August 2002

Jessa Crispin


How To Talk Like You've Read Something You Haven't

There are certain books that tend to come up in conversation over and over again. Some of the time I have read it and can hold my own. Other times, however, I’ll either say I’ve read it and then just nod and remain quiet when they try to pry a conversation out of me, or I’ll just admit I have no idea what they’re talking about.

I figured there were two remedies to the end of the conversation that comes with having not read the book. I could either read the books or I could find a way to convincingly bluff my way through the conversation.

I decided to bluff. I do have a reputation as a bookslut to uphold.

All that’s needed for a successful bluff is mentioning a scene from the book. If the book was made into a movie, don’t try to reference a scene that made it to film. Everyone does that. To make it more believable, be vague. If you don’t mention characters’ names, you can then say, “Oh, it was such a long time ago, I’m a bit hazy on the details…” when you are asked your opinion on another specific scene.

Here are some examples of books that tend to come into my conversations and scenes you can use to bluff your way through a conversation. No one will be any wiser.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

There is a wealth of material to reference in this book. The scene I tend to mention is early in the book: a character’s apartment is full of cockroaches, but he too afraid to kill them. Instead, he traps them in glasses until his apartment is an obstacle course of upside down glasses with a cockroach in each, lethargically refusing to die.

However, that scene is pretty early on in the book. If you want people to think you read at least a bit more, there’s always the rehab. A man escapes from rehab every night to put cats in bags and set them on fire. That might be harder to work into polite conversation, however.

Ulysses by James Joyce

Masturbation should always be a great cocktail party topic. And if there’s such a thing as a great masturbation scene from literature, I think James Joyce has a fine contender with his Gerty / Leopold Bloom scene.

The scene itself doesn’t consist of much. Gerty sees Bloom on a hill, and being a romantic schoolgirl, she envisions him as a heroic character. Joyce satirizes a great deal of romance novels with Gerty’s inner monologue. The kicker of the scene is that while Gerty is imagining them running away together into the sunset, Bloom is jerking off to her hemline. When she stands to walk away, he notices she walks with a limp. His reaction? “Glad I didn’t know it when she was on show.”

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

The movie is very faithful to the book until the end, so the ending is what you’ll want to use. It’s best to just get indignant to how they changed the ending, because that’s the complaint I hear the most.

The buildings didn’t explode in the book because Tyler favored a more faulty type of bomb. The narrator shot himself surrounded by Marla and an assortment of the support group members.

Or you could mention that the soap in the book was made from the liposuctioned fat of Marla’s mother.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

The scene that creeped me out the most was always hearing the S.O.S. tapping through the strange doorway.

However, if you mention the letters from Truant’s (the narrator of the story) mother in the hospital, you can pretend like you’ve read two books, House of Leaves and The Whalestoe Letters. Truant’s mother was institutionalized and died in the hospital. One theory I’ve seen mentioned a few times is that the entire book is her delusion. Doesn’t hold up well, but can inspire passionate conversations about the book. All you have to do is bring it up, then stand back and nod.

The Invisibles by Grant Morrison

There is some controversy over whether The Matrix ripped off The Invisibles. Even Morrison seems to think it’s true. If this ever comes up, this is what Kenan thinks you should say:

“What a load of bullshit. If Morrison wants to be angry at someone for ripping him off, he should be mad at Osama bin Laden for stealing his idea for decentralized cells of terrorists. Jesus.”