I am an English major. There are responsibilities associated with this impressive academic credential. Most importantly, you are expected to have read every work of literature ever written. In any conversation in which books or poetry comes up, you are expected to make an intelligent comment, just like the Wharton kid is always supposed to figure out how to split the bill after a delicious meal at El Azteca. Conversations with multiple English majors are the worst. They inevitably become competitions to see who is better read. Then who can pull a bus farther. Then we tend to drop all pretenses and measure our penises against each other.
Of course, this problem isn’t restricted to English majors. There are simply times in life when one wants to appear smarter and better educated than one really is. What I am going to do is offer basic, essential information on a few key novels in the English cannon—some old favorites and some more trendy ones, just to show people that you’re an adventurous, cutting-edge reader. I know Cliff Notes and Spark Notes offer a similar service, but those are for faking it in seminar: “I’ll read what she’s reading.”
In contrast, the information that I am about to provide is for faking it in social situations, and will hopefully get you laid by some literary chick/nerd. To this end, I offer specific comments that you can make if these books come up in conversation that further cement your well-read image. These are books that everyone should have read but let’s be honest: there are 24 hours in a day and you can either read or play Mike Tyson’s Punch Out on your emulator. It’s not a complicated decision.
The Book: Pride and Prejudice. This book is about Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. They try to hate each other, but they really love each other. It takes a while for them to figure it out and there is a lot of Victorian silliness relating to class and etiquette.
Why It’s Important to Look Like You’ve Read It: If she’s really a girl, it’s her favorite book. It’s arguably the first romantic comedy, and you already know how much girls like Love Actually. Furthermore, cuddling, snuggling, and Valentine’s Day were invented in Pride and Prejudice.
Prepackaged Comment to Make if this Book Comes Up in Conversation: “Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen? Can’t I pick both?” or “I feel that Austen’s work is profoundly enriched by the homoerotic tension between her female characters.”
The Book: The Great Gatsby. This book is about Nick and his rich friend, Gatsby. The plot is complicated but ultimately Gatsby learns that money can’t buy happiness and in the end, he gets capped.
Why It’s Important to Look Like You’ve Read It: This was everyone’s favorite book, according to their facebook profile. All of them were forced to read it in high school and thought that they might look a little less shallow if they said they liked Gatsby in addition to Bright Eyes and Grey’s Anatomy.
Prepackaged Comment to Make if this Book Comes Up in Conversation: “We all know that Fitzgerald is a brilliant singer, but this book shows her promise as a writer.” or “Can you believe they couldn’t drink back then? That’s some fucked up shit, brosef.”
The Book: Atlas Shrugged. It’s a book about a railroad tycoon, but really the story is just an excuse for Ayn Rand to talk about her views on ethics, politics, and economics. This book is the bible for libertarian, objectivist assholes.
Why It’s Important to Look Like You’ve Read It: That annoying kid in your econ recitation will simply not shut up about it. Also, it’s thick, so people will be impressed if they think you finished the whole thing.
Prepackaged Comment to Make if this Book Comes Up in Conversation: “This book is unlike her others—where are the vampires?” or “Atlas Shrugged is not really original; it just pulls together and refines ideas from the Fountainhead and Anthem.”
The Book: Beloved. Like all Toni Morrison novels, this book shows that it’s terrible to be poor, black, female, living in the south, and abused. Then again, it’s not like we need a novel to tell us this.
Why It’s Important to Look Like You’ve Read It: The Times said that this is the best work in all of modern American fiction, suspiciously enough amid unrelated accusations of racism. Also, if you read this, you instantly seem more socially concerned and sympathetic to the plight of those living at the margins of society.
Prepackaged Comment to Make if this Book Comes Up in Conversation: “Though the Times says that this is the best book in American fiction in the last few decades, I feel that this is doing a grave injustice to Updike.” or “You know, I’m not black, but I’ve read literally several books about black people.”
The Book: 1984. This book is about an authoritarian government and the man that dared defy it…until he got his ass kicked and fell back in line.
Why It’s Important to Look Like You’ve Read It: It seems that political commentators can’t go two minutes without referring to this book. Second only to invoking Nazism, 1984 is one of the most important tools for alarmists and exaggerators everywhere.
Prepackaged Comment to Make if this Book Comes Up in Conversation: “Don’t you see? Islam is Emmanuel Goldstein, President Bush is Big Brother, and Fox News is the Ministry of Truth!” or “Wow—things were like that in 1984? It’s heartening to see how far this country’s come in a mere twenty-three years.”
These should cover you for a few conversations with Penn’s fierce pseudo-intellectuals. If all else fails, you can simply get glasses with thick black plastic rims. These tend to intimidate those humanities students that would normally question you. Drop me an email if you want to share some of your own tips on faking novels. I haven’t read the Brothers Karamazov or A Farewell to Arms. I’d really like to be able to mull them over at the next English Department party, but I’m really busy—the new Mandy Moore album isn’t going to listen to itself.