A Brief History of Time — Stephen Hawking
Interesting question, attractive woman I’ve been a few dates with who is seeing my apartment for the first time… What did I think of this book that I haven’t actually read?
Well, as you can tell from its cover, this is a book that asks the big questions. Like, why is there something instead of nothing? What are the origins of the universe? Would you like a glass of the Pinot Grigio? Or perhaps you'd prefer the Sauvignon Blanc? Maybe let’s step away from the bookshelf for a moment to admire my impressive collection of dying succulents…
Hamlet — William Shakespeare
Ah yes. “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Let’s honor the Bard’s advice and maybe just stop talking about this one completely? Perhaps we could find another way to occupy our lips… like, know any good tongue twisters?
Infinite Jest — David Foster Wallace
A true masterpiece. A fresh spin on a tale as old as time. Complex, and yet, uncomplicated? Daring, and yet, inevitable? Refreshing, bubbly, aromatic, and crisp, with hints of wild strawberries. That’s a pretty hard sell from the Pinot Grigio if you ask me.
Oh, I know! Let’s go to the kitchen all the way on the other side of the apartment to check on the sous-vide! That’s a fancy-sounding word that I spent $150 to be allowed to say in this context. What’s that? A sous-vide is “set-and-forget,” and I spent $150 to look like an idiot? How fun! Well, it sure is a good thing the expensive “set-and-forget” box won’t keep us from talking at length about the rest of these books whose spines are visibly un-creased.
The Inferno — Dante (Or maybe it’s Dante’s Inferno? And no one knows the author’s name like with Beowulf?)
Okay Google, play the playlist “I Love My 90s R&B” on Spotify, VOLUME 100%.
THE METAMORPHOSIS — FRANZ KAFKA
WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU! ALL I CAN HEAR IS THE SWEET, SWEET VOICE OF MS. LAURYN HILL!
DON QUIXOTE — MIGUEL DE CERVANTES
“THAT THING, THAT THING, THAT THIIIIIIIIIIING/
THAT THING, THAT THING, THAT THIIIIIIIIIIING”
Damnit, now is not the time for a software update, Google! So, uh, where did we land on the situation vis-à-vis Sauvignon Blanc vs Pinot Grigio? Ohh ooh! We should mix them together like sodas at a movie theatre! Have you ever done that? You have to try it!
Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
What do we really mean when we say that we’ve “read a book?” Do we mean that you’ve purchased the book, never cracked its cover, and have completely forgotten it ever existed? Or must reading include a cursory knowledge of the primary characters and central themes, the type of generalized synopsis one could obtain by skimming the Wikipedia entry?
Yes, this is a topic we could talk about endlessly, or at least until we’re ready to trade tonsils. For instance, does it count as “reading” if you aren’t reading the book right this very minute, have in fact never even heard of the book, and are instead in attendance at the Indy 500 Motor Speedrace in Indianapolis, Indiana? Cheering on your favorite Indycar driver, wearing your signature Indycar sweatshirt in the middle of the Indycar Grand Prix? It’s a matter of definitions is what I’m saying.
Tell me this: If a Professor of Russian Literature opened Anna Karenina right now, read it cover to cover, located its motifs in their cultural context, and then published dozens of relevant articles in well-respected, peer-reviewed journals, could she be said at that point to have read the book? It’s a real gray area in my estimation.
Perhaps we can all agree on this: Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc go REALLY well together. Like, did we just invent a new thing? We should open a business! Let’s “notarize” this LLC operating agreement by making out on the couch.
Atlas Shrugged — Ayn Rand
Oh, no, that one’s not mine. In this case, I can tell you for sure what reading is and is not, and I have NOT read that one. How did that even get on there? You know what? My libertarian ex-roommate must’ve left it here by mistake when he moved out. Let me just tuck it gingerly into my bed where I sleep, so I’ll remember it’s trash.
Crime and Punishment — Fyodor Dostoevsky
Part I, Chapter VII
“It’s okay if you’ve never read it,” she said, Russianly, in a Russian accent, as though she were a Russian character in the Russian crime novel, Crime and Punishment.
She had figured him out! He had not a minute more to lose. He fondled the axe he had stashed in his St. Petersburg-style overcoat… But wait? He had never read Crime and Punishment! How did Raskolnikov get away with the murder? Did he hide the body with The Brothers Karamazov? Or perhaps it had something to do with the Pinot Grigio?
“Hello?” his date waved Slavicly. “Ground Control to Major Tom.”
He broke down in a puddle of tears, as though the overcoat that was beyond his meager government salary had been stolen by two ruffians in the middle of winter. The axe fell to the floor with a clang.
“Holy shit!” his date shrieked, running from the apartment to alert the Russian authorities, who were nearby, because this story takes place in 1860s Russia.
“I’m soooooorrrrryyyyyy!” he cried to the newly-empty apartment. “I never read the boooooook!”
But there are no happy endings in Russian novels. Or maybe all unhappy endings are unhappy in their own way? Look, I’m gonna be real honest with you, I never actually read the book.