Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Confessions of the Unread

I had a copy of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens for a decade before I read it. I owned it by accident, and owned it for two years before I learned that "Terry Pratchett" was a man, not a woman. There must have been at least a hundred books that came into my possession and were somehow read before it, with no intentionality or purpose against Mr. Gaiman and Mr. Pratchett.

According to Goodreads, I present possess 141 books that I haven’t read. The desire to read everything I hear about is so strong that even if I only borrow, buy or steal a small fraction of it, I wind up with boxes of books. And among those books are a few that I feel particularly ashamed for not yet reading. Most of these are hard classics. Some are so long that I argued myself into reading long works from my industry instead. Such excuses work in the short term. In the long term, literary guilt is powerful. I'm publishing this list to further pressure myself to get some culture.

-Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
-Roots by Alex Haley
-Middlemarch by George Eliot (only just learned on Sunday that George was a woman)
-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
-Master and Margarita by Mihael Bulgakov
-War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (sent to me as a Christmas gift and embarrassing number of Decembers ago)
-Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
-The Quitter by Harvey Pekar
-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
-Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
-God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
-Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
-The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
-Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Mallory
-The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
-Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson
-The World According to Garp by John Irving
-Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
-The Voice of the Poet by Langston Hughes

I most recently scratched Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale off my list. I think Solaris is next. Please feel free to check off which books you've read, or add your own list of shame. Commiseration can be good. What we really need is a National Novel Reading Month.


  1. Just think what pleasures await you...

    Soon after receiving a Kindle for Christmas last year, I discovered that there are tons of classics available for free. I've also been downloading indie books as I meet more & more writers online. Consequently my TBR "stack" has never been higher. But it's also never been so exciting. I look forward to "reading some more" more than almost anything else in my life, now.

  2. That's an interesting list. I've read just a few of those - 4 to be exact. I know exactly what you mean by putting books aside until they've become decoration rather than something functional. I've got a few on my "I'll get to it" list.

    Happy reading.

  3. Of these, I've read Pride and Prejudice, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The World According to Garp, and Great Expectations. Enjoyed them all.

    I have Anna Karenina, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and Atlas Shrugged on my TBR shelf, among many, many more.

  4. Spending time in parochial schools with teachers who felt only classics were worth reading, my list is more late 20th Century but too long and growing.
    Oh well, it's supposed to be a cold winter so maybe....

  5. A National Reading month sounds like an excellent idea. I wouldn't mind just a month dedicated exclusively to reading, and comparing reading lists with a buddy (hint hint).

  6. With Les Miserables (My favorite novel) You have to read the unabridged edition. Yes it's a hell of a lot longer, but I don't believe Hugo wastes a lot of space, as everything he does has it's purpose.

    But yea, national novel reading month would be cool :)

  7. Les Miserables, Middlemarch and Pride & Prejudice. Best books ever in the world. Start with those three, you won't regret reading them. Crime and Punishment is also amazing.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  8. On that list I've read Les Mis (liked), Pride & Prejudice (loved), and Great Expectations (hated).

    A few on my list are: The Robber Bride (Atwood), East of Eden (Steinbeck), As I Lay Dying (Faulkner), Beloved (Morrison), The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald), Jane Eyre (Bronte), Their Eyes Were Watching God (Neale-Hurston)

    I agree whole-heartedly that we need a national novel reading month.

  9. Kirsten, I'm sure if I picked up an e-reader or cell phone that I'd had have an even longer to-read list. All those public domain classics. Sheesh.

    Laurita, which four? Would you vote behind one as the next must-read? Gosh, do I hate War and Peace just being a decoration.

    Tony, have you read much Rand outside of Atlas, or is that going to be the start of your plunge?

    Giggles, I read mostly 20th century lit in high school, but we only scratched the surface. I didn't even know who GK Chesterton and Samuel Coleridge were until after college.

    Theresas, what's on your shame list? Will I find it on your blog?

    Michael, we're chatting about it on Twitter. I'll probably post more about the idea soon.

    Sarah, I sure hope I feel that way. The three best books ever right in t a row?

    Danni, East of Eden is so darned good!

  10. Never read any Rand. Would probably start my Randification with The Fountainhead, actually.

  11. I've read a few on this list and I recommend bumping Lolita and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas towards the top of your list.

    My list of shame has more to do with the books I started and couldn't finish such as Crime and Punishment, Madame Bovary, The Fountainhead,and Pride and Prejudice.

  12. You will adore Garp and Great Expectations, though for very different reasons.

    If you feel you need motivation, and if you don't find it too sacriligious, the movie of Garp does an excellent job of capturing the flavor of the text.

    Small confession - I haven't read Les Miserables either, but I did read La Mort d'Artu in the original Old French, so that has to count for something. :)

  13. I can only claim to having read one off your list Great Expectations - I don't think I'm brave enough to list all the books I haven't read ^__^

  14. I just read Red Badge of Courage because I had to help my son with a book report (he only got 79% - 79%!!!!! What a rip! The teacher is a lunatic!). It wasn't all that great, to be honest. I had to force myself to read it. The World According to Garp, though, you have to read it. It's very, very funny and why I fell in love with John Irving many years ago.
    Like you, though, I have an embarrassing high pile of unread books. I just can't do anything about it right now. Too busy writing my own words – and it's so time-consuming (and so damned hard) that right now I can't read anyone else's. Good luck with your pile of books!


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