybe you'll lighten up a bit.
Blake Engholm
55. UncrownedKing

If the post had come from the "well read" this conversation would not be occuring. Lets go back over to the reread Fife.
Jo Walton
56. bluejo
R. Fife: I think getting parody right is really hard. I think you have to be able to see the deeper truth in the thing you're making fun of, you have to love it as you skewer it.
57. firkin
i love books and reading and talking about books and reading, and i thought this post was hilarious.

making assumptions about why other people don't agree is really inappropriate, but personally i thought this was pretty good parody, written by an affirmed sf fan. seems to me it says more about the fears of the less-well-read than about the behavior of the more-well-read, anyway.
Richard Fife
58. R.Fife
Agreed on parody Jo. What are you thoughts on roasting, though? As I said, I am of two minds on that kind of humor, I can see it as kinda funny, but it is rather mean spirited, even if it is by friends/colleagues. Could the above post, if it had been framed with "I am well read, but I know some of you lesser beings aren't, so here's a guide".

Yes, that would be possibly offensive to the "lesser beings", but in the end, jokes typically do have a butt, someone of whom they are at the expense. Gods know that I am probably going to burn in seven different theological hells for all the things I can find funny, even if I know they are hideous, inappropriate things to laugh it.
59. Peri1020
I'm afraid I'll have to join those who enjoyed this post. I attended a con last year and got sucked into a vortex of sci-fi readers and writers. It was only my barely-passable knowledge of Tolkien that saved my life. When I attend again later this year, I will be armed with new diversionary tactics...and lots of cat pictures.
Evan Leatherwood
60. ELeatherwood
Where was the first photo taken? Looks like an amazing spot.
Jason Henninger
61. jasonhenninger
Jose Vasconcelos Library in Mexico City. I've never been there, but I'd love to go. Beautiful, isn't it?
62. Murrday
A whole roast on how to lie about reading. Loki would be proud. Me, I'll just
wave my kitten pictures and back quietly away.
63. krisoprano
Bravo! I cried - cried with laughter after shouting at the screen that you've never read Dune, and what kind of Scifi... zing. Thanks for the read.
64. IsabelG
I my days I was ashamed of not having read À la recherche du temps perdu in French, only the translation. Cryptonomicon? Stephen King? We would not dare confess that we read that!
66. Skizyx
PNH and Jo,

I have to admit that I am somewhat stunned at your negative response here. The post isn't roasting those who take books seriously. Nor is it being any more critical of literature than anyone else might be (I am sure you have read published stuff you found horrible - my favorite on that is D. Steele). What is being criticized is the amazing vitriol heaped on people who haven't read a body of work that someone else thinks is brilliant. And yet we, as fans and professionals, still have to live in this world of folks who are building their own little value structure and imposing it on others to make themselves feel better. last time I checked that is called bullying, and *no one* can deny that fandom is full of literary bullies.

We all have felt the sting of condescention. My Lit profs in University would have scoffed at any of body of work in the Sci-Fi or Horror genere as "great literature". Fortunately, I think most of them were complete twits who hadn't figured out that material written post 1900 can be "great literature". But I still had to manage them to get my degrees. I took this post to be much of the same thing. Note the line at the beginning of the post: "...there are few things upon which the literate world heaps more scorn than doofi." I am sure that the attempt not to look like a doofus in ones social circles is something you would understand. Everything else in the post is nothing more than literary criticism, which you yourselves level at authors every time you decide not to publish.

Now don't get me wrong - I have spent *a lot* of money with TOR. And I like pretty much everything from Bob Asprin thru Misty Lackey all the way to Tolkien. But that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the wry humor when someone calls a good friend of mine's Myth series mind candy. From a academic lit crit perspective, it is! I still read it over and over.

I am disappointed in the fact that you who are in the business of writing and editing missed the point of the post. One that was made at the beginning even! What do you do to avoid being condescended to when around people whos opinion you (however slightly) value? All the rest is literary opinion which you can disagree with, but is hardly mean spirited.
68. wsean
I'm at something of a loss to understand what Jo and pbh are upset about.

