There are more books in the world than hours in which to read them. We are thus deeply influenced by books we haven't read, that we haven't had the time to read. Who has actually read Finnegans Wake – I mean from beginning to end? Who has read the Bible properly, from Genesis to the Apocalypse?
And yet I've a fairly accurate notion of what I haven't read. I have to admit that I only read War and Peace when I was 40. But I knew the basics before then. The Mahabharata – I've never read that, despite owning three editions in different languages. Who has actually read the Kama Sutra? And yet everyone talks about it, and some practise it too. So we can see that the world is full of books that we haven't read, but that we know pretty well.
When people ask whether I've read this or that book, I've found that a safe answer is, "You know, I don't read, I write." That shuts them up. Although some of the questions come up time and time again: "Have you read Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair?" I ended up giving in and trying to read it, on three different occasions. But I found it terribly dull.