Live Through This

I Know What I Don’t Know

I could fill a library with the books I’ve told people I’ve read.

Illustration by Caitlin

Just the other night, I finished reading The Great Gatsby. I was about a decade too late by public school standards, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long, because it’s as awesome as everybody said it was. But more than that, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time in high school and beyond pretending I had already read it, feeling ashamed as I bobbed and weaved through conversations, trying to hide the holes in my knowledge.

Technically, I never lied—I just did a lot of listening when F. Scott Fitzgerald came up, and pretended I knew what made someone “a Daisy” or “a Nick.” Last summer I was on a boat trip, and I nodded along with everyone else when someone made a crack about “the light at the end of the dock.” I caught the reference, but not the context. When it came time to come up with an opinion on the Baz Luhrmann adaptation, I watched the trailer with the same excitement as my friends, but I didn’t bother explaining that my enthusiasm was due to a lingering Leonardo DiCaprio fandom and an unceasing obsession with Romeo + Juliet. Similar fakery accompanied several other conversations concerning White Men You Mustn’t Miss, from James Joyce to Vladimir Nabokov.

This particular secret shame, like most, is actually quite common. How many times have you heard—or muttered yourself—something like “Oh, yeah, I’ve read parts of it…” or “I saw it so long ago that I barely remember what happens”? In truth, you may never have cracked the cover or read anything beyond a Wikipedia entry, but somehow that’s harder to say. These white lies are often arbitrary, backed by our own hierarchy of personal tastes and how we think they might reflect on the way we wish to be seen. For instance, because of my anti-fantasy bias, I’ll proudly tell you I couldn’t get past the first chapter/scene of The Lord of the Rings, but no one in my life knows that entire chunks of the Rolling Stones’ discography are foreign to me—including some of what I’m told is the good stuff, like Some Girls and Tattoo You. And I like the Rolling Stones!

I mean, no one has time to really take in all of culture, but that’s only part of my excuse. Also at work are the comfort of settling with stuff I already know—what’s unfamiliar can be scary!—and just plain laziness. I’ve seen all six seasons of The Hills more than once (thank you/hate you, Netflix) and will often put on an episode I know by heart (in which Lauren calls one of her friends “shady…evil and conniving”) rather than dive into a John Cassavetes film—I hear Husbands is good?—that I haven’t watched, but feel I should, whatever that means.

Embarrassment about such gaps in the media libraries of our minds depends on the outside world being able to take a look at those libraries, which is weird, right? In the age of the Facebook profile, being seen as savvy and smart means knowing, and usually flaunting, certain cultural touchstones. Books, movies, TV shows, bands, artists—they can all signify different personality traits or ideologies that we want others to know we have, whether it’s alternative edginess or introspective sensitivity. The novels we carry around (Sylvia Plath for the tortured), the band tees we choose to wear (Kate Bush for the kind of out-there), the novels we carry around (Sylvia Plath for the tortured), and the screenshots we post to our blogs (Clueless, always Clueless) broadcast these interests in the hope that some of the feelings they elicit in others will reflect back on us.

As a teenager, I wanted to be the kind of kid who liked Hunter S. Thompson, with all the badass-ness that implied, so I devoured a bunch of his magazine articles, bought a few of his books, and mourned his death with a homemade patch on my JanSport. I rented Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for me and my friends to watch on a Friday night and understood about as much of it as a sober 16-year-old could, but I didn’t finish the book until years later, because it was dense and I had homework.

And while we’re at it, here’s a by-no-means-complete list of Books I Pretended to Read in High School:

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • the final act of just about every William Shakespeare play

What can I tell you? This stuff isn’t as fun when it’s assigned. I’ve since caught up on some, and I hear the rest are great.

I was more concerned with punk music back then anyway, but I couldn’t actually sing you a song by the Misfits or Crass either. It’s not that I was a total poser—the Clash, the Ramones, and Operation Ivy were branded onto my soul—but I was trying to keep up with an unrealistically completist standard. The list of amazing things in all mediums and genres has built up for centuries and never stops coming, like a Tumblr dashboard scrolling to infinity, filled with everything you absolutely need to experience right now or forever feel left out. Keeping up with new stuff—Community! Jennifer Egan! Dirty Projectors!—while also being well-versed in the old and influential—Twin Peaks! Tom Wolfe! Nina Simone!—is not only overwhelming, it’s impossible.

I didn’t begin to realize this until the end of college, which I had imagined to be the period in one’s life for catching up, when you’re literally paying for the privilege of getting to spend your time reading “important books,” pausing only to see cool bands or watch obscure art films. For four years, my chief responsibility was to devour culturally significant words and images, but when it passed in three and a half blinks and I felt no closer to completion, it became obvious the game (which I created in my head) was rigged against me. I still get anxious under towering bookstore shelves, an endless reading list looming over me.

Well, enough. I’m done pretending. Cultural knowledge is not a contest; you don’t get an award for Most Lines From The Larry Sanders Show Memorized, or Correct Pronunciation of Every French Philosopher’s Name. Trying to keep up with everything is exhausting, and pretending that you’ve kept up with everything is worse. Openly admitting what you don’t know is not only a huge relief, it also makes it possible to learn from those around you, people who have their own voids that are bound to be different from yours. I remember nervously confessing to a friend that I had only a cursory knowledge of the writer Philip Roth—and he didn’t laugh at me. He gave me some recommendations.

As soon as you give up trying to win some nonexistent prize, there’s the freedom to really marinate in the good parts of discovering new things, or returning to old favorites without guilt. Listen to one album for the entire summer, reread your favorite passages in a play over and over again, or watch a whole season of Law & Order even when you already know the verdicts. I used to spend more time downloading music than listening to it, amassing a comprehensive collection I’d never get to. These days, I only keep about five albums on my iPod at any given time—infinite choice freaks me out!

