"READ THE ENTIRE LITERARY WORK. THESE NOTES ARE NOT INTENDED AND HAVE NOT BEEN PREPARED TO SERVE AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE TEXT ITSELF OR FOR THE CLASSROOM DISCUSSION OF THE TEXT. STUDENTS WHO ATTEMPT TO USE THE NOTES AS SUCH ARE DENYING THEMSELVES THE VERY EDUCATION THEY ARE PRESUMABLY GIVING THEIR MOST VITAL YEARS TO ACHIEVE." Thus reads the standard disclaimer that prefaces every volume of Cliff's Notes, or "CliffsNotes", as we are encouraged to identify these erstwhile cribs, and let punctuation be damned. And several generations of students say: "yeah, whatever..."
Either my memory's crumbling, or reality is becoming a negotiable concept. Have I been there? Did I see that, read this? Did I try to bullshit someone that I did? It's like living a fantasy existence, but instead of pretending to be an international diamond smuggler, I let people marvel at how many Bergman films I've seen. And like all fantasists, the danger comes when you let both feet off the ground at once.
But it's not just about adopting an unearned mantle of learning; quite the opposite, in fact. For some reason, I'd convinced myself that I'd never actually read The Great Gatsby. So I picked up a second-hand copy and, of course, the point at which I realised that I had actually read it was the sentence that made me think "wow" the first time round. It's the narrator's description of Tom and Daisy Buchanan:
"They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and they drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together."