Picture the scene. You’re standing in deep discussion with an object of your ardent esteem and they have been prattling on for a lengthy stint of time. That well-practised expression of agreement so-urgent-it-simply-cannot-be-expressed-in-words is hanging onto your features with an iron grip. The only thought you can quite grasp is that you have absolutely no idea what course the discussion has taken. Suddenly, without warning, the harmless chitchat takes an alarming turn:
“Well, I’ve blabbered away quite enough! Tell me, what did you think of *suitably famous work of literature*?”
Silence. You fix your partner-in-talk (to be referred to as the ‘conversant’ henceforth) with a steely glare, but their expectant grin does not falter in the slightest. There is no hope of rescue. The universe has conspired against you AND WON. Where do you go from here?
Luckily, friends, I have an answer. Speaking as someone with a passionate love for literature, it is slightly embarrassing to admit how often books which definitely should have been read lie gathering dust on the shelves. Equally embarrassing are the blatant untruths with which one is forced to conceal the fact that these all-important tomes remain cheerfully unopened. From
my own *cough* a close friend’s bitter experience, here are a few ready-made fibs to get you out of a sticky situation.
(replies arranged in order of complexity):
_10) The Botched Dodge
“I’m not sure I remember it very well; I read it a long time ago and my memory’s not what it was.”
PROS: Never fails. You look like a bit of a ninny if you’ve been nodding in agreement for the last 20 minutes, but there is no risk of prolonging the pain.
CONS: Works best if you’re 70+. Those under this age who can coolly pull off the phrase “my memory’s not what it was”, you have my full and unbridled admiration.
_09) The Hodge-Podge Dodge
“Well, it was certainly an experience, to say the least! But I’m not really the best person to ask; I’m a Neanderthal at heart, me.”
PROS: A suitably vague answer that doesn’t invite further questions. Best accompanied by a prolonged bout of nervous laughter and/or a few caveman grunts.
CONS: Doesn’t work if you are, in fact, the best person to ask; lecturers in literature and professional critics may want to pass over The Hodge-Podge Dodge in favour of greener pastures.
_08) The Ignoramus (yes, I’ve run out of rhymes for “dodge”)
“*slight pause and casual scan of the surroundings* I’m sorry, did you say something? I can’t hear a word over this hullabaloo!”
PROS: Hardly any rooms for embarrassment if your feigned deafness is believed. Unsurprisingly, most people would rather think that you are deaf rather than plain rude/stupid/uninterested in anything they have to say.
CONS: Again, unless you are 70+, you might meet with some scepticism. The same goes for conversations held in an environment characterised by its deathly hush. Libraries and morgues are not recommended settings for this bad boy. And prepare to be treated either with a certain froideur or the exaggerated tenderness with which one might hold an elderly relation at arm’s length.
_07) The Blunt Stunt
“I’m terribly sorry, I thought we were talking about . Can you believe it, I’m afraid I haven’t read *aforementioned text*!”
PROS: There’s nothing like honesty to cement a relationship, be it the briefest of acquaintances. Even
when if you look a bit silly, merely embrace the rawness of abject humility and hold your head high…while listening to their views on the subject.
CONS: I’m mostly going by the assumption that –and here is the key phrase– we’re gaily pretending you have read the book. In which case, The Blunt Stunt might not be the best option.
_06) The Subtle Schmoozey
“Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Why, what did you think of it?”
PROS: Ever heard the phrase ‘imitation is the highest form of flattery’? Not only will your conversant be chuffed to bits, but they probably won’t stop talking for the next 20 minutes. Double tick. Remember to commit some of their opinions to memory for later use.
CONS: I have heard sinister rumours that this response is not received well by those who are simultaneously trying to dupe you into thinking that they’ve read the book when they haven’t. What dastardly goings on. Let the triple bluffing commence.
_05) The Feint Faint
[for best effect, a prone position on the floor should be assumed]
PROS: Upon coming around, you will invariably be cosseted to your heart’s content. Farewell, o Unwanted Interrogation.
CONS: Well-meaning passers by are often eager to practise first aid upon such unsuspecting victims to lightheadedness. Under no circumstances should recovery be delayed if mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is imminent.
_04) The ‘In It To Win It’
“I actually thought that the theme of was uncommonly interesting to consider.”
PROS: This approach can have glorious results, especially if the selected theme is either a) extremely deep and meaningly while remaining suitably vague, or b) somehow extracted from the title of the work itself. “Nothingness” for Much Ado About Nothing combines both of these guidelines, for example. There are not many who would challenge an intense philosophical musing such as this, particularly when delivered with sufficient bravado.
CONS: The real trouble may descend in two stages. Firstly, the theme you settle upon could not be less prevalent and you will be greeted merely with a confused countenance. The second option, o horror of horrors, is that you may be asked to define your meaning further. “The importance of laughter as explored through situational humour and jollity” will probably baffle those familiar with Hamlet. Equally, anyone who can pontificate realistically on “nothingness” in Much Ado, I need you in my life.
_03) Distractification Action Station (feat. Varied Sealife)
“Golly, would you look at that unusually supple killer whale which has leapt onto the dancefloor and proceeded to start a samba*! What are your thoughts on the random genetic mutations of sea-dwelling mammals that allow them such flexibility?”
PROS: The person with whom you are talking will immediately cease all contact for the foreseeable future. Good for the persistent.
CONS: There probably isn’t a killer whale on the dancefloor –renowned as they are for being distinctly antisocial– and if your academic mingling sessions are conducted in a setting with a dancefloor, congratulations on being far cooler than I am. Thus you will most likely gain a reputation as the Mad Whale Seer. That is the Mad Seer of Whales, not a Seer of Mad Whales (although I’m not sure one is worse than the other, really).
_02) The Contingency Emergency
[this time, the silence is punctuated by a few muffled grunts and scarcely smothered bellows, largely due to the fact that your conversant has been gagged and is busily being tied up by one-eyed ninjas, to the utter astonishment of the onlooking crowd]
PROS: Not only do you successfully escape the responsibility of coming up with an answer, but herein lies an opportunity to establish your reputation as a top student for all eternity. All that is required is to make preparations well in advance –one-eyed ninjas have a packed schedule these days and they don’t come cheap– and secure a hasty knowledge of lookalike karate.
CONS: It’s expensive work living the life of an intellectual; those students loans are increasing at a rapid rate and, to be honest, most people haven’t had the forethought to add hiring a gang of ninjas to predicted weekly expenditure. Make your friends more carefully in that awkward first week of university next time; it’s common knowledge that the circus troupe in Acrobatics Society may come in useful at some point.
_01) So It’s Come To This, Has It
“We’re all going to die eventually and life is meaningless. As is my degree. Next question?”
PROS: There is literally no arguing with this, and top points for embracing Classical philosophy in a big way. I can almost see an overjoyed Seneca handing out the hemlock now.
CONS: May be a tad on the vigorous side for the uninitiated. I’d stick to something subtler –see attempted kidnapping– if unsure what the reaction may be; the last thing you want is the unwilling recipient of your life musings weeping on your shoulder well into the early hours. Helpless awareness of the innate futility of life kind of goes with the job description in reading classic literature, and it’s best to avoid all allusion to this shared burden if possible.
To be honest, there’s a high chance that the inevitability of death was probably what the book was about anyway.
*Unfortunately, I can take no responsibility for injuries caused to large sea mammals who take it upon themselves to commune with the complexities of Latin dance after reading this blog post.