The post is about a situation we've all found ourselves in from time to time--we're talking to people who are knowledgeable about a certain subject, and we don't want to look like an idiot.
69. NeUr0maNs3r
Another book nobody has read or can remember anything about it - Frank Herbert's God Emperor of Dune. Everybody I know that read various Dune books was defeated by this tome. It's a big change to the former book and you simply loose all will to read on. People just skip to the last chapter, and then resume reading the latter books.
Tex Anne
70. TexAnne
I thought it was funny. A large part of the joke--for me, anyway--is that it's only funny if you've read, or been defeated by*, the books mentioned.

OTOH, I can see why this hit PNH and Jo crossways. If you've spent your life being marginalized for loving something, some jokes will never ever be funny. E.g., I can't laugh at "stupid Southerner" jokes.

OTGH, I wish to mention that the noun meaning "the action of making oneself look like a doofus" is properly "self-doofification." Please see the two preceding paragraphs for an example of the process.

*I'll cop to getting halfway through my Gormenghast omnibus and putting it down, fully intending to read it later. Four years on, my intentions haven't changed.
71. OolooKitty
As someone who's had to defend herself against cries of "You haven't read Tolkien? How can you call yourself a fantasy fan if YOU DON'T LIKE TOLKIEN???!!!!" I found this pretty amusing. Also, there is such a thing as being, uh, oversensitive.
72. PixelFish
I have Gormenghast in omnibus form. I haven't been able to get into it though. (Some of that might just be time and place. Sometimes it takes a while before I can pick up a book and have it hit that sweet spot. Sometimes it never does, but sometimes it just arrives a little late.)

I also have never read Cryptonomicon. Woot for being Amish!

I sorta saw this post as poking gentle fun at the person who has to one-up their acquaintances or deride them for their lack of knowledge. I've not usually run into this in the book world--probably because I AM the person going, "Get thee to a library before I revoke your nerd card,"--but I am put in mind of the sort of folk who get very upset when you admit to not knowing who this or that indie band is. Hipster cred be damned!

(And as a potential mockee, I still found it mostly amusing.)
Vicki Rosenzweig
73. vicki
The bit I found funny was the "sentient dixie cup" line: partly the phrasing, and partly because while there's nothing wrong with not having Butler (I love her work, and it's mostly rather dark and often emotionally difficult), someone would have to be of another species and culture to know nothing about race or gender. (I would recommend Butler, but that's different from thinking there's something wrong with not having read her. Or with having read one or more of her works and not liking them.)

I didn't have Patrick and Jo's reaction, but I don't take well to "how dare you not laugh at X" for any value of X. Also, who on Earth is this "uncrowned king" who is nobly giving Patrick permission to say things on
Alice Arneson
74. Wetlandernw
Ahh, the UnCrowned King. Great guy, actually, if a bit strongly opinionated. Sort of like some other folks on here. Not generally afraid of making his opinions known. Sort of like some other folks on here. What can you say.

Personally I found the post totally hilarious, mostly because I've been on both sides of the setup. Also because I've grown up enough to refrain from taking myself too seriously. Also because I've grown up enough to refrain from taking other people too seriously if we disagree. There you have it. On a forum like this, if it bothers you to the point of raising your blood pressure, don't read it. Pretty simple, really. Even if you work for Tor.
Stephen W
75. Xelgaex
I found the post amusing with the exception of the reference to Peake not reading his book since I was aware that it was published posthumously and thus he literally did not read the book as published. So I understand PNH's reaction.

That said with that exception I found the post very funny. I definitely sympathize with the underlying dilemma, even though my reaction is to just admit I haven't read the book. And sometimes this does result in the interlocutor responding with astonishment and making me feel rather dull.

However, it's probably preferable to lying reading the book and thereby buying into whatever literary pecking order game the other person is playing. And that's where the humor lies, in the ridiculous solution to a common problem. So I thought the target (if any) is those people who feel superior because of the books they've read and perhaps secondarily ourselves for letting the snobs get to us.
76. Monstru Itto
Amazing post!

I read it twice and kept commenting about it to my partner all morning and adding on to it all afternoon (he already thinks I'm delusional).

Thanks for a great read!