Never again will I read/watch/listen to anything out of peer pressure (though I guess I’ll watch Downton Abbey if everyone keeps telling me how great it is). Books and shows and movies and music should be a source of pleasure/thought/enlightenment, not social anxiety. When I actually read it, not to brag about it but just for fun, The Great Gatsby was really enjoyable. Now I really understand what it means to be a Jay, or a Tom, or a Daisy, or a Nick—but more than that, I’ll forever attach the experience of reading that book to a specific time in my life: a wet, winter day in Brooklyn awaiting a delayed flight to the South. It will be just as memorable as a humid English classroom. And I still have a lot to look forward to. ♦


  • Maryse89 January 17th, 2013 7:18 PM

    Oh my gosh, I feel this article SO HARD.
    I think part of the problem is that today we live in a society where all culture from all time periods from every corner of the world is more or less instantly available to us.
    I know I used to be one of those people who obsessively read Pitchfork and other music sites because I was scared of not being on top of whatever the next ‘great band’ was. A few months ago, this got so exhausting that I just kind of snapped, and I’ve been listening to exclusively the same two dozen K-Pop songs over and over again ahhhhhhha…

    • rookielaura January 17th, 2013 10:26 PM

      i agree! you said ,”today we live in a society where all culture from all time periods from every corner of the world is more or less instantly available to us.” what’s been happening to me because of this is that i actually feel stressed out about all the tv shows/movies/books that i have to “catch up on” to be “cultured.” this article/your comment have made me realize that i need to chill out a little about these things and not force myself to be so knowledgeable about everything. websites like tumblr and facebook have definitely made me both discover new things that i have liked or made me stress about all the things ive missed out on experiencing. so thanks again, Joe and Maryse89!

  • moonchild January 17th, 2013 7:24 PM

    Wow. This is so applicable to everything right now.
    I keep trying to write something like this, but I can never articulate it and this is just perfect.
    I always feel like I wish I was into all kinds of movies and books, and what I do pick up, even if I end up watching or reading the movie/book, always feels so contrived. I feel like I am trying so hard to figure out what I am supposed to read and watch and listen to to become the right amount of “cultured”. This is why I wish (as all the hipstahs do, OBVI) that I was a teenager at a different point, able to take in things organically and not in a way that felt like I was doing it to frantically try to piece it together.

    That’s what it feels like: frantic. I feel like I am constantly attempting to look up and take in what I’m “supposed” to know or understand or be in love with. That’s why part of Rookie seems so confusing, I guess. While Rookie is AMAZING (NO NEED TO STATE MY ABSOLUTE LOVE HERE) it sometimes is hard when movies and stuff are recommended because, though it’s great to get recommendations, I sometimes wish I could have found them out for myself.

    Also, though I guess this doesn’t matter as much, sometimes I feel like people grasp onto things even more than they love them, because of how meaningful and important and beautiful they are SUPPOSED to be. I saw a comment on Rookie recently (from a fairly old post) about how a girl felt robbed when Tavi mentioned something that she herself (the commenter) loved, since so many girls, myself included to a point, really hold onto every word of what Tavi says. It’s true, this IS because Tavi is so incredibly intelligent and amazing and sldkjfldkj just like all the other writers here on Rookie, but it’s interesting JUST HOW MANY bloggers are SCREAMING about their love for Ghost World etc. And I guess, again, this is really the possessive mindset, and it REALLY doesn’t matter JUST HOW MANY people say they love something, but it is astounding the amount of love people have for something by the power of suggestion.

    Lastly, I wanted to say that this — the writing and also my rant — remind me of the interview with Daniel Clowes ( At this point in time, with the youth culture and blog culture, there is so much “culture” pushed at us. It feels really hard to know how to figure it out for myself.


    • Tyknos93 January 17th, 2013 7:56 PM

      Yes all of this and I’ve had a blog post saved for weeks about this very topic. There’s this thing I do where I have all of these thoughts or things that I’d like share and once I finally have a clear and concise way of expressing them it ends up on here.

      Which is great, but it pops up alongside 20 other amazing things I’ve yet to check out.
      This is not a complaint as I love the way Rookie is a sort of one stop shop for COOL STUFF, but I’m just unsure which ideas are my own or will I ever be enough of a devourer of culture ( why does that sound so creepy when you type it out) to know of even half of the things posted. HELP I WON’T BE TEENAGED FOR LONG!

    • rookielaura January 17th, 2013 10:26 PM

      yes i know exactly how you feel. frantic! i have a list of 40 different movies and 20 different books i feel i need to watch before i finish being a teenager, so i can have the real “cultured teen experience.” i also feel that there is something wrong with me when i didnt like with some of these cultural staples that tons of bloggers have loved. glad im not alone!

    • starbarf January 18th, 2013 9:29 AM

      I’m really interested in this thread and these kind of emotions about culture that I feel are really specific to our time, which is a just a barrage of images/information coming at you from all angles (THX INTERNETZ!!). I think there’s something we haven’t talked about here, though, and it’s something I think people (esp teenagers) would benefit from. Yep, I’m gonna say it: POSTMODERNISM.

      You might not know what that is, and it’s a complex, confusing topic, but the basic idea has everything to do with **AUTHENTICITY** which is the basis of all “hip” nostalgia, which is totally regular because as many smarter people than me have discussed in many many essays and books, everyone wants to think that THEY are special, THEY are original, and THEY are having a unique, authentic, #nofilter experience. Unfortunately, these authors would argue, THIS IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE. Around the 60s people started figuring out that hey, maybe everything we see acts like a filter for our experience, and hey, maybe we just can’t help but catalogue every image we ever see (tumblr, anyone??) and subconsciously remember every tweet about every book, and maybe THOSE TWEETS and THOSE IMAGES will forever inform our relationship to that book/movie/experience.

