Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cathy Haynes on the fun to be had lying about books

A recent Mori report revealed that 40% of us resort to lying about having read certain books just so we can join in with a conversation. My cynical side seizes on this as dismal evidence that we’re buckling with indignity under the weight of “must-reads” the media piles upon us daily. But my upbeat, airy self wonders if the statisticians have stumbled upon and misinterpreted a fantastic party game being played all over the land where everyone is re-imagining the content of books in a splendid frenzy of creativity.

I would never condone ths misrepresentation of an important work; the urgent content of some books is vital for us to encounter critically and debate collectively. But perhaps there is a playful liberation in the 40%’s fraudulent resistance to the tyranny of booklists. What’s more, that we’re able to bluff a conversation about a book we’ve never read suggests at least 40% of us are much better at creative storytelling than we might have expected.

In The School of Life’s Play course we experiment with an old parlour game. It’s the one where you choose three obscure books, read their covers aloud and ask players to write what they think is the first line. An umpire then reads out the results with the real first line of the book buried somewhere among them, and asks the group to choose which is the real one. I’m prepared to bet as much as a fiver that no matter how many times we play this game, the group will always mistakenly identify one of their own lines as the real thing. But perhaps 40% of us already knew that, and are busy playing the game up and down the land.

- Cathy Haynes, The School of Life

Cathy Haynes is part of The School of Life's faculty. To find out more about the Play course click HERE. Photo by Jeff Mermelstein.

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