Stephen W
77. Xelgaex
A correction to my post @75: Titus Alone was published in 1959 and Peake lived until 1968. So it was not (at least originally) published posthumously. That's what I get for using Wikipedia to refresh my memory instead of walking upstairs to reread the passage from Imaginary Worlds (which incidentally I picked up after reading this post on Tor) that talks about the circumstances surrounding the book. Carter makes it clear that while Peake was not involved in the editing of the book because of his illness, he was in fact alive to see it published.
78. Julianne Ardian Lee
Hm. I've actually met Neil Gaiman and Tim Powers. Nice guys.
79. TimPowers
This was damn funny, and I seriously intend to use the kitten trick. And if somebody ever says to me, "A friend of mine says you do ... Tuvan throat singing?" I'll say yes.
Sandi Kallas
80. Sandikal
I don't have a kitten. Does that mean I actually have to read the books I talk about?
81. Coruca
TimPowers: Next time I run into you at a con, I will bring my kitten pictures and we can have a duel!
82. TimPowers
Coruca -- Right, and incidentally we'll impress everybody with how well-read we are!
Tex Anne
83. TexAnne
Look! It's the Winged Victory of Samothrace holding a kitten!
84. TimPowers
In a snooty voice: "Ahem, I believe it's the Winged Victory of _Kakoureme,_ and if you'd read Pindar's 'Qualms and Misgivings' you'd know that's not a kitten, it's a small, querulous Boethian."

I bet I could get away with that.
85. KatG
Well, I didn't think it was all that funny when Jo Walton did her post here awhile back on how she hates fantasy because really it's pretty awful and stereotypical and unimaginative, even though she writes it, etc. I pointed out in comments that this post played into the stereotyped image of fantasy fiction as fluff with swords, and might discourage SF fans and others from trying fantasy fiction because yet another SFF author was essentially saying fantasy was trashy. I made those comments fully understanding that A)Jo Walton is an excellent writer and B) Walton cares about fantasy fiction, but I still thought it was problematic. Others told me that I was barking up the wrong tree because fantasy fiction is awful, which I kind of thought proved my point. But if we start saying that we can't ever be critical of SFF, the way Walton went about it, or even in jest, then we lose the potential to draw others into the conversation, I think.

Jason's post, for me, had nothing to do with trashing SFF and everything to do with celebrating it. Celebrating how passionate readers are about it, how many different interests readers have concerning it, how overly seriously we take ourselves sometimes about things we care about, how at a loss so many of us feel when facing people who seem to be more well read than we are (and our only defense is a kitten picture,) and about how SFF fans and writers have developed their own language, complete with historic touchstones and catch phrases. It was written by a writer who quite clearly cares about SFF and knows it well, and it was read by fans of the same who regularly argue with each other, and know that those arguments can get a little silly. It wasn't mean; it was a love poem. And a cleverly written one at that.

And if he does get a novel published, he's got a definite purchase from me.
86. Jim Henry III
I thought the post was hilarious, though in retrospect I can see how some people would find it unfunny or even offensive -- mainly re: the unwitting connection between suffering Parkinson's and getting drunk. Still, it made me laugh harder than I've laughed in several days, what with evoking all the times I've been embarrassed to admit I've never read some classic work of fiction, or (more often given the friends I hang out with) haven't seen some classic movie. It's weird how social conventions can make us sometimes more embarrassed about things that aren't actually wrong than we sometimes are about things we've really done wrong and aren't as ashamed of as we should be.

I have read Titus Alone (though not recently enough to remember much detail besides the cool steampunk robots and the giant marionettes); my recollection is that it only seems bad in comparison with the amazing brilliance of the first two books. It was plenty enjoyable to keep me reading to the end and make me plan to read it again, though I haven't done so yet; I re-read really long books and series less often than short ones.

Right after The Fellowship of the Ring movie was released, I was talking to my cousin, and mentioned to her that I'd just been re-reading the books for the first time in eight or nine years; she got uncomfortably silent for a while, and then admitted that she didn't actually like Tolkien much and hadn't finished LotR. I immediately felt bad about that and tried to make her feel better by admitting I'd bounced off Huckleberry Finn twice and never finished it (at that time; I have read it once since then).

This reminds me of some parts of Hilaire Belloc's Caliban's Guide to Letters where he gives advice to young journalists on writing articles on subjects one knows nothing about.
Ethan Glasser-Camp
87. glasserc
Just to chime in, I thought this post was hilarious, and in the vein of @85 I thought it was an honest criticism of our culture. Yes, books are important -- but we can express that love in different ways, and browbeating those who STILL haven't read Dune OMG is not a constructive way.

Additionally I thought it was kind of a send-up of our focus on our collective literary past (as in Science Fiction Without the Future). I would submit either or both of these as the deeper truths of this article.