      The point I’m trying to get at (very poorly, I’m sorry. Please read about postmodernism from the great writers who wrote about it: Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Baudrillard) is that you can’t HELP but be totally immersed and consumed by this massive culture machine, so DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT. It’s just the world we live in. Embrace 2013. <3 LYLAS

    • caro nation January 19th, 2013 11:08 AM

      That was my comment!

      This article…. everything I do or say or like or think or feel at this point feels like it can not only be traced back somewhere, but it can be traced back all too easily. When I left that comment, I had a strong resentment for other people who… just LIKED the same things that i did…. because I strongly defined myself by the things … I wanted everything to be mine, and I wanted to know everything so that everything could be meaningful to me. I think my art will be better if I can draw on all the cool things in the world, blend them into something perfectly intact…. augh….

      Basically, I used to think that my incessant need to track down every word and picture and reference and movie and book and song and concept and article was pathological. I still sort of do. My bookmarks bar has something like 14,000 links, and that’s just on one… I have an abysmal list of vocabulary words saved to my iphone; every time I hear or see something I don’t know, I go totally insane. I have to write it down or I’ll have a small breakdown. All my things have the names of books, semi-meaningful quotes, and philosophical concepts scribbled all over them, because I’m a control freak of my cultural consumption. Even my tumblr is achingly and meticulously curated…. everything has to be in it’s right place, and I mean EVERYTHING. I don’t know what’s meaningful to me anymore and what isn’t… it feels like I have no opinions, just stuff. I used to call myself an autodidact, but now I just feel like a computer.

  • Abby January 17th, 2013 7:31 PM

    AAHHH I HATED Catch-22… maybe I just didn’t “get” it… literally everyone I know that has a) been in combat in a war zone and b) read the book has been all like, “OH MY GOD THAT’S THE BEST BOOK EVERRRR”

    But anyway… I LOVE this article, because I always feel so bad telling people that I haven’t seen their favorite show or read their favorite book or heard of their favorite band. I must take control! And stop feeling bad! (I probably still will feel bad but maybe I won’t lie anymore lol)

    Also, I have mixed feelings about The Great Gatsby… it’s just… one of those books that you can’t decide whether you like it or you hate it.

  • GlitterKitty January 17th, 2013 7:47 PM

    This is just so incredibly bang on. I always feel a little childish and stupid when we talk about classic and important books in English class and everyone says they loved them. I’m always to afraid to admit that the Harry Potter series are my favourite books and some of the only ones I ever really connected too. I’m always embarrassed that I trudged through The Lord of the rings trilogy in 2 years and didn’t really like it but loved the hobbit, the kiddie prequel. I feel like a lot of people’s lives are just pretending to love things they think they should like. And yet we hide the things we truly love (re: guilty pleasures). I just realized and tried to get over this recently and I’m so glad I did.

    • Isabelle97 January 18th, 2013 11:39 AM

      The Hobbit is great! So not a guilty pleasure, just an awesome one

  • Jessica W January 17th, 2013 8:09 PM

    This is starting to happen to me now. Never in highschool did I find myself missing references (such a hipster kid LOLZ), however now I’m going to uni…. Damn I need to brush up on my authors/artists/musicians etc.

    I mostly relate to the book part. The amount of books I’ve pretended to read through highschool is profoundly disturbing.
    I differ however as I didn’t lie to my peers about what cool books I read…. I lied to teachers and teachers alone.
    It’s amazing how you can write an excellence-level essay when you’ve never actually read the book.

    The Lovelorn

  • Moxx January 17th, 2013 8:22 PM

    This! I vowed never to do this again in middle school because I realized how despicable it is!
    It’s ok to not know. It’s not ok to pretend.

  • Christi January 17th, 2013 8:26 PM

    This is good! It is exhausting to try to understand everything, especially when you don’t get it…for example, for some reason I had a hard time understanding and reading The Great Gatsby, but not Slaughterhouse-Five (which, before I read it, I had heard was a difficult book to get through!). I’ve also been trying to read Toni Morrison (obligatory African-American literature), but I got distracted by The Rose That Grew From the Concrete, by Tupac (no words… <3), which, if you're not too swamped or behind on your "to-read" list, I highly recommend :)

    • Tyknos93 January 17th, 2013 10:14 PM

      WHOA that was like my 9th birthday present and I don’t even know if it’s considered “good” poetry, but it made me cry real tears. It still sits proudly on my bookshelf all these years later…

  • silvermist January 17th, 2013 8:33 PM

    In my case it’s not a problem of pretending that I read this book or watched that movie but more like yeah, I watched/read it and I know I was supposed to enjoy it but I didn’t and now I’m going to pretend I loved it.
    I mean, I had this phase where I read lots of classics but apart from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights which are very good, I don’t even remember the plots of the other books. Not even the names of the characters. This applies to The Great Gatsby too, I was so bored reading it I had to go to wikipedia after I finished because I didn’t even get what was happening in the end with the accident or whatever it was.
    But I still remember how I felt reading the last book of His Dark Materials when I was 12. And I remember several quotes from Stargirl. And when I went in the exchange program last year and I only had room to bring one or two books I chose one of the Princess Diaries.
    I think it’s great that we have the chance to be exposed to different books and I think it’s great to read classics but I hate the pressure to like them.
    I think though that maybe we feel less pressure as we get older. Now at 19 I think people perceive me more as someone with ‘bad taste’ for movies/books instead of some teen who is ‘ignorant’ about culture.

