Here’s a question, dear readers. Say you’re peer-reviewing an article for a journal. Do you think you could easily distinguish, from reading the submitted article, whether the author had read the novel being discussed (let’s say, to choose a completely random example, Samuel Richardson’s novel, Sir Charles Grandison) in the conventional old-fashioned way (i.e. starting at starting at the beginning and reading continuously, page by page, until the end)? Here, you have to suppose that the hypothetical essay does not concern, say, a topic like word-frequency. No, it’s an essay about, I don’t know, the role of repartee in the novel. Would you be able to discern, merely from reading the essay, if the author had not in fact read Sir Charles Grandison in the described manner but had instead performed a series of searches on an electronic version of the text?
Think of it as a kind of literary-critical version of the Turing test. We’ll call it the Grandison test. If you can produce an argument about a book that is compelling and coherent enough that a peer-reviewer can’t tell that you haven’t read the book in the conventional manner, have you in effect read the book?
Several years ago, the duck-rabbit had the opportunity to pose this question to a noted authority on electronic literature. Her answer, as I recall, was, “the last point’s irrelevant because you would totally be able to tell.”
Now, maybe she was calling my bluff; maybe she would have given that answer no matter what she really thought because she thinks it’s a good thing for people to continue to read books in the old-fashioned way, and if people believe they’ll get caught out if they don’t, then they’ll keep on reading in this way.
I found this answer deeply disappointing. Although I framed this question as a philosophical one, it was really one I was asking with an extremely pragmatic motive: would my future peers be able to tell which books I had read and which books I had, uh, not-read?
Because here’s the thing. I have actually read Sir Charles Grandison in the old-fashioned way. And I can’t get those hours back. And there are a lot of other books, important books, like, seriously important books, that I should have read, but which I haven’t read, and I don’t have the hours, or, to be honest, the willpower and self-discipline, to read them now.
Now if I had in fact published an essay in a peer-reviewed journal about a book that I hadn’t actually read, I could have triumphantly proven my esteemed new-media colleague wrong. Yet this would have involved exposing myself, in the manner of the parlor game “Humiliation” that fictional literary scholar Philip Swallow describes in David Lodge’s Changing Places. More to the point, as it happens, I actually have read all the books I’ve written about. I’m not boasting here. You’ll notice, if you check me out on the MLA Bibliography, that the articles I have published are all on extremely short works. That’s actually no mean feat when you specialize in the eighteenth-century novel.
We’ve had the long eighteenth century, the deep eighteenth century, and now, oh yes, the short eighteenth century. But mine is really the lazy eighteenth century. In fact, I quite fancy the idea of teaching a course called “The Lazy Eighteenth Century.” We’d read The Idler, half-arsedly, while enjoying a tipple that I invented myself and that I call Boswell’s Revenge. It consists of Hendrick’s gin muddled with cucumber. There might have been something else in it too; I can’t remember. I imagine that Boswell would have made it for Johnson in reference to the latter’s infamous recipe for cucumber salad (“a cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.”)
You should try it this weekend. It’s better than Sir Charles Grandison. And nobody will be able to tell by drinking it whether or not you’ve actually read Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides …
 It is in fact her view (and, yes, I agree with her, of course) that it’s a good thing for people to learn to read with “deep attention” as well as “hyper attention,” and to recognize the differences between the two. See N. Katherine Hayles, “Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes.” Profession 2007, pp. 187-199 (13).
 Here’s how Désirée Zapp describes it to her husband Morris in Changing Places: “The essence of the matter is that each person names a book which he hasn’t read but assumes the others have read, and scores a point for every person who has read it. Get it?”
 Let’s call this the Cocktail Invention Paradox. If the cocktail you invent is good enough, you may imbibe so much of it that you find yourself quite unable to recall how to reproduce it.