Help! How do I pretend that I’ve read my friend’s book?

Oh, dear. You didn’t read yesterday’s excellent advice about how to deal with a new author, did you? Or perhaps you did but, in a weak moment, you discussed someone’s new book with them. To their face. In a way that may have, for the best of reasons, given them the impression that you have or you are about to actually read their work

The easiest option is, of course, to read the book but time is short, life is busy, and it hasn’t happened. But you don’t want to hurt your friend’s feelings, especially if they have abandoned all pretence of civility and asked you outright if you’ve read it.

Perhaps you said you were going to read it. Several times. And now the dreadful moment has arrived. Luckily for you, I am a dreadfully cynical flim-flam artist and humbug, and I can help you to successfully convey the impression that you have read your friend’s book.

Help! How do I pretend that I’ve read my friend’s book?

  1. Oh God, oh God, how do I start? She/he is waiting for me to speak!

    The first thing to remember is that authors often release lots of details about the book in order to get people to read it in the first place. Synopses, titles, blurbs and the like are rich veins to mine for those who are looking for useful guides to the content.Remember those nouns you remembered from when you foolishly asked what the book was about? Let’s say that you remember the term “Soviet Union”.

    “I hadn’t thought about the Soviet Union in that way.”

    (This is technically true. You hadn’t thought about the Soviet Union in any way but, boy, are you thinking about it now.)

    This will probably generate a large volume of additional detail from the author, which you can then noun-mine for more helpful sentences.

    (Some authors are difficult and will ask ‘In what way?’ because they wish to defy the conventions of decent society and demand actual information from you. Feel free to fake a seizure, collapse to the floor, and then never see them again. If you are in a relationship with them, this may not work as well.)

  2. What if I don’t remember anything?

    This is trickier. You’re going to have to make general statements that are true of any good book.

    “I couldn’t put it down!” is true if you never picked it up.

    “The ending was great!” The author wrote the ending. Chances are that she or he liked it too. If the author follows up with “You didn’t think it was too (insert adjective here) “, simply smile and shake your head firmly. “No, I never thought that.” (Because you never thought about it at all.)

    “After this book, I’m really keen to know what you plan on writing next.” is sneaky and effective as hell. Most authors are thinking of the next book when other people are doing things like talking to other people, breathing, or putting their clothes on. In describing the next book, the author may well refresh the details of the current book you’ve forgotten, which allows you to noun-mine. See Point 1.

  3. Whew! I have some nouns again! What do I do now?
    Most people love their characters. If you can remember anything about the characters, talk about them. Characters mentioned in pairs are usually at least compatriots and possibly lovers, although they could be adversaries. But they have a connection.

    You: “Really interesting interaction between Kerry and Bosco.”
    Author friend: “Bosco was a lot of fun to write.”
    You: “I can believe that!”

    Are there interesting places? A convenient picture on the cover? A hint in the title? Talk about places.

    “What made you think of St Paul’s?”

    “I love London as a location.”

    “Earth is a good planet to write into books.” (This last one is possibly a little too general and may not work for science fiction and fantasy. Tread carefully if there are spaceships or dragons on the cover. Run like hell if there are spaceships and dragons on the cover.)

  4. I don’t think she or he is buying it. What do I do now?

    Right now, you’re probably wishing you read the book. Generalisation hasn’t worked and the spectre of doubt looms. But we are steeped in blood so far that, were we to go no further, returning would be as arduous as going onwards. We have entered the Heart of Darkness and you can’t stop now.

    Are you the devil?

    No, but we have summer houses in the same tax haven. Moving on. You are going to have to quickly come up with a reason to whip out your phone and go to the website for the work, or find any reviews that have been published.

    For example, from this site advertising a recently published and excellent work, we find the text:

    Kerry and Bosco have powerful allies: Williams and Fauve, London’s most unusual booksellers, and Doctor Jenny Cavendish, the deadliest archaeologist in England.

    Now we can quickly form the following questions:

    “What inspired you to make Williams and Fauve booksellers?”
    “Come on, confess, how much Indiana Jones inspiration is there in Doctor Cavendish?”
    “They’re an unusual ensemble for protagonists. What made you think of that?”

  5. I don’t think you’re a nice person at all. This is a shallow attempt to make me feel that I can fake my way through knowing a book and my author friend has seen straight through me. High level generalisations and embellishment of facts are not sufficient at this level of communication! Nobody trust this man! He is a mountebank and charlatan! And I suspect he is an incarnation of evil. But I still need his help in resolving a situation. What can I do now?

    Probably the best thing to do is to actually read the book. If you don’t have one of your friend’s books to hand, may I recommend “The Curse of Kereves Dere“, available from where many good (and any number of terrible) e-Books are sold?

    You are a true fiend.

    You misspelt friend.

    I know what I wrote.

Tune in next time for more useful advice from Nick Falkner, “Help! My author friend has asked me for feedback. What do I do?

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Words. Paper. Book. Yeah!

 

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