    • raggedyanarchy January 18th, 2013 9:40 AM

      His Dark Materials was literally my favorite series when I was little. I read them once when I was nine, and loved them. I read them again when I was twelve and was struck by how much of the story I missed because I was too little to understand. I read them a third time a few years later and my mind exploded with all the stuff I missed before. Like, if you haven’t, I recommend you read them again because it is an entirely different experience.
      I love Stargirl! I can’t lie, sometimes I still pick up my old, loved copies and read. The second (Love, Stargirl) is my favorite though (Dootsie!).

      • PearlFog January 19th, 2013 12:02 PM

        Oh my goodness, there is a second Stargirl book, argh! Heading to Amazon right now even though I don’t get paid until next week…

        I’ve never been one for bluffing about things. A line from ‘Harriet the Spy’ has stuck with me since childhood: ‘She never minded admitting she didn’t know something. “So what,” she thought; “I could always learn.” ‘

        I would never want a person to feel they couldn’t ask me about something they happened not to know. I find that if I assume the same of other people when I don’t know something, they tend to go along with it and just try and explain!

  • jenaimarley January 17th, 2013 8:37 PM

    Sooooooooooooooooo good.
    Thank you, Joe!

  • October in the chair January 17th, 2013 8:46 PM

    The closest I’ve come to something like this (that I can think of right now,) is my dad saying; “oh my GOD. You HAVEN’T seen Kung-Fu Panda??!?”

    but i don’t think it really counts..

    Maybe it’s just different in Australia..
    There’s a lot of classic American and English literature that we don’t really seem to be expected to know (If you saw some of the people from my school you’d understand why).

    We did do To Kill a Mockingbird and Macbeth though. I loooved Macbeth.

    I’ve never read ‘Gatsby’, but I plan to in the near future (I recently pilfered my friend’s copy).

    And the movie is going to be aaaaaaawesooooome. I remember Carey Mulligan from some old David Tennant episode of Doctor Who. She’s the coolest.
    And the COSTUMES…

    enough said.

    • julalondon January 18th, 2013 12:00 PM

      OMG you HAVN’T seen Kung-fu-Panda?=D Watch it. Now. =)

      • October in the chair January 19th, 2013 6:49 PM

        I already have. ;) he eventually FORCED me to watch it.
        I always thought it looked dumb, but it’s actually pretty darn hilarious.

    • Aurora January 19th, 2013 7:37 PM

      This article and your comment made me feel ashamed for talking about Doctor Who at great length at cross country meets with my friend Scott…
      Because I’ve only seen two episodes.
      But I’ve been meaning to watch more I just have no idea where to start ahhhhhh

  • kikikaylen January 17th, 2013 9:05 PM

    SO TRUE. I have Heart of Darkness sitting on my bedside table right now to read for my AP Literature class while I’m still berating myself for not finishing Gulliver’s Travels. I totally do the download tons of music thing too, and I listen to most of it but there’s definitely albums I’ll keep around for a rainy day that never comes. I’ve also done the whole “oh yeah, I read parts of that…saw that ages ago….missed the end of that” thing. But I’ve gotten around to trying to be honest and just admit when I haven’t gotten around to some form of culture and take it as a possible opportunity to be enlightened rather than to feel naive. A couple of years ago I had a bookstore moment where I was like holy crap, I can NEVER read all of these but, you know, it’s okay. I’ll enjoy what I want while I can and not stress over the should-be relaxing things of life :-)

  • thewordlover January 17th, 2013 9:25 PM

    Really great article. Also: I love Slaughterhouse-Five.

  • Adrienne January 17th, 2013 9:28 PM

    This article is so on-point! I really need to show this to everyone.

  • darksideoftherainbow January 17th, 2013 9:29 PM

    omg this is so me! i actually finished reading the great gatsby a couple weeks ago. i didn’t read it in hs (it wasn’t assigned to all of the hs classes in my school) but i didn’t read ANYTHING in hs. oh, EXCEPT the catch in the rye, which i still love and like to read during this time of year. the catcher in the rye was the only book i read the whole time i was in hs. when i was a kid, my mom would buy books for me and my sisters but i never read them. she wanted me to practice my reading since i finally learned very late but i just couldn’t get through even a couple pages. i’m still struggling a bit but it’s getting better. i can READ, i just don’t find it enjoyable. that’s changing a bit, tho. i really loved the great gatsby and i’m halfway through the hobbit. after that i’m gonna continue reading lotr and then…who knows?! i have a couple of books on my list!

  • kittyweasel January 17th, 2013 9:54 PM

    This is so me. In more recent years I just shrug and mutter, “never read/heard/seen/whatever it”. I have always been the person that hasn’t seen the one most crucial movie, resulting in my peers being totally shocked at how I have made it thus far in life. And to be honest, I usually feel like whatever the thing is never meets the expectations! It’s far too time consuming to catch up to every cultural milestone that others find important, find what you loveeee!

  • Yazmine January 17th, 2013 10:06 PM

    I’ve been feeling exactly like this lately! One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get through as many Penguin Classic books as possible – they’re the books EVERYONE who’s ANYONE has read. I’m really enjoying most of them (there’s a review of 1984 by George Orwell on my blog) but I still love reverting to my comfort zone and picking up a book I’ve read 48399377 times

  • peanutbutter January 17th, 2013 10:52 PM

    I’m not sure if this has already been mentioned, but it seems that the word ‘illicit’ has been used incorrectly at the end of the 5th paragraph. I’m guessing that it is actually meant to be ‘elicit’.
    A small (but distracting) error in an otherwise excellent article!

