There are a lot of books I haven’t read. I’m a slow reader, which means, given the rate at which new books are published every year, there will always be a lot of books I haven’t read. This used to bother me. Especially when it came to the great books—the canon of literary fiction I presumed English and Writing majors were required to have read but that I’d somehow managed to avoid. My guilt over having not read, for example, Moby Dick, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Brothers Karamazov and, gulp, Wurthering Heights, all but disappeared last November when Lorin Stein, editor at the Paris Review, blogged about his own list of unread/unfinished works of literature.
Like Stein, I’ve claimed to have read novels I never, in fact, finished. These are usually works that I’ve heard so much about, read so much about, that it almost seems like I’ve read them. Novels like Franzen’s The Corrections, Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio fall into this category.
I want to read all of these novels, I really do. Unfortunately, there are so many great works of fiction vying for my attention that it seems unlikely I’ll ever get to all of them. And, truth be told, I think this is a good problem to have. The well of great fiction is deep, and I enjoy a novel almost as much for its story as for its very finite existence, which promises the chance to pick up something new when I’ve finished that last page.
As long as I’m confessing to my literary sins, I’ll say this: I’m reading my first Margaret Atwood novel. Yep. I said it. I’ve read quite a few of her short stories, but never any of her longer works. I’m about 50 pages into The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m enjoying it, trying to figure out the rules of her particular dystopia, but should that change, should I lose interest, I’m fine with putting it back on the shelf unfinished. It’ll be in good company, after all.
How about you: Any confessions?