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10 Books I Haven’t Read

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

This is a feature I’ve seen around on blogs and I decided to play at it myself.  So here are 10 Books (and Series, and Authors) That I Haven’t Read.

  1. Any book in the Twilight series – I’ve made my feelings on this issue pretty clear.  It’s not anything personal, Twi-hards.
  2. Any book in the Harry Potter series – That’s right, none of ‘em.  Even considering that I went to Western Michigan for my undergrad degree, which is one of the leading schools for the study of children’s lit, and even though I actually took a class in children’s lit while I was there.  (My prof for that class was more on the fairy tale end of the spectrum, so that’s what we read.  The Potter series was only about half-completed then anyway.)  I have been thinking about jumping into this, though, now that I have the time.  My question at this point is whether I want to spend a month and a half on the library waitlist for each book, or just blow $40 on the box set.  It’s not like I’d be stuck with them if I didn’t like them; they’d have instant resellability, I expect.  Or I could just read ‘em all and then give the set to my nephew.  He’s still a few years away from Harry Potter, so I would have the time.
  3. The Grapes of Wrath – I went through a Steinbeck phase a few years ago, but it waned before I reached this one.  I do know, via anecdotal evidence from more than one person, that it has an incredibly slow start.  I imagine this is a book that twice as many people have started as finished.  (Jane Austen’s Emma is also one of these.)  I do have this book on my shelves already, though, so once my many reading challenges are disposed of, I have no reason not to pick it up.
  4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Tom Sawyer always felt to me like a kid’s book.  There’s a huge difference between “a kid’s book” and “a book about a kid,” and I know that.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a prime example of this, as is the book with which Mark Twain followed Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (which I have read, which is considered by many to be the Great American Novel, and I could cautiously agree with that statement).  Still, I can’t shake the idea that Huck Finn is serious, real literature, and Tom Sawyer is tales of a loveable scamp, a 19th century Dennis the Menace figure. Twain is brilliant and hilarious, though.  So maybe I should give it a shot?  Recommendations for or against are welcome.
  5. The Invisible Man – I was “supposed” to read this at least twice in my lifetime, once in high school and once in college, and somehow I managed to avoid it both times.  I think it got shuffled off the syllabus in high school because of time, and I probably just skipped it in college.  (It happened sometimes.)  Anyway, it’s a major (maybe THE major) piece of contemporary African American literature, which happens to interest me a lot, and yet, there it sits, on my shelf, untouched.  Probably because it’s long and for sure painful.  The thing is, I love really bleak stuff—when I do read this, I’m sure I’ll find it mind-blowingly good—but that doesn’t stop me from sometimes avoiding the bleak stuff.
  6. Anything by Tolkien – Not The Hobbit, none of the Lord of the Rings books.  They are so long and full of warriors and battles and mystical creatures whose names and attributes I would have to learn (another thing that put me off Harry Potter, by the way)—they are completely out of my realm.  No interest.  It’s hard to express that without getting a Tolkien fanboy (or fangirl, there are plenty of them, too) all up in your face about genre snobbism, but let me hasten to assure you that I don’t see it that way.  Fantasy just doesn’t appeal to me, the way Southern Gothic (which I love) doesn’t appeal to others.  I also don’t like tomatoes, or musicals, or roller coasters.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, either.
  7. Ulysses / Finegan’s Wake Ulysses is a modern retelling of The Odyssey.  I’ve read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at least three times… and that is where I always leave off with James Joyce.  His works get increasingly complex as you move along chronologically.  I fear that Ulysses is too structureless for me, that I will attempt to read it and scream, “Oh my God just DO SOMETHING.”  Finegan’s Wake, Joyce’s last work, is reputed to be even more incomprehensible.  (My favorite thing about Finegan’s Wake is the bit in The Bell Jar where Esther is attempting to write a thesis on it, and there’s this long nonsense word, and she counts the letters.  One hundred, she muses.  That probably means something. And that’s as far as she ever gets on the thesis.)
  8. More than 10 pages of anything by Cormac McCarthy – It would seem that, unlike Tolkien, McCarthy is right up my alley.  I love that sort of dark, spare rural American gothic thing, and McCarthy is pretty much the living epitome of that right now.  But every time I try something by him, I get stopped in my tracks by his—let’s call it disinterest—his disinterest in providing narrative guideposts such as quotation marks that tell the reader when someone is speaking, or giving his characters names or the barest of identities.  Writers can over-explain, absolutely, and I like to figure things out for myself to a certain extent.  But McCarthys always push me right to that point of frustration–“WHAT IS GOING ON?”—where I quit.
  9. More than 10 pages of anything by Joyce Carol Oates – Again, like McCarthy, Oates should be totally my bag.  Contemporary writer, specializes in mildly Gothic family drama.  She publishes approximately twenty books a decade.  Every time I try—I hate her.  Just hate, like viscerally hate.  There’s something about her prose that feels ugly to me.  And at some point I’ll have to try to finish something of hers, so that I can more fully develop what’s going on there—and maybe work through it—but I never have yet.
  10. Anything by Stephen King – And AGAIN!  I STUDY CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN GOTHIC LITERATURE.  I have never read anything by Stephen King.  I don’t know, it just sort of passed me by somehow.  As a teenager I was in girlyworld with the Brontes and Austen (and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is, for a male author, pleasantly girly in style).  As I got older, I don’t know.  I could have picked him up at any time, but there are a lot of factors at work here—more so than McCarthy or Oates.  King writes a column for Entertainment Weekly, for example.  King is a pop culture figure and, as such, has sometimes been dismissed as a pop culture writer—seen as more of a pulp fiction kind of guy.  I know that he has produced work that transcends that label, but, much like Oates, he’s also written A LOT, full stop.  And I know, again from anecdotal evidence, that the quality of his work varies pretty widely.  Also, some of it kind of veers over into science fiction and speculative fiction and apocalyptic fiction, and none of those things appeal to me.  I never knew where to start, basically, but I can say that I have recently committed myself to making a start: I bought The Shining.  I am going to read The Shining.  Soon.