    • Anaheed January 17th, 2013 11:01 PM

      Thank you so much! Fixing it now.

  • taste test January 17th, 2013 11:37 PM

    definitely adding this to my list of rookie articles to read over & over again since this is something I need to remember.

    for most of my life, I’ve had this problem with movies. I haven’t seen 90% of those movies everyone is supposed to have watched (like Titanic and ET). in high school I finally read the wikipedia summaries and pretended to have seen them to avoid the shock and awe when I told people I hadn’t.

    now that I’m in college, though, I’ve hit this problem with literature for the first time. I go to a very good school and I like it, but a lot of people feel the need to prove to each other that they deserve to be here by acting like they read James Joyce and books about sociology in their spare time and think people who don’t are embarrassments to the school’s name.

  • airplanes.books January 18th, 2013 12:11 AM

    CASSAVETES, everyone watch a woman under the influence, like now.

  • citadella January 18th, 2013 1:48 AM

    You really only need to watch the first season of Downton Abbey – it kinda jumps the shark in series two when (spoiler alert!) the wheelchair-bound Matthew sees Lavinia drop a tray, instinctively jumping up to assist her and “miraculously” recovering from paralysis and impotence. (They say misdiagnosis, I say deus ex machina.) Robert’s ridiculous romance is painful to watch too. Season one is excellent though.

  • Jasmine January 18th, 2013 1:51 AM

    This article says all the things about me that I hadn’t fully noticed were true..
    For me, it’s not about books but more about music. In my circle of friends, I’m known as “the girl that knows all of the obscure music and every band in existence” –which is not true at all. Yeah, I have a pretty broad amount of knowledge and taste in all kinds of music, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bands and music I still am oblivious to; actually, there’s TONS.
    I guess I sort of made myself a reputation of knowing a lot of independent music and now I feel like I have to uphold that reputation when a friend asks me if I’ve heard of a certain band with an expectant smile on their face and I don’t know.
    But this article really did open my eyes: it’s okay not to know EVERYTHING.

    Thank you Rookie x

  • marineo January 18th, 2013 2:07 AM

    A Farewell to Arms!! ahahaha I totally pretended that I had finished that book to impress my *more than midly attractive* 11 grade english teacher!

  • unicornconnect January 18th, 2013 2:23 AM

    The blogs I follow are all written by alternative people. And essentially the whole point of that is not caring what’s in or trendy or cool or whatever.

    But even within the people who worship Tavi (because she rocks :) there are things that make you cool but not in the mainstream way. Things like ghost world and the virgin suicides and Courtney love and weetzie bat. I know the Internet is an awesome place to find new cool stuff to be interested in, but now it seems like if you haven’t seen freaks and geeks or the virgin suicides looks too creepy for you, that you are not cool in the not caring what’s cool crowd.

    Sometimes after reading people’s blogs I feel like I am so stupid and that I need to absorb all this information about music and feminism and tv shows and influential people, and that I need to do it fast.

    I also sometimes get freaked out because people who are the same age as me and way cooler and more cultured. And then I blame it on living in the suburbs and not in a super cool big city.

    But thank you, now I know that people feel the same.

    Ps: the thought of watching the virgin suicides just creeps me out. I get scared so easily:0

    • raggedyanarchy January 18th, 2013 9:46 AM

      Don’t be afraid of The Virgin Suicides! It’s not really scary; just ethereal and dreamy. Like, it’s like watching someone’s dream or something. But there’s no ghosts or monsters or gore or aliens or anything. It’s such a great movie! I’m not saying watch it so you can be cool and get the references, I’m saying watch it because it’s such a good “rainy Sunday afternoon where you want to feel creative but don’t want to create.”

      • lubs January 18th, 2013 7:03 PM

        “rainy Sunday afternoon where you want to feel creative but don’t want to create.”

        omg that feeling is the best thing.

    • llamalina January 19th, 2013 2:56 AM

      haha don’t worry, the virgin suicides isn’t a really a creepy movie! it’s actually really dreamy and incredibly pretty. i didn’t find it *too* creepy. maybe a couple of parts in the end, but nothing is horror-movie scary.

  • Tyler January 18th, 2013 2:32 AM

    1. I have really bad long-term memory for books, so even if I read something and it’s AMAZING and touches my soul etc., I’ll forget almost everything about it other than “it was amazing/I loved it!” and “oh, there was a sentence containing the word ‘brutal’ that really stuck out to me near the top right corner of a page about 1/3 of the way in.” So, in order for me to discuss The Great Gatsby, I’d have to re-read it, which doesn’t exactly pique my interest. I probably seem to lack cultural knowledge in the world of books, but in reality, I spend 80% of my free time in bookstores and read at least 2-3 books per week.

    2. I also usually prefer to re-watch things as opposed to starting new TV shows/movies. And, I’m the person who gets stuck on one or two musical artists at a time. I play songs/albums over and over until I get sick of them and then I move onto the next. Nov/Dec was Ed Sheeran and Paramore, and this month it’s Allen Stone. My friends sometimes get annoyed at my replaying habits/artist phases, but they also find it to be an endearing quirk, so they’re nice about it.

  • zhajean January 18th, 2013 3:16 AM

    this is incredible. i sometimes feel that ‘pressure’ of knowing everything.



