Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Okay, Fess Up...

The Washington Post book blog, Short Stack, has a nice recurring feature in which it picks five favorite books around a particular theme. This week, it's five books that a staff member is embarrassed to admit they've never read. I'll share my list if you'll share yours. But first, I'll have to figure out what books it should include from the hundreds of classics I've yet to read. You can review an earlier mention of the Short Stack blog here.


At 10:24 AM, Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom John,

There are thousands? millions? of books I'll never get to read.

There are hundreds of books on everyone's list of books you must read before you die (there's even a book with the title, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die), but I can clearly say that I'll hold my personal library and have-read list up against any book snob and not blink.

Am I a lesser person because I found War And Peace unreadable? Do I hang my head in shame because Dickens puts me to sleep in a single page? Ought I to flog myself because I think Gatsby was only so-so?

Such elitism is the last defense of English lit majors angry that they don't get their due.

And now I'll go back to reading Robert Olen Bulter's They Whisper.



At 10:32 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wonderful stuff, Jeff. You've tapped into my sentiments precisely: a lot of so-called classics are largely unreadable for most people, and we shouldn't feel bad (or made to feel bad) about that. Actually, in an increasingly post-literate world, you should just feel good that you continue to read, and widely. That's the key. All readers get to choose their own classics, and that goes for books, magazines, newspapers and the rest. If this blog has any animating first principals, that's surely among them. You and a couple other readers, for instance, have helped convince me that some quality science fiction authors deserve their place among the classics. Anyway, Dr. Hess, thanks as always for adding your intelligent two cents.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Anthony Cartouche said...

Here are five of the many books I've never read:

Ulysses, James Joyce. Not only have I failed to read this book, I am a founding member of the Ulysses Society, comprised of people who own a copy of the book but who have not yet read it. We had to drum out one of our members when she broke down and actually read her copy.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A friend gave me a copy for Christmas in 1982. I've yet to get past the first fifteen pages.

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. I admire DFW's writing and have read nearly everything else he's done but I conked out of this one about one-third of the way through.

Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust. One of these days . . . but not yet.

Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon. And I'm pretty sure I'd actually enjoy this one!

At 1:02 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Anthony, welcome. You're the second first-time commenter today. I'm thrilled.

Good group of picks here. I'm only one for five on having read any of these (and even that one gets an asterisk), with the only one being the impossibly long Remembrance of Things Past, which was done almost as a self-administered homework assignment shortly after college. The asterisk is because like probably just about anyone who's tried reading this longest of all novels (it's often split into three volumes because the whole thing resists being published as a single book) I gave up somewhere along the way, possibly around the mid-way point. But it was an interesting experience while it lasted.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is alleged to be a great read, so I might some day try tackling that one. And while I vowed to try Wallace's Infinite Jest (also notoriously long, but at 1,000 pages, way shorter than ROTP) a couple years ago in this venue, after linking to his commencement speech, I've yet to read it. His tragic suicide the other day makes it perhaps a little more likely that I eventually will.

Anyway, thanks again for taking a moment to weigh in here, Anthony. It's much appreciated.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

No specific list, but I alternate between being euphoric over the books I've yet to read and depressed about the ones I'll never get to.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Nicely said, MO. I agree entirely. I suppose that with each year you age, you can figure it one of two ways: either you'll have that much less time to read the books you've always wanted to, or you're getting closer to a time when life might permit more time to read (although that last idea can be something of a mirage for many). I say just turn off the damn TV and read a little more each day. You won't regret it.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

For me it comes down to feeling coerced about what books people think I should read. "Oh you should read this, you'd really like it!" usually translates as 1. "I liked it so you should too" or 2. "I didn't like it but you like things that are different and difficult so you will like this." In other words, based on an uninformed opinion of what I would like or not. (I loved Ulysses, but then, I read it when I was 17. It IS a rather adolescent book in some ways.)

My list here consists of books have recommended to me so many times I've built up a resistance to reading them. Maybe someday I will, and even enjoy them. But the resistance is too high for now.

"A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"

anything by Nabokov

most "magic realism" including Marquez. (I have read One Hundred Years, in fact I read it when I was living in Indonesia; I found it fun but not very good, and rather pointless, in the way Wagner's Ring Cycle is pointless, in that everything reverts back to the primordial chaos in the end, as though nothing had happened.) "Magic realism" is a mainstream lit crit term that has no meaning whatsoever, especially since actual fantasy and science fiction are often better-written, more believable, and usually smarter than any "magic realism" novel. I grew up reading SF; this stuff usually makes me shrug.

Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" (Although I have read "The Old Man and the Sea" and much other Hemingway with great pleasure. My favorites of his are the Nick Adams short stories and novellas; that's partly because I'm a Michigan boy, and relate to both setting and character types in those stories.)

anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Of course the list of "great books" I haven't read is as long as anyone else's here, and for some similar reasons. I like the other comments made on that front so far. At the same time, I realize that I've probably read a great deal more, and more widely in topic, than most, so I've never felt remotely like I "should" read something just because everybody else does. (For fun, I'm re-reading John McPhee's masterpiece "Annals of the Former World" right now, for example, in that omnibus edition with new material added.)

At 11:31 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Excellent additions, Art. Dave Eggers' "Staggering Genius" would be on my list of contemporary stuff too, as would Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections." And anything by Nabokov is a good idea, including the notorious Lolita. It's awe-inspiring to think that English wasn't even his first language. Scary to think of what he could have done with the language otherwise.


Post a Comment

<< Home