When presented with a list of “must read before you die/turn 50/graduate” novels, the instinctive response is to run down the list saying “read/not read/read” etc. In other words we treat the question of whether we have read a novel as a binary yes/no matter.
But if you think about it for a moment, that’s almost certainly wrong.
Why? Well, apart from reading or not reading a novel (or any other book) there are a number of other answers. I’ve come up with this list, but I suspect it’s possible to add more:
- I have read it, but got bored and skipped bits
- I read some or most of it but didn’t finish
- I read it in translation
- Someone read it to me
- I’ve seen the film/television adaptation
- I read an abridged version
- I listened to the audio book
- I read it a long time ago and can’t remember (hardly) anything about it
- I have read it and reread it so many times I can recite long chunks from memory
- I read it carefully because I knew I was going to have to write something sensible and coherent about it in my blog.
You will probably have guessed this, but nowadays when I say I have read a book, I usually mean the final category. I am not saying any of the others are in any way wrong – just pointing out that “I’ve read that book” can mean different things to different people.