  • enface January 18th, 2013 4:13 AM

    I agree completely, even though I don’t really relate to this.
    I’ve been an avid reader since early childhood, and never cosidered reading a chore, or a standard to be reached. Just fun and fulfilling, something that comes from a place of curiosity. This is exactly why I can’t stand book/film snobbery; doesn’t seem genuine. I mean, too often do people see books as either something stuffy and boring, or a status symbol of sorts. Or both at the same time, if that makes any sense. I’d rather people read (what I think is) trash because they actually like it, than read masterpieces only because of how they look on the shelf. Same goes for films, of course. No one can even decide what they do like if they don’t think for themselves.

    Also – PERFECT choice of photo at the beginning! It really fits the article, in a subtle and awesome way.

  • avisanti January 18th, 2013 4:22 AM

    When I was younger I used to be extremely conscious of the things that I “should” like. But then I realized, it’s so much fun when you just like things because you like them and not because you’re trying to please other people or you’re trying to appear intellectual or deep or whatever.

  • stephiewonder January 18th, 2013 4:43 AM

    I still lie about having read Invisible Man (I only got through about 60 pages) and The Fountainhead (a mere 30).

  • anitaa January 18th, 2013 6:28 AM

    Lulz, this partly reminds me of that skit in Portlandia where Fred & Carrie interrogate each other over all the newspapers they [haven't] read that day…..
    I feel like this article is so incredibly, aggravatingly relevant. There is so much information that is openly accessible, but there isn’t enough time to accumulate it. And how much of that information is going to benefit me and is worth the time to accumulate? All of these recommendations and lists well up inside my brain and have nowhere to go. It only takes a second to learn about a tv show, book, or movie, but the act of actually devouring it takes several hours at least, and that isn’t even calculating in the other obligations we have in a day. I have to stop myself when I think about it too much because it leads me to question my place in life so far, all that I have left to accomplish, and other arbitrary qualms of the present….frantic is the perfect word for it. For me, it isn’t as much about fitting in with other people when they bring up new culture as it is about my curiosity and how badly i want to find out what that piece of culture entails. It’s nice to be able to take a break and enjoy a book or a movie, or just to relax with my thoughts……but the fact that the world keeps moving makes me desperate to want to keep up. I guess i can’t comprehend how impossible of a goal that is. -_____________-

    • Anaheed January 18th, 2013 7:08 AM

      It made me think of that exact same sketch, which felt so familiar to me that I was appropriately ashamed.

  • Naomi Morris January 18th, 2013 6:57 AM

    joe, don’t watch downton abbey

    • margharita January 18th, 2013 9:26 AM

      at least not season two.

    • Kathryn January 18th, 2013 6:13 PM

      I’m on the Season 2 Christmas Special, but I haven’t watched it yet because everyone says it’s really bad or something really bad happens and I’M SCARED because I accidentally read a spoiler that made me sad. :(

      Season 1 was really good though, IMHO!

  • RaineFall January 18th, 2013 7:37 AM

    This is so relevant!
    To be honest, I feel like most of my pretending comes from being educated by Rookie, as I have never listened to awesome 80′s music or seen any Molly Ringwald film. It’s usually “cool” popular culture that I pretend about. I prefer Taylor Swift to the Beastie Boys, yet have said I’ve listened to half their music…

    I stopped pretending about popular culture a few months ago. Books is the only thing I don’t pretend about cos I do read a lot, so have read Gatsby and at least 5 shakespeare plays, but anything “quirky” I used to well, lie about. Now I’m just honest, it’s far less exhausting.
    So glad to see other people have done this too though, I feel less alone :P

  • bethleeroth January 18th, 2013 7:51 AM

    File this under “things I wish I could tell myself 10 years ago.” Love it!

  • January 18th, 2013 7:58 AM

    Really great article and SO true. The moment I realised it was ok to not know everything (and kind of impossible – of course) it felt very liberating. Now I have no problem owning up to the fact that I read 1984 just one year ago and no, I haven’t read the Great Gatsby (yet… it’s on my bookshelf, waiting for me when I WANT to read it). But hey, I have seen every Gilmore Girls episode! And I’m not ashamed of it.

  • Atalanta January 18th, 2013 9:38 AM

    so nice to see things from a different perspective and I love the laidback attitude adopted.

  • Lillypod January 18th, 2013 9:55 AM

    jennifer egan!!
    j d salinger…
    i love books. i read a lot and some friends actually think i’ve read everything (in a jokey way) because when they mention a book i always have read it. its NOT true (duh) and all i think about is all the wonderful books i haven’t read…
    but it should be a good feeling, not an anxious one!

  • wallflower152 January 18th, 2013 10:24 AM

    I read quite a bit, usually two books a month. And I watch a lot of shows. Listen to a lot of music. (I don’t watch movies as much cuz there are just so many I want to watch it’s daunting). My problem is I always end up forgetting a good portion of the books and shows I consume because I consume so much. So I’m starting to wonder what’s the point? I do take pleasure in whatever I read/watch/listen to or else I wouldn’t bother. But my high school sucked, we were never required to read any of the “classics” so I’m trying to read a lot of those now but I usually love them. And don’t even get me started on podcasts, I have literally thousands of podcast episodes I need to listen to.

  • alisatimi January 18th, 2013 12:37 PM

    I can totally relate to this, except the people at my school aren’t even remotely interested in talking about books. But I still feel the need to be “cultured.” On the other hand, I’m lazy as hell and so it’s actually a relief to have something that’ll force me to read, because I do enjoy most of the books once I start. I don’t think watching and reading the same things over and over again would make me happy, even though I have to make a conscious effort to put them away and try something new.

  • kittynova January 18th, 2013 1:44 PM

    i have a habitual problem of being friends 5+ years older than me , and i used to STRESS about knowing every pearl jam song, twin peak reference, etc. to the point of not participating in convo for fear of not saying something ‘cool’ enough. and yeeesssss, what a relief it is to say “what is that? i’ve never heard of it.” and now be apart of a convo where links, books, and pointers are exchanged and not the “get out of my house, you’re not cool enough to be here anymore.” we all expect to happen for some reason.

