Admit it. There are at least a couple of books that you said that you’d read when you really hadn’t. Maybe you saw the movie so you figured, “hey, that’s close enough!” Or, maybe you were embarrassed that you didn’t read it so you just said that you did to make yourself feel better. Maybe it’s just that you MEANT to read the book and just haven’t gotten around to it…yet.  Nonetheless, you still lied about reading the book and you are not alone. There have been several studies looking specifically at different populations of people, where they live, age, schooling, etc. and then examining the list of books they said they’d read when they really hadn’t.  Fascinating stuff. While there are some obvious books on these lists, things that even bibliophiles will admit were hard to get through, some are actually surprising. What wasn’t all that surprising to me were the number of high schools required reading books that made it to many a person’s lists of books they’d lied about reading. I don’t know about you, but my high school English teachers would have definitely caught on if I’d simply watched the movie version of “Romeo & Juliet” or “The Scarlet Letter.” Maybe I’m just not that good of a liar. In any event, I scoured the lists online, and looked at the answers I received when I used this as an ice-breaker question during a book group I hosted, to compile my list of the top 20 books that people most often lie about reading.

  1. “War and Peace,” by Leo Tolstoy. This is one I’d much rather watch than read.
  2. “Anna Karenina,” also by Leo Tolstoy. Seriously…I fell asleep in the movie.
  3. “Crime and Punishment,” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Often described as the longest 545 page book.
  4. “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hmm…did you really read it, or just watch the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio?
  5. “Pride and Prejudice,” by Jane Austen. Watching the movie version involving zombies doesn’t count.
  6. “Great Expectations,” by Charles Dickens is actually my favorite book by the author. The characters truly made me understand the phrase, “never judge a book by its cover.”
  7. “1984,” by George Orwell. A lot of the same folks who bought the CliffsNotes version of this one when they were in high school, have now found themselves reading this dystopic novel as adults, given the current political climate. Chilling.
  8. “The Bell Jar,” by Sylvia Plath. She only wrote the one novel, but for many this autobiography of a woman falling into madness is just too emotionally scarring to actually read.
  9. “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger is often found on banned book lists so you’d think more folks would actually want to read this tale of teenage angst and rebellion. But they don’t.
  10. “Of Mice and Men,” by John Steinbeck. Another one that many folks have seen on the big screen, forgoing the quite short novel about life during the Great Depression.
  11. “Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville. I’ll say this…even if you haven’t read the whole book, you likely can recite the first line.
  12. “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. These books were on every list I found. Many people admitted to just seeing the films. They were equally balanced by the rabid followers of Tolkien who say you can’t appreciate the Harry Potter books if you’ve not read Tolkien first. I’ll come clean here. I read “The Hobbit” and the first book in the trilogy, “The Fellowship of the Ring” and that was it for me. I was done.
  13. The “Harry Potter” Series by J.K. Rowling. This was one that surprised me as there are so many diehard fans, you’d think everyone and his brother would have read this series, but lo and behold, many folks have just seen the movies. Okay, you got me, I’ll come clean again in the name of science. Although I have personally sold hundreds of copies of the books in this series, I’ve only ever read the first one. There. I said it.
  14. “Fifty Shades of Grey” Trilogy by E.L. James. Another odd one. Do you want to admit that you read this series…or would you rather say you’d never read an erotic novel? Or maybe you just saw the movie, and still don’t want to admit to enjoying this one?
  15. “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” by William Shakespeare. While there are a couple of lines from this play that are often quoted, many folks have never read the whole thing. And watching all seven seasons of “Sons of Anarchy” does not count.
  16. “The Old Man and the Sea,” by Ernest Hemingway is a short novel and on most high school reading lists. Nonetheless, a lot of people skipped it/skimmed it. This one should be read as an adult when you can actually appreciate it.
  17. “Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller. The fact that people know what it means to say that something is a “catch 22,” but have no idea what the novel is about is astounding.
  18. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee. So many people have seen the iconic film, truly believing that by doing so they read the book. No way. This is a book to not only be read, but be read more than once.
  19. “The Holy Bible.” Saying you are not a religious person is no excuse. This book has shaped the way we view our world and influenced many writers. It was required reading in a fantasy literature class I took in college. Go figure.
  20. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll. According to a survey conducted by the BBC, this is the #1 book that Britons lie about having read. Hmm…wonder if they saw the movie version featuring Johnny Depp instead? Now that’s entertainment 😉

Anything you want to add to the list? Any that surprise you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Julie Bond

Julie Bond is a voracious reader with eclectic tastes running the gamut from YA lit, to psychological suspense, and anything dog-related, of course. You can find her haunting her favorite San Francisco Bay Area indie bookstores. Email her at


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