For the last six Sunday nights, nine o’clock, an internal alarm went off in each one of my family members and we dropped whatever we were doing. For one perfect hour we watched as Lily James danced across our screen, we swooned at the beautiful James Norton- with his delicious floppy hair that rivals even a 1995 Colin Firth- we cursed when, the evil (and not even that good looking), Anatol Kuragin came into shot and weeped for the lovable, hopeless fool Pierre. BBC’s War and Peace was a masterpiece, completely perfect, costume drama at its most lavish- and I couldn’t get enough.
But despite War & Peace being the most watched programme of 2016 so far, according to a recent survey commissioned by the BBC only 9% of people asked have actually read it- nope I am not one of these 9%. It also unveiled that 44% would be tempted to pick up a book if it had been deemed worthy of an all-star dramatisation- yep I am definitely one of these 44%.
More than half of 2,000 people surveyed admitted that they often claim to have read popular novels and literary classics. We all seem desperate to appear intelligent and well read- admittedly as an English student I got pretty good at doing just this. My first and most of my second year were spent frantically trawling the internet (mostly sparknotes, no judgement please) for information on books that I had no intention of reading. Looking back now I probably spent as much time trying to look like I had read the book, than the time it would have taken me to actually read it. I have got to the point where I know some books so well that I actually cant decipher if I have read them or just pretended to read them. However, since I have actually started War and Peace (whether I will finish it or not is a different matter) I have realised that a lot is lost when you look at a screen, a lot is scaled down, and you are limited to the imagination of the writers and directors, essentially you have to actually read the words to truly know the novel.
But understandably some of us don’t have the time to commit to an epic, and at the end of the day I usually want to get in bed with a trashy magazine or a Sophie Kinsella book, so TV adaptations are a good compromise. BUT, as a result of the survey, the BBC published the top 20 books people pretend to have read and since I am a graduate with too much time on my hands I have vowed to slowly make my way through the extensive list, which shamefully I have read less than half of.
So here’s a handful of ones I have actually read (at least I think I have), alongside some very brief summaries for those who want to bluff their way through the most lied about novels…
1. “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll
Girl falls down a rabbit hole- she shrinks, she grows, she shrinks, she grows, she shrinks, she shrinks some more, she grows, she wakes up.
2. “1984,” by George Orwell
Just say the words ‘Dystopian’ and ‘Totalitarianism’ and you should get by okay.
3. “War And Peace,” by Leo Tolstoy
Everyone seems to fall for unsuitable suitors, but all ends happily with the aristocratic heroes getting together and the Frenchies getting a beating. (I am three chapters in btw)
4. “Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy
Beautiful woman cheats on her husband and takes a dashing young lover, doesn’t end particularly well.
5. “The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes,” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Opium fuelled detective fights crime.
6. “The Great Gatsby,” by F.Scott Fitzgerald
Past love fleetingly recaptured, a couple of marriages broken, a crime unsolved, lives lost, and the disillusionment of a naive New York newcomer.
7. “Pride And Prejudice,” by Jane Austen
Witty and clever Elizabeth Bennet marries the not so charming Mr Darcy, but there’s a lot before this- Bridget Jones follows a similar plot if that helps.
8. “Harry Potter” (series), by JK Rowling
If you haven’t read it, leave.
9. “Great Expectations,” by Charles Dickens
Boy comes into large fortune from a mysterious benefactor, falls in love with bitchy Estella.
10. “Fifty Shades” trilogy, by EL James
I can understand why someone might pretend not to have the trilogy, but pretend to have read it… I am confused.