Did You Ever Fake Reading a Book?

The e-newsletter  Shelf Awareness  occasionally includes author interviews where a standard question is “What book have you faked reading?”   This brought to mind something I can tell  now because I don’t think they can take my high school diploma back from me.

When we students who began school in the first half of the 20th Century in Portales, New Mexico entered Junior High in 1957, they explained a lot of what we had to get done during the next few years if we wanted to graduate from high school. If those years passed and we hadn’t done each thing on the list we’d be pumping gas the remainder of our lives.

Among the various academic requirements was Major Book Report every year. I didn’t see this as a problem up front. I was a heavy reader and couldn’t imagine a deadline arriving on that one without me nailing it in plenty of time.

But somehow the 8th or 9th grade came along and spang, there I was, with Mrs. Wilbanks standing before the class announcing day-after-tomorrow our big book reports were due. Suddenly I was in a panic. I’d read plenty of books, but none that came to mind as qualifying for a big book report. Those normally had to be cleared with the teacher ahead of time, which somehow slipped by me for one reason or another.

I don’t know what made me decide to invent a book that didn’t exist.  It seems insane all these decades later.  But I suppose  I concluded I just hadn’t read any Big Books after I went to the library and saw the lists of the ones other kids had been thumbing through and dogearing.

But I got out my Esterbrook fountain pen with the turquoise ink and set to work inventing a Big Book I’d read.  “Chessman”, by Borden Deal .  It was a good book and I regret Borden Deal never wrote it.  I turned in the book report on time and sighed thinking I’d cheated death one more time.

A few days later Mrs. Wilbanks brought the graded book reports in and prepared to pass them back, but she cautioned us to just look at the grades and corrections, then hand them back in.  They’d go into our permanent files with our other Big Book Reports until we graduated High School.

Then she pulled out a book report from the stack I could recognize from my desk near the back of the room.  Sloppy, turquoise handwriting on yellow paper.

I don’t give A+ on Big Book Rep0rts, but I’ve made an exception this time.”  She lighted up the room with her smile and gestured toward me with it while I sank into my seat.  “I believe this might be the best Big Book Report ever written by one of my students.”

Knowing that book report was up there hanging over my head as evidence bothered me a lot.  When I left Portales and headed for another school my 11th year, I hoped they’d let me carry my records so I could snag it, but it wasn’t to be.  Next year I changed schools again and again didn’t get an opportunity to steal it back.

Not until I graduated in 1961 did I again get my hands on my Big Book Report on “Chessman”, by Borden Deal.  I packed it away with all my other important papers and kept it until Y2K, when it went into the fire after one last read.

If you haven’t read the book I recommend you write it.  It’s a winner.

Old Jules

The Coasters – Charlie Brown

12 responses to “Did You Ever Fake Reading a Book?

  1. Well, I probably faked reading a book, at least in its totality, but this is an entirely new twist. And I love it. Creating a book for a book report. I would love to know the plot, the setting, and the characters. Ah, what webs we weave….

    Good post. Perfect song, too.

  2. Never thought of doing that. What a great idea. My only problem would have been coming up with a book and the report to go with it. I love to read and read voraciously. Problem is I can never remember a lot of who wrote what. Guess it’s a good thing I’m not in school, huh?

  3. Hi Teresa Evangeline: Thanks for the visit and the comment. The book was about a young man [I’d learned recently to play chess and discovered I loved the game] who discovered he had a flare for chess, almost a savant, he was, and through a series of apparent accidents became World Chess Champion. I don’t recall the details beyond that.

    Gracias, J

    Hi Momlady: Good also I’m not in school. I don’t think my ticker would stand up with all those raging hormones saturating the air I was breathing. Thanks for stopping in … gracias, J

  4. I have faked a persona for almost a year. My real name is Thaddeus De LaMare of the Newport DeLaMares. The Book of Thaddeus just didn’t quite do it for me.

  5. What a great question that nobody has ever asked me before. When I was 11 years old in the 5th grade at an all-girls school I brought an adult paperback book to school and posed like I was reading it. This raised some eyebrows. The book was The Angel Inside Went Sour, a book written by a school principal for troubled young girls about her own experience being troubled. I didn’t read the book – loved the cover. What I remember most is my teacher giving me a suspiciously loaded question: “Are you ENJOYING that book, hmm?” I’m going to order it and read it now that I’m finally an adult! Great question and post. (-:

    • Morning Ado. Thanks for coming by and for the read. Those teachers have seen a lot of kids pass through their influence. She must have gotten some secret smiles with that 5th graders antics. Gracias, J

  6. I’ve faked reading a few English books in high school, but I never thought to fake an entire book report on a non-existent book! That’s both brilliancy and insanity! Haha. How your teacher didn’t catch that, I don’t know. Thanks for the laugh!

  7. Too, too fun! You a frickin’ genius! At least, you were diabolical in your youth. 😀
    Trish in AZ

  8. In a similar vein, although on a college level, I had completely forgotten that an assignment was due in a creative writing class until about an hour before we were due to submit our contributions. Not to panic. I wrote on the cover sheet, “The Answer.” I then added six pages, blank except for the page number, and then, on page number seven I wrote, “THAT is the sound of one hand clapping.”

    A few days later when the papers were returned to us written on what had been the first blank page, in huge blue letters, was the professor’s note, “Mr. Philbrick, I would remind you that in the academic world an F is ALSO the sound of one hand clapping.”

    There was a big blue line scrawled on each of the succeeding pages and on the last page he wrote, “but in this exercise you have communicated and therefor your grade for this paper is an A.”

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