Why do we always think of the perfect thing to say after the fact?
I’ve spent the last 72 hours agonizing over this. Like tummy-ache, head in a vice, can’t-turn-my-racing-brain-off kind of agonizing.
It all started with an email. A producer from Minnesota Public Radio asked me if I’d like to be on Kerri Miller’s Friday Roundtable discussion. These are where Miller (a beloved radio host with the best voice on the planet) has an hour-long conversation with “three smart people.” I’ve done this show before, and left walking on a cloud of cotton candy and Smarties. Go me! When we recorded this time, I started out as one of these three smart people.
By the end of the conversation, I didn’t feel that way.
Our topic was books we’ve lied about reading. The premise: a lot of people have guilt about not reading the classics, or having never read Harry Potter. I loved this idea! I imagined we’d talk about WHY we tell white lies. To sound smart! To fit in! To partake in a lively conversation! Plus, I had a great story about lying about reading the Brother’s Karamozov in high school just so I could get a t-shirt for completing the task.
My fellow roundtablers were Enrique Olivarez Jr., Vice President of Development and Communications at CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio), and R. Vincent Moriz Jr., a writer and speaker in the Twin Cities. Both seemed like nice guys, and both are definitely well-read. I knew that within the first three seconds, when Miller asked posed a question about reading books by Minnesota author Louise Erdrich.
Now, to be clear: neither Olivarez nor Moriz had really read any of Erdrich’s books.
But I’m sitting there thinking, Oh $#!&. I don’t even know who we’re talking about! I had two options: lie and say I knew of her but hadn’t read any of her books either, or throw caution to the wind and fess up. I chose the latter, because it was the truth, and I was sure there would be at least one person listening who was like phew! Thank god I’m not the only one who didn’t know!
So I said it: Never heard of her.
I felt no shame in admitting this. After all, I can’t change the fact that I’d never come into contact with these books. I was proud of myself for being real.
However, after my admission, something changed. Or at least it did in my head. I felt judged. I felt like Miller thought who in the hell vetted this gal for my show? I may be mistaken, but I can almost swear that later in the hour, when she reintroduced the show, she said “This is the Friday roundtable, where I have an hour-long conversation with what I thought were three smart people.”
This just might be my hormonal, pregnant brain projecting.
But in my mind, that happened. Anyhow, I spent the rest of the hour (the FULL hour!), trying to assert that I indeed did know how to read. As the conversation unfolded, I felt more and more insecure about what I have and have not read. I’m more of a non-fiction gal, and the conversation skewed more toward fiction. The more titles of books I’d never read swirled around my head, the more insecure I became.
I realized half way through that I probably had some major balls for showing up for a discussion about books on a smarty-pants platform like MPR.
I fumbled my way through the rest of the interview (at least, that’s what I recall). I admitted to reading all of 50 Shades of Grey! (Whatever, you read it too. E.L. James didn’t get rich because that book wasn’t popular.) When asked which books I’ve read lately, I mustered up Station Eleven (a great read!) and then Crazy Rich Asians (!), an addictive beach read about, well, crazy-rich Asians.
As I left the studio, my brain started coming up with all the “right” answers.
- Why didn’t I say that I love reading non-fiction because I’m a non-fiction writer myself?
- Why didn’t I say that I love reading essays, memoirs, books about historical events and biographies? I’ve read all of David Sedaris’s books, am obsessed with Anne Lamott, am currently reading Joan Didion, and recently poured over Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts. All of these are great books, not fluff, and would’ve made me seem like the smart person they wanted me to be!
- Why didn’t I say that I’ve been enjoying reading light, fluffy fiction because I’m pregnant and just can’t handle reading anything heavy right now? Hormones!
- Why didn’t I say that while I think “required reading” in school is important, I’ve never had an assigned book resonate with me as much as any book I chose to read?
Why, why, why!
Look, I did the best I could. I am convinced that pregnancy brain is a thing, and it does make you forget names of people, places, and yes, books.
I also realized the my feelings leaving this conversation are exactly why most of us lie about having read certain books. It’s because we so often equate being well-read with intelligence. I certainly read a lot, but I read for fun. The people I hang out with don’t care what I’ve read and what I haven’t, and that’s one of many reasons I love them. I read as an escape, a way to unwind and relax. I am still smart, even if the closest I got to reading the Grapes of Wrath was watching the movie.
I did read East of Eden a few years ago. Well, most of it.
We lie about reading because we don’t want to look foolish.
I left feeling very foolish. At least I can laugh about it. I have laughed about it quite a bit. But if I’m being really honest, I cried once, too. HA!
However, if I recall correctly, I did make one good point: If required reading in school never resonates with a student, there is a good chance they may never pick up a book again. They may think of themselves as a non-reader for life, and that’s never good. That’s why we really shouldn’t shame people for what they haven’t read. Instead, let’s encourage people, especially young people, to read what they like. Even if it’s comic books or thrillers or Crazy Rich Asians.
As an aside, this ordeal showed me just how much my brain has changed while pregnant. Normally, I’d just let something like this roll off my back, but wow. I’m so much more fragile that I realized! It’s a good reminder to be kinder to myself and avoid unnecessarily stressful situations whenever possible.
It’ll be interesting to listen to the interview when it airs on MPR (date TBD!). It’s probably not as bad as I remember, and hopefully I made a big deal out of nothing. And, fingers crossed, at least one person thought it was funny when I admitted to reading 50 Shades of Grey on public radio.
*** UPDATE: ***
Here’s a link to the interview. I haven’t had the balls to listen yet!
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Oh, and just for fun: here’s the last time I felt like I made an ass of myself in a very public forum (aka The Time I Didn’t Know I Was Giving a TEDx Talk). I heard from a lot of people after the fact who actually looked me up to say I did a great job… unsolicited! Goes to show you’re your own worst critic.
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