The Booktopia Book Guru’s ‘How to Look Like You Know Stuff (in Six Easy Steps)’

by |June 17, 2011

Tired of being thought a bit of a thickie?

Want respect?

Want to be considered ‘learned’?

Then you’ll want to know stuff.

I’ll let you in on a secret, knowing stuff – for real – is hard. It usually takes years of dedication. Not to mention, lots and lots of reading… Still want to know stuff?

In truth, knowing stuff isn’t as great as it sounds. Knowing stuff can lead to depression. It can make it difficult to think well of your fellow man. It can give you foresight, too, which has been proven to greatly reduce a person’s chance of making friends, falling in love and reproducing.

In spite of these rather distressing side-effects knowing stuff still carries weight in certain circles. Yes, some people still seem to admire those who know stuff. Strange but true. We shouldn’t laugh. Remember, not long ago there were institutions devoted to helping people know stuff. Thankfully, the Internet has made such institutions obsolete. Even so, old habits are hard to break. So while schools and universities suffer their slow painful deaths, to gain the respect of our peers, we still need to know stuff.

What you may not have heard is this – knowing stuff now comes in two distinct types. Actually knowing stuff, which is a real pain in the arse. And looking like you know stuff, which is a doddle.

Take it from me, once you actually know stuff, you quickly discover that most people get on quite well just looking like they know stuff. In fact, there are more people who look like they know stuff in high places than those who do actually know stuff.

What do we learn from this? We only need to look like we know stuff  to ensure we have a happy and successful life.

Brothers and sisters, though it is too late for me, having squandered my chance of happiness in the foolhardy pursuit of knowledge, it is not too late for you. Allow me to offer you the gift of a happy life with my patented six step course…

The Booktopia Book Guru’s
‘How to Look Like You Know Stuff (in Six Easy Steps)’

Step One – Literature:

You don’t want to spend any more time reading than you have to. You have things to do. Important things. (Like checking your status on facebook.) But to present a thin veneer of learning you must read something. Something well respected. Here’s a tip…

Read only The Slim Books of Literature

For example…

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

The Outsider by Albert Camus

The Immoralist by Andre Gide

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

First Love by Ivan Turgenev

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

etc… etc… there are hundreds of little greats! (Penguin has made it even less taxing – click here for the Mini Modern Classics)

Or, read Plays – they’re easier to knock over…

Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo

Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

… etc… etc… (or cheat and get the DVDs)

Quick Fix – if you feel you are genetically predisposed to be shallow and reading is far too much effort, DVD’s of Austen’s Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion are available – as are E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, Where Angels Fear to Tread, A Room with a View, Maurice, A Passage to India and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

Or, if even this seems too great a challenge – find yourself an anthology of Short Stories and/or Poetry by the great writers/poets to gain a taste of their style, worth and genius or, at the very least, stare at the contents page to develop a familiarity with their names.

Step Two – Philosophy:

Now, pay attention. This is one area that can work wonders for you if properly exploited. Philosophers confuse and confound each other as much as they confuse and confound you. Learn a smattering of pithy sayings, get your tongue around names like Wittgenstein and you’re more than halfway there…

Read – Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. If this seems too difficult, read Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World (don’t skip the lessons!)

Quick Fix: Philosophy For Dummies or The Consolations Of Philosophy

Hint – Some philosophers who are quite easy and enjoyable to read are Plato, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes, Hume and Nietzsche. (Find bite sized packets of genius here)

No? Oh, bugger it then! Just read these: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Collection

Step Three – Science:

Science is the easiest of the six steps. No one can keep up with what is going on in science. Even science is ignorant of what science is accomplishing. The key here is to pretend that the wonders of the universe don’t bore you to tears…

Read – Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything  (Oh, okay you can get  – A Really Short History of Nearly Everything.)

Still too much? One big idea at a time…  E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis

Hint – The criminally lazy mind might prefer to try their luck with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Step Four – History:

History need not be troublesome. Think of it as one really thick edition of The Daily Telegraph. You can even turn it over and read the sport first…

Read – Geoffrey Blainey’s A Very Short History of the World  (or A Short History of the Twentieth Century for those who can’t comprehend the idea that there was a time before the 20th century). H.G. Wells also wrote an immensely popular history of the world – A Short History of the World. (Who he?)

Quick Fix: But if you’re anything like me and have a juvenile streak, Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories are just the thing to get you reading history without alerting you to the fact you’re reading history.

Hint – For an injection of pomposity – rent the DVD of Kenneth Clark’s marvellous Civilisation series… or the book.

Step Five – Visual Arts:

Nothing will cause you more difficulty than the visual arts. No one. And I mean, no one, can claim to hold an unassailable position here. If you find yourself standing knee deep in a vat of bullshit, know that everyone else is, too.

Choose a period of interest ie: Modern, Ancient, Nineteenth Century, Renaissance, etc. and read one short book on it, one with lots of pictures, or choose one artist and do the same. Example: Van Gogh. In conversation, when anyone leads you beyond your chosen area of study, look bored and let every one of their words drop unattended until they peter our altogether.

Hint – The Art World is an easy place for the ignorant to hide their ignorance – the boldest bluffer wins! (Keep this handy: The Art Book)

Step Six – Music:

Be not afraid, this is a realm which welcomes and embraces the ignorant. You’ll find you’ve become an expert having barely done a thing…

Listen: Play cheap anthologies of Classical Music, of Opera, of Broadway Musicals till you’ve become familiar with all the big names – Mozart, Beethoven, Puccini and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber!

Then move on to the sixties and seventies rock and pop scene. Once you’re chummy with Janis Joplin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Neil Young and Bob Dylan no one will dare doubt your music credentials.

Hint – Leave contemporary music to the young, it is a trap, for no matter how hard you try to know what’s what the young will always find a way to make you feel ignorant.

Trump card: Guitar For Dummies

And that is that…

There is no shorter route to apparent wisdom!

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


  • June 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Ha! Genius. I almost feel like I kind of know stuff already!

  • June 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    ha, this is pretty great. I think reading is the answer to anything. but I also think it is good to be up to date on information, so maybe adding some 1. Colbert Report and 2. magazines/journals such as The Economist or Scientific American might be helpful. I myself am in constant pursuit of “knowing something.” I’ll let you know when I get there.

  • June 19, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Brilliant!! Comprehensive! Impressive!

    I’d just add that in Category 1, ‘The Great Gatsby’ is really quite short- far shorter than Hamlet, for example- and thus a worthy addition to the list. Just thought I’d add that- I’m sure you didn’t intend such an oversight.

    • June 19, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      A brilliant inclusion.

      • June 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm

        Did your hands shake when you typed that? 😉

        • June 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm

          I am very happy to be able to include The Great Gatsby in a list of the slim books of literature. Any longer and it would not qualify.

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