A bunch of, I’m assured, respectable UK authors confess on video to classic books they haven’t read. My favourite is the guy who wrote his O levels on Wuthering Heights by using his parents’ constant raving as his source material, and scored his school’s highest grade ever without having read the book. That’s hardcore, bruthah.
Humiliation, the game is called. And that’s what it inflicts. You have to confess to a famous book you haven’t read – and there’s no opportunity for sly self-congratulation.
You can’t just plead that, gosh, though you simply ADORE Perec you blush to admit you only got halfway through La Disparation in the original French. You only score points in the game according to how many other players HAVE read it.
So in the David Lodge story that popularised this gruesome entertainment, an academic wins the game – but loses his job – by confessing: “Hamlet.” It was with his downfall in mind that we hit on our idea.
During this year’s Ways With Words festival at Dartington Hall, Devon, we would collar our guests and ask: what’s the book you’re most ashamed of never having read?
I enjoy telling this story, and I’ve told several times before, but it’s my blog so: I once won a silk shirt from Michael Ondaatje in a contest held at Michael Redhill’s house when Andre Alexis was challenging the crowd to find someone willing to admit to three “nevers”: never been to Spain, never smoked a cigarette, never read Proust. I might have not been the only one in the room qualified, but I was certainly the only one unashamed enough of all three to admit it.