  • Milala January 18th, 2013 3:35 PM

    This is one of the best articles I have EVER read. This is so true I believe of most teens and young people nowadays, at least it is definitely true of me. I feel so stressed out by everything I feel I need to read and watch, it’s insane!
    I love TV shows but I just don’t have the ability my friends have to be watching 10+ shows and keep up with them! I get bored easily. There are also things everyone says I must watch but I can’t bring myself to. Take Dr Who for instance, I watched the first episode and simple don’t feel like watching the second one, it feels like a chore and it shouldn’t
    Also, I love books, and I always have. And I sort of know a lot about books and authors and so people think I’ve read tons. I have read quite a lot compared to my friends who are not that into literature, but I haven’t read THAT much, really. So I always feel like I need to know about such and such and many times I don’t, and it’s stressful. I know I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do.
    As for music, I just admit that I’m hopeless, and it’s such a relief. I just ask for recommendations and I get to it when I get to it, I don’t rush it, because it simply doesn’t come easily to me.
    Being on Rookie is amazing because I’ve learned so much and I’ve come to know things I now love (ghost world, Chris Ware) but it also freaks me out how after any article every comment seems to be “i love that too!” I mean I’m not even American or anything, but sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on so much. It’s part of our generation, and I’ve loved every comment on this article.

  • mollypenney January 18th, 2013 6:38 PM

    Incredible timing. Seriously, I was just thinking of all the inadequacy I’ve felt because of this, and then I saw this article.
    I always feel like I can never read or watch or listen to enough in order to stay relevant. Just now I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk and Jeffrey Eugenides and Vladimir Nabokov and Jack Kerouac and Truman Capote and F.Scott Fitzgerald all at once because I just want them to all be a part of me already and I just can’t absorb them quick enough, if you know what I mean.

  • lubs January 18th, 2013 6:58 PM

    This article is so spot on! The internet (in general) and Rookie (to be specific) are like, INSANELY great. It pushes you out of your shell and shows you an absurd amount of great books/movies/tv shows just waiting for you to pick ‘em up and read/watch them. And yay for that!
    But still, sometimes I feel like i’m reading/watching more for the others then for myself. Like I’m doing it for fitting in. Being an ‘alternative’ (I hate that word) should make me free-er to read whatever I want to, but it really doesn’t. I have watched movies just so I could reblog their screencaps on Tumblr, so people could see how quirky and interesting I was.
    I was once in a lecture and the man said that the internet is great, but it’s so easy to get anxious and depressed: here’s this amount of things to be done (books to read, music to listen, parties to go). It is impossible to do it all. We try to do it all (sometimes we don’t even enjoy it) just so we can take that off our lists and move on to the next ‘cool’ thing. When we can’t do it (when you can’t get passed that ONE EPISODE OF TWIN PEAKS) everyone (including yourself) calls you a failure. I think that is a pretty legit portrait of what I’m feeling.
    I love 1984 AND The Princess Diaries. I just can’t get Björk. I liked The Royal Tenenbaums but I said ‘I LOOOOOVED IT WES ANDERSON IS A GENIUS’ when I saw it. I am enjoying Twin Peaks but I can quote pretty much every Klaine dialogue from Glee (seasons 1 and 2, though).
    Maybe when I’m older I’ll really figure out what I love and what I’m liking just for the hype. Thank you for the article.

  • Yayo January 18th, 2013 7:30 PM

    I totally totally love this article. It’s so relatable. I’ve been keeping up my ‘love’ of David Bowie for a while undetected. Not that I don’t like the couple of his songs I know…

    A girl at school who I don’t know that well mentioned the Virgin Suicides, and because I’ve been meaning to see it and I wanted her to think I was cool – I jumped straight in there and was all like ‘that’s such a good film! Have you read the book!?’ and managed to get through with my knowledge from Tavi’s posts and a quick Youtube trailer I watched.
    I’ve been meaning to watch it for ages, I really have.

  • paige.xo January 18th, 2013 7:58 PM

    Yes yes yes. Please don’t kill me- but I never read Harry Potter as a kid, despite being the kind of child that devoured books. It took me so long to admit that I’d never read them. Same with Skins. I thought that the third generation was crappy and I never watched it, but I still pretended to be up to date on all the franky-matty(?) drama. Its crazy. I pretend that I get how i met your mother references- I’ve only seen like three episodes. (Same goes for the office) Oh and I pretended to have read perks of being a wallflower for months.

    • Tavi January 19th, 2013 3:37 PM

      I’ve never read Harry Potter either! I have so much 21st century guilt about it!

  • yourenotfunny January 18th, 2013 9:38 PM

    This is how I feel about every tv show that’s supposed to be really good; I’ll be trying to watch Twin Peaks on Netflix, eeeeeehh it’s kinda long, too much to process, ooh Fairly OddParents reruns!!
    I’ve stopped trying long ago. It’s much more fun to actually consume the media you find interesting and make an immediate connection with, plus it’ll ultimately make you a more interesting person, I think. God, can you imagine a world where everyone has read Les Miserables? What would even be the point?

  • Helenus January 18th, 2013 10:53 PM

    Classic literature, weird music, and even weirder movies are like a delicacy to me. I love consuming them, but it’s not ALL I consume. I’m in university after all! I got shit ta’ do. One week I’ll read Diary of a Drug Fiend…the next week I’ll watch Nosferatu. I try to take sub-culture in small doses, otherwise I get sick of it.

