#bookaday (12): I pretend to have read it

I’m sorry to be so irritatingly honest, but I can’t think of any book that I pretend to have read; as a tutor I don’t want to be living in fear of being found out by bright and widely read students.  Occasionally they ask to do tutorials on novels I haven’t read, and I let them know that: (i) I’ll try to read as much as I can by next week, and, (ii) they need to realise that I might not manage it.  I know a lot about the first quarters of novels.  The important thing about an Oxford tutorial is that the student drives the process by researching and writing an essay before it; the tutorial refines their knowledge through discussion.  (R., discussing this, suggests that in tutorials I probably mention other works in general terms and leave the students with the impression that I have read them, but there’s no intention to deceive.  It’s also possible that students think I’ve read all the books on my shelves.)

As a tutor the real peril is not being able to remember the detail of novels that you have read.  It’s surprising how quickly you can reawaken memories by reading just a few pages from various parts of a long novel; and the student’s essay itself will do more.  Long poems are a problem too, and In Memoriam in particular resolutely refuses to stay in place: it’s very long, the stanza form doesn’t vary (though Tennyson is a genius for creating variety within its formal constraints), and though there’s a broad-scale movement from bereavement to consolation, it’s not especially linear or logical.  So let’s say In Memoriam.  I’ve read it, but I probably come across like someone who’s pretending.

Tennyson Selected




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