Ashley W
88. a_neonta
It was decent... though I like the idea better as a short, SFF-focused blog post :)
89. KatG
That was an interesting essay, glasserc. It's also interesting because it was written in 2001, and now of course, YA SF is ripping up the bestseller charts, proving that kids and teens have not lost an interest in SF after all. The magazines have not recovered, but then magazines and newspapers of all kinds are struggling with the same issues.
David Lev
90. davidlev
Titus Alone was actually my favorite of the Gormenghast books, although now I remember nothing about it, whilst still remembering tidbits of the other two.

I guess if you'd want to be really snooty you could talk about Titus Aged (the fourth book of which Peake only wrote about a page before his Parkinsons got too bad)
91. SirBruce
Robert A. Heinlein: If anyone asks your opinion on Heinlein, simply say that while you enjoyed his juveniles, you thought his later works became very long, very meandering, explicitly sexual, and very weird, and you believe it was due to his brain tumor. People will nod thoughtfully, as everyone believes this story to be true, even though it's not. Tell them you heard it from Cory Doctorow.
Zachary Ricks
92. madpoet
I thought this was an excellent blog post, as I appreciate anything that expands my vocabulary (perseverating) and I've always been somewhat in fear of being accosted by Rabid Fans of Genre-Defining Author X. I still remember being freaked out when in the mid-90's I admitted in a room of Weis/Hickman fans (at a lecture being given by Tracy Hickman, no less) that I'd never read the Darksword trilogy. I sort of expected them to jump up and haul me off to be pressed between large stones.

But they were actually pretty cool about it, IIRC. Oh, and Hickman himself? Really nice guy.

Nowadays, I understand that doofi exist in plenty of places, not just scifi fandom. Not giving them my attention has worked out pretty well so far. But the kitten picture... I'm going to have to try that.

Oh, and 91 - SirBruce? Yeah. I think if you wanted a place to stick a marker for the flip from Heinlein juveniles to Heinlein later weirdness, he lost me at Number of the Beast. I have no idea what the heck happened between Tunnel in the Sky and that but... whoa. Just... whoa.
93. Lyle Hopwood
Funny stuff! I laughed - even though growing up, for me the problem was always braving up to interrogation on how come I hadn't seen a new movie. I'd reply, "But I read the book!" Then I started seeing more movies than books. Then I started skipping through the DVDs.

Nowadays if it isn't re-enacted by bunnies in 30 second-long flash cartoons('m probably going to give it a miss, so hard luck, Cryptonomicon (and for that matter Titus Alone).
94. Wolflullaby
Do you realise what you've done? You've opened up the opportunity for countless book discussions in the comments!

I suppose it gives everyone a chance to try out their lying skills at least. ;)
95. punditius
@27 - I have actually read How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read. It turns out that no matter what you might think, you have never actually read a book. Not even, presumably, How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read. Nor has anyone else. Plus, the book you have not read is not the same book that someone else has not read, even if you are referring to the same physical artifact which you are calling a "book." Bottom line, you can go ahead and talk about any book you haven't read, because no one else has, either. Any of them, including the author. Damned if I know. It seemed to make sense at the time...
96. OperaMan22
I read Titus Alone, and let me tell you, the movie got it all wrong! What, you haven't heard of the movie?! The only thing that made it watchable was the compelling performance by Michael J. Fox.
97. workmomlibrary
All I do when someone starts talking about a book I haven't read, have no intention of reading, would even like to toss it in the dump, is just say, hmmmmmmmmm really. I'll look into it. Works every time.
Simcha Lazarus
98. SCLazarus
This is really great stuff!
Would it be possible for me to include this piece on a SFF website that I am creating? I am looking for more articles to include and I would love to include this one.


Pablo Defendini
99. pablodefendini
@ SCLazarus #98
Unfortunately, no, you may not. Please email me if you have additional questions.
100. KipTW
Hey, look at this baby picture of my daughter!
103. Harq Al Ada
I have to say, this is the funnies SF article I've ever read. Maybe this is a bad idea, but I think it would be great to write a sequel.
You know, you could get robert heinlen, stephen king, ray bradbury, if you want to get more modern paolo bacigalupi.
104. Jim Webster
I tried to read Titus Alone, but all my friends kept hanging around.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment