The books I haven’t read

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?

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11 thoughts on “The books I haven’t read

  1. Sandra says:

    I feel your pain… ok, maybe not pain; but I definitely understand where you are coming from.

    • E. J. Taylor says:

      Sandra, it used to be a painful thing. Not so much now. How about you? Is there a book you regret having not read or finished?

      • Sandra says:

        I started “The Romance of Leonardo DiVinci” a few months ago. It was originally written in Russian and my brain just couldn’t take the English translation. Sounded like a wonderful piece of classic literature; but it was too slow of a read for me.

  2. Multiply attempts to read Winesburg, Ohio have failed. Just can’t do it.

  3. Kelly Arthur says:

    I have a list of books I’ve never read also, but some of them I’m rather proud of. I have never read anything in the Twilight series, and that actually helps me sleep a little better at night.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I feel your pain! My issue is time: I work so much, and I’m lucky that I get to write about the things I love (including books), but that leaves little time for actual leisure — aka when I’m not doing these things “on the clock.” Sometimes my mind just needs a break, too, but I’m still craving more books (or whatever it may be)! And sometimes it’s hard to start a new book when I know I’ll be assigned one to write about …. It’s a good problem to have, as you said (only applied to a different situation), but it’s still frustrating! I buy books faster than I can read ‘em!

    • E. J. Taylor says:

      I hear ya, Stephanie! For every one book I read there are 15 in a pile waiting to be picked up. We’re buried in books, both read and unread, at our house.

  5. Ian Denning says:

    I’m trying to read more classics (never read Flaubert, Austen, most of the Russians, very little Henry James or Dickens). Read Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” a few months back and I’m reading “Moby Dick” now. After that I’m definitely going to need to read something short and entertaining and fluffy, but then I think I’m going to read “Madame Bovary.”

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