Let’s Talk Bookish: Why do people lie about reading books?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Discussions pertain to topics related to reading or books. Share your opinions, and spread the love by visiting other “Let’s Talk Bookish” posts.

Prompts: Some people will say they have read books when they really haven’t; why do you think that is? Have you ever personally lied about reading a book? How do you feel about people who lie about reading books? Do you think there’s a certain type of book people are more likely to lie about reading?

**Please note there may be some sarcastic remarks in italics **

Close friends usually tell me like to tell exactly what they think when I suggest they read a book I liked. This ranges from, “I don’t want to,” “Make me,” “I hate reading,” and the infamous “I’ll pick it up later.” (Translation: I will not be reading it, but I know this might make you feel better, and I know that it will make you stop pestering me about it for the moment.) I love my friends, and this is how it should be! We shouldn’t feel the need to lead each other on about whether we will or won’t read a book, but, on occasion, people may not be as forthcoming about reading books.

Social desirability bias refers to a response bias where participants in a survey provide the socially acceptable answer. Because participants want to be looked upon favorably, they give the answer that is expected of them.  For instance, if individuals are asked whether they voted, they are likely to respond that they did because it’s the socially acceptable answer. Being asked about reading likely works in a similar way. When individuals are asked if they’ve read a book lately, they may be likely to respond affirmatively because reading is viewed as “good behavior.” If I tell you that I read, maybe you’ll see me in a better light. Reading is often perceived to be associated with intelligence. If you are a reader, you must be smart! (Right?! Also the opposite assumption must be true then.)

However, not all reading may be considered positive. Let’s take this one step further and consider genres. Certain genres are seen as more acceptable or even more superior than others. For instance, romance novels are often viewed negatively whereas classics are viewed positively. Science fiction and fantasy are often perceived to be only for nerds and geeks. Romance novels are often perceived to be read only by women. Due to social desirability bias, these stereotypes can influence responses. Generally, people may be more likely to say they do not read romance novels, even if they do. The stigma surrounding romance novels may prompt these negative responses. Similarly, people may be more willing to respond that they’ve read books by Toni Morrison or Jane Austen because books by these authors are deemed literary classics. Smart people read classics. (Obviously!)

Why do people are people not as forthcoming about reading books? There are plenty of smart people who do not like to read but it is hard to say no when society tells everyone that it’s what they should do–it’s what smart people do (apparently). Of course, only certain types of books are acceptable though. While I love reading, I understand there are so many things other people may enjoy more. Time is a scarce resource so we should spend it doing the things we love. I might try to convince you to read a book but I also respect that you don’t want to.

What your thoughts on this? Why might people not want to disclose that they aren’t readers? Why might others lie about reading a book? What can we do to create a culture that doesn’t shame individuals who cannot read or do not like to read?

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish: Why do people lie about reading books?

  1. I think just as you say, that people want to give an answer they believe will be desirable or acceptable. They want others to believe they are ‘better’ than they are. This is applied in so many other situations too. I’ve seen it with food, income, grades… you name it. I’m not sure we’ll ever have a non-shaming society. This also makes me think about how so many people were/are embarrassed about reading certain romance novels like the Fifty Shades books. Until people can accept themselves for who they are and who others are, I don’t think it’ll ever change. Not to be negative! 😉 Just my thoughts.

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    • I don’t think you’re being negative at all, just realistic. I greatly appreciate your thoughts!

      I’ve never read Fifty Shades. I wasn’t a fan of romance novels at the time and more entrenched in fantasy. Since coming around and consuming romance novels from left to right, I have felt the “shame” more than once as people displayed their astonishment at what I willingly chose to read. I don’t care about it anymore but it was a different feeling and no one had ever bothered to look twice when it was a fantasy novel in my hands. You’re right self-acceptance is important but acceptance can be a hard process and, personally, it was also difficult to stop caring what people thought. Sometimes, the ability to not care feels like a privilege that not everyone has.

      You’re right. I’m not sure we’ll ever have a non-shaming society, but it would be nice if we could contribute to shaming less so people don’t have to feel embarrassed about it or feel less than for not having done certain things. For instance, according to data from 2012-15, the U.S. lags in adult literacy when compared to countries like Japan and Finland and 50% of U.S. adults can’t read an 8th grade level book. Seeking help is difficult if society points and shames those who can’t read. (Sorry started ranting here…)

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    • Yah, I think social desirability has a lot to do with it. Another thing that occurred to me is sometimes individuals might lie so they don’t have to hear that they need to read it or go into a whole conversation about it. My friend confessed to me a long time ago that he was allergic to peanuts just so people would stop asking why he didn’t like peanuts. Maybe book convo might be like that for some people…heh

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