Ask the book buyer…about 20 of the most famous books many people have never actually read


At some time time or other we’ve probably all told white lies about the books we’ve read. My confession is that I have (in the distant past, of course) claimed to have read books that I never in fact did, reveals Jarrold book buyer Chris Rushby.

Last year we published an online listing of the 100 greatest novels of all time - which you can read here

I was scrupulous, in compiling this list, not to fib by including ‘great’ books I hadn’t actually read simply because they tend to appear on this kind of list – Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past being an obvious example. The self-imposed rule was that this list needed to be my choices, from books I’ve actually read.

One may not always have been as scrupulous, though. News that Stephen Hawking died prompted many people to buy, or re-buy A Brief History Of Time – a book I’m convinced only a small percentage of those who own it have actually read, cover to cover. I’m sorry to say I’m pretty sure that, when A Brief History… first came out, I was amongst those who claimed to have read it, because almost literally everybody else seemed to have read it, when it fact I found it unfinishable. This of course makes me a bad person twice over: both because I don’t appreciate one of the best-selling books of our time, written by one of the greatest scientists of our time; and because I claimed to have read a book I never actually finished. Now, at last, I can confess and ask forgiveness.

This has made me think: how many of us have at some time or other claimed to have read a book when we haven’t? Maybe the book in question was turned into a film, thus making it easier to sound as though you have read the book…

To ease our consciences and perhaps to encourage us to give the titles generally reckoned to be amongst the greatest writing of all time another go, here’s a list of 20 titles, some of which I’ve never read (or, sometimes, have started but failed to finish) but, it’s just possible, have at one time or another claimed to have read:




A Brief History Of Time

Stephen Hawking


A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess


Bleak House

Charles Dickens


Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

Hunter Thompson


Finnegans Wake

James Joyce


Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince

JK Rowling


My Family And Other Animals

Gerald Durrell


On The Road

Jack Kerouac


One Hundred Years Of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Rabbit Run

John Updike


Remembrance Of Things Past

Marcel Proust


The Alexandria Quartet

Lawrence Durrell


The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoyevsky


The Go Between

LP Hartley 


The Golden Notebook

Doris Lessing


The Life Of Pi

Yann Martel


The Mayor Of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy


The Mill On The Floss

George Eliot


The Satanic Verses

Salaman Rushdie


Ways Of Seeing

John Berger

And here are three particularly timeless classics I suspect would be on the list of books more people have claimed to have read than actually did read them. I have, honestly I have, read all three of these (though it took me until my fifties to get to grips with Tolstoy’s and Woolf’s transcendent titles). If you haven’t read them, let me urge you to allow yourself a moratorium on pretending and give each of them a go:

War And Peace

Leo Tolstoy


Woody Allen’s one-liner on this book still stands up: “I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.” It certainly does, but if you read more slowly you’ll be repaid massively by this sprawling work of genius. There are several different English translations in print. A bookseller's tip: if you didn’t get on with the first one you encounter, try one of the alternatives.    

Mrs Dalloway  

Virginia Woolf 


 £2.50 is a tiny price to pay for such a brilliant novel. The term ‘stream of consciousness’ is a bit hackneyed these days, but Woolf’s narrative was ground-breaking and mesmerising. It still holds up.  



Call me Ishmael. Here’s a novel about the sublime, about fanaticism, about society, community and cooperation. It’s a huge, strange, wonderful book, full of learning about life in general and whales in particular.

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