    • caro nation January 20th, 2013 9:18 AM

      It seems a lot of the commenters talk about feeling forced to consume even obscurer and obscurer pieces of culture, but my insane interest in, like, outsider art and no wave feels completely genuine to me. I can’t take anything in small doses, though. Maybe I’m just an obsessive, but I will never be able to skim the surface, so I will waste hours of my day researching something that really does not matter. EVEN if it really interests me. I just want to be able to make those connections…. The best art to me crochets a collection of old ideas into something new.

  • llamalina January 19th, 2013 2:53 AM

    i love the honesty of this article; i’m definitely guilty of fudging the truth a little when it comes to reading a book or watching a movie.

  • renegadekitty January 19th, 2013 11:31 AM

    this article makes a lot of sense to me. definitely been guilty in the past of saying i’ve read/seen/heard things that i haven’t, or haven’t in any great detail. but i don’t do that anymore (and not just because i don’t talk to anyone anymore). now i just greedily consume all the cultural stuff i want without thinking about what everyone’s talking about or obsessing over. I like 30 Rock, never seen Parks and Recs, I’ve read Perks of Being a Wallflower, never touched a John Green novel in my life, I’d only actually listened to about 5 of the bands profiled in Our Band Could Be Your Life and there were even two in there that I had never heard of before.
    I spend most of my life playing Fallout anyhow, so that doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

  • stellar January 19th, 2013 2:27 PM

    i was surprised that the great gatsby didn’t impress me, but ditto tale of two cities. hmm…was i looking for something i wasn’t aware of? or is there no real “universal classic great book?” that said, i’m glad w i actually enjoy an admired book. it helps me to understand w others find fascinating about it.

  • trawetsenelra January 19th, 2013 7:51 PM

    SO much love for this article.
    thank you thank you thank you

  • MERdusa January 20th, 2013 11:07 PM

    Loved this article, I think most people struggle with this and that’s just part of social interaction in a world that puts a high value on being unique and being able to reference at least something in every sentence you utter.

  • TropicanaLuxx January 21st, 2013 11:06 AM

    OMG I love this! I’m learning to be more honest about this. Also, The Hills. Yezzzz

  • christinachristina January 21st, 2013 5:17 PM

    Totally feeling this. But instead of reading the 5+ books my friend lent me to check out, and watching the 20+ movies I should have seen but never have, etc; I’m just reading Harry Potter again for the 10th time. Whatevs.

  • pohtaytoe January 22nd, 2013 4:25 AM

    story of my life!! i’ve become a lot more comfortable recently just admitting that i have limited or no knowledge of things… instead of the judgement i guess i expected before, the friend i’m talking with, more often than not, just becomes really excited about my newness to the subject and it can become something we end up watching, reading and rereading or sharing together. years after discovering things in life that i love, i’m always happy to see someone’s fresh perspective on it, or be able to hopefully introduce a friend to something that they may like too.

  • thecampuspainter January 27th, 2013 6:00 PM

    you have literally described my life right here. especially movie-wise. i’m a pro at pretending to have seen movies i haven’t…

  • noloveydovey February 5th, 2013 6:06 AM

    I can totally relate to this. For me, I have always been friends with those who good academically and have parents who are knowledgeable about the arts. So through high school it’s assumed that if you hang out with intelligent people it’s assumed you’re on the same level of intelligence as them. But I really wasn’t.

    I love the arts, but my family were not ones into the humanities or avant-garde cinema. So I was not naturally influenced with all this amazing cultural films, books etc at the beginning of my childhood.

    To place a long story short, when you enter University (for me it’s art university) there’s so much emphasis on being so knowledgeable, cultured and bourgeois. I am interested to obscure things and so fourth. But there’s lots if British cultural things I don’t know about. (I’m a Filipino living in London)

    So when a cultural reference is made, and for example, I don’t know the reference it really makes you feel like a outsider looking in. You become immediately detached. You’re constantly trying to prove your cultural intelligence and trying to integrate. So I’ve white lied about the books, shows and movies which I’ve said I have known about.

    It’s a horrible feeling when you feign that you know something or you pronounce the title/ name of the reference wrong and people correct you in such a manner that it feels condescending. In my case, it’s a issue of cultural identity and proving my intelligence.

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has felt intellectually inferior. :)

  • Bananaskid February 7th, 2013 10:50 PM

    This is cool.
    I blog a lot as well.
    This, to be honest, inspires me.

  • trassel February 23rd, 2013 8:49 AM

    I recognize myself in this article. Though I would never dare to pretend to have watched/listened to /read something I haven’t (I mostly confess my “failing” really quickly when something I “should” have consumed comes up in a conversation) I feel like this a lot. I always have this mountain of books next to my bed.
    It’s kind of fantastic how I found this article literary minutes after finishing the great Gatsby. I didn’t even consiously searsh for it. I have felt this way about Gatsby too for a while, not that my friends talk about it but I feel like every book I read mentions it so it would be good to just have read it so that I know what everyone is talking about. Don’t know if I liked it though. I think I need to read it in Swedish once to understand better. That is another thin that has gotten into my head that I must not read english language books translated to Swedish, but I guess that is sort of bullshit too.

  • orthopedicsaddleshoes May 17th, 2013 9:32 PM

    This is one of my favorite Rookies articles EVER and I love how sincere you are.
    Also, this place is so relevant: “The list of amazing things in all mediums and genres has built up for centuries and never stops coming, like a Tumblr dashboard scrolling to infinity, filled with everything you absolutely need to experience right now or forever feel left out.”

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica June 1st, 2013 12:16 PM

    Wow. I relate so much to every word of this and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. You put it into words so well!