GROW A BEARD, restore an old gramophone, hire a taxidermist to immortalise your pet cat — we rely on a number of visual cues that signify who we are or what our world view is. You’d think that the ultimate escape from all things superficial would be behind the dusty shelves of the public library, but you’d be wrong — for better or for worse, the need for appearances has penetrated the sacred act of reading.

The Landmark group (the people behind the chain of bookstores) recently conducted a survey called ‘The Landmark Fakespeare Survey’, which sought to dissect the practice of fake reading — and came out with some interesting findings. Apparently, one in four Indians is a ‘Fakespeare’ — an individual who indulges in the public act of fake reading in order to send the right message about their intellectual and social inclinations and standing. So, who is the target of such impish trickery? People indulge in fake reading largely for the purpose of altering perceptions and sending the right message about themselves. While many deploy fake reading to move up professionally, most agree that it’s done to attract the right partner, which explains why people in their tweens (18-24) are more likely to indulge in fake reading than the four other sample age groups selected for the survey. Fakespeares also use books to decorate their environment, without ever intending to read them. The notion of using books as accessories is a dodgy one, but it isn’t as detrimental to intellectual growth as you might think.

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The reason a lot of office spaces and social gatherings are hotbeds of misquoting and name-dropping is primarily because the act of fake reading acknowledges the role books play in the development of the intellect and, subsequently, one’s own personality. It acknowledges the fact that an overwhelming curiosity about the world is a desirable trait, independent of the scale or quality of one’s material possessions. This sort of attempt at networking might seem vacuous and vaguely desperate, but it might just be the gateway drug that leads to the spurious use of books to liven up everyday life and genuinely connect with individuals. When investigating what venues are the most frequent dens of fake reading, the survey revealed that airport lobbies are the most preferred, at least in the age group of 35 and above. Coffee shops are a close second, picked mostly by people aged 25-29. Libraries were picked by those in their late teens, and even parties weren’t spared. Interestingly enough, bookstores weren’t on the list. So, what kinds of books make for ideal weapons of mass seduction? Out of the seven cities selected for the survey, Kolkata happened to lead the charts, with the maximum number of fake readers. Their weakest link? Economics and finance. A majority of the rest of the cities, including Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad, also pointed to an overall preference for fake reading books related to economics and finance, while Delhi and Bengaluru stuck with classic English literature; Chennai picked science fiction.

Predominantly a male hobby (of the lot who admit to doing it), fake reading is usually not an indicator of one’s own interests; it’s a reflection of the interests of those you want to attract or impress. However, the kind of person you want to impress, or the kind of image you want to portray, also tells you a lot about yourself. The fact that books have entered (and are quite possibly dominating) the realm of cool is an ironic indication that reading is one of the more socially desirable traits. So, the next time you suspect someone of fake reading, call their bluff. Perhaps the fear of being found out will lead to the birth of a more diligent fake reader, who might, in turn, go on to become a genuine and voracious reader. It’s a start.