Alex Massie

Stephen Potter’s Guide to Reading

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Megan links to the now almost famous Not Reading post and recalls a conversation we had:

Me:  I've never read Camus in English.

Alex:  That's brilliant!  I'm going to use that.

Me:  "I've never read Camus in English?"

Alex:  No, like this:  "I've never read Camus in English" . . .   That way I don't have to tell them I've never read Camus in French, either.

Grand stuff. My recollection, however, is subtly different:

Megan:  I've never read Camus in English.

Alex:  That's brilliant!  I'm going to use that.

Megan:  "I've never read Camus in English?"

Alex:  No, like this:  saying "I've never read Camus in English" carries the implication that you have read Camus in French.

This is, you'll understand, classic One-upmanship. It can be adjusted, naturally, to other languages - eg, "In my experience Lampedusa/Rilke/Turgenev loses too much in translation to be worth reading outside the original language." Due care and attention should of course be taken not to risk such a gambit in conversation with native speakers of said languages, who might be in a position to call your otherwise impeccable bluff.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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