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Why Readers Pretend

(London Times)

Readers worried that their failure to battle through War and Peace will make them an object of ridicule among erudite friends may console themselves.

Those who profess to having read Tolstoy's opus are likely to be lying.

The television adaptation of the Russian epic starring Lily James has prompted BBC Worldwide to conduct research on how many people who claim to have read the book are fibbing.

An online survey of 2,000 people interested in books suggested that a quarter of people were prepared to lie about certain books they felt they ought to have read, often in an attempt to seem more attractive. The proportion rose to a third if the person did not have to lie outright but only fail to correct someone else's assumption.

Some 17 per cent of respondents said that they were more likely to lie if a book had been adapted for television or the cinema. War and Peace, which runs to more than 1,000 pages in some editions, was fourth in the list of books people wrongly claimed to have read. Bluffers were more likely to have claimed to have read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, confident that there was no need to plough through a relatively modest 176 pages if they had seen either of the Disney adaptations.

George Orwell's Nineteen EightyFour, which is more than double the length, proved to be another easy brag as long as no one probed too deeply about what happened to Winston Smith in Room 101. In third was The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which can easily be avoided by watching Peter Jackson's film version.

The prestige of Charles Dickens's dense prose made him the most lied about author. David Copperfield, Bleak House, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist were all in the top 20, as was JKRowling's Harry Potter series and EL James's Fifty Shades trilogy.

The BBC appeared to encourage the phenomenon by inviting readers to download its BBC Store app, which enables people to watch the broadcaster's adaptations of challenging texts.

Jonathan Green, director of BBC Store said: "Not everyone is as well read as they'd like to be but BBC Store gives you a fighting chance of bluffing your way more convincingly if a book comes up in conversation that you haven't yet found time to read."

The biggest excuse for lying, cited by 40 per cent of respondents, was to prevent themselves from being left out of a conversation. Just under a third said they wished to appear more intelligent.

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