In Woody Allen’s clever 1983 mockumentary “Zelig,” the title character lies about having read “Moby-Dick” so he can fit in with the crowd – kicking off a career as a face-changing human chameleon.
Turns out there are a lot of Zeligs around: a recent survey found that more than two-thirds of respondents admitted to lying about having read classic books, with George Orwell’s “1984” topping the fib list.
The survey of more than 1,300 readers by the UK-based organizers of World Book Day, placed Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and James Joyce’s “Ulysses” at Nos. 2 and 3 of the book that inspired the most lies.
Breaking at least one commandment, 24 percent of those surveyed said they had lied about reading The Bible, which placed No 4. People didn’t only pretend to read old-time tomes: President Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” made the list, at No. 9.
The study also found that even the liars have favorite authors: “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling is the writer most like reading.
The survey explains the enduring popularity of CliffNotes. But it probably speaks more to the Zelig-like tug of conformity: Most of the confessors in the survey said they had lied to impress someone.
Now is your chance to clear your conscience, if only anonymously. Use the comments section below to reveal what books you’ve lied about reading and why.
We won’t tell anyone – honest.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.