And here are 5 Books I Have (Surprisingly) Read

  1. Anna Karenina – I read this the summer of 2003, right after I graduated college.  It took me the ENTIRE summer.  It is long.  I remember very little about it, honestly, except that about ten chapters in I decided to switch translations because I believed that the first one I tried was awful, that “this” couldn’t possibly be the masterpiece Anna Karenina.  I was right; the second translation was miles better.  Also, I had to draw up a family tree to keep track of everyone’s relations to one another, what with all the multiple generations and the confusing patronymics.  (If a character is your brother he calls you by one name—if a character is your father he calls you by another.  And so on and so on and I was LOST.)  Plot-wise, there’s a pivotal horse race in the middle where Vronsky’s horse breaks its back and it’s a symbol for the way he’ll break Anna’s spirit.  That’s kind of an unforgettable moment.  The rest has sort of drifted away.  I don’t even remember reading about the Big Finish, Anna’s suicide by passenger train, which everybody kind of knows about, and which I knew to expect.  Maybe by then I was just counting down pages to the end.  Which is horrible to say; I am clearly a philistine.  But probably true.
  2. A Clockwork Orange – I probably would never have picked it up myself, but my roommate from freshman year liked it and lent it to me.  The story was not particularly surprising—even though I hadn’t seen the movie yet, I had heard enough about it to know where things were headed and how they were going to get there.  What’s crazily interesting about the book is the slang that Burgess invented, an amalgam of British hipster-speak and old Russian, and how quickly it can be picked up.  The first chapter I was basically mystified, and thought about keeping a glossary, but by the second chapter—as if a switch had been flipped—the dialogue started to make perfect sense.  It was like foreign language immersion, it just worked.  So that was really interesting.
  3. Dear Theo: The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh – I bought this sprawling tome at a Van Gogh exhibit I saw in Detroit back in the early aughts.  I’m not sure if I thought I was actually going to read it or not, but then I actually did one summer while I was working in Kalamazoo.  I was a receptionist then without a ton of real responsibility, and I can remember devoting hours at my desk to Dear Theo, while I waited for the phone to ring or someone to need something.  Theo was Vincent’s brother, a relatively successful businessman (art dealer, I think) who stayed in the Netherlands while Vincent moved down into the South of France, and they corresponded regularly until Vincent’s death. I remember the book as actually being incredibly compelling (very well-arranged by Irving Stone, who wrote the reigning Van Gogh biography, Lust for Life) and painting a vivid picture of the frustration, sadness and mental illness that all combined to drive Vincent to suicide.  Interesting things about Van Gogh: he had no interest in painting for public consumption.  He had an agent (Theo also sometimes acted as his agent) who was continually encouraging him to take on commissions from rich people to do their portraits so that he could finance the work he wanted to do.  He would not.  He wanted to paint whores and children and his mailman, because they inspired him, paintings that no one would buy because they didn’t look beautiful or lavish.  He also spent an unimaginable amount of time sketching his work before he painted it.  Sometimes he would go an entire year without putting paint to canvas because he was still working things out on paper.  Again, his agent tried to dissuade him from this practice because nobody buys sketches.  Because he was so committed to this non-lucrative work process, Vincent was frequently starving and lost almost all his teeth to malnutrition and lack of medical care.  When Vincent cut off his ear, he took it to a house of prostitution that he knew; most people know that.  What this book told me is that he caused quite a stir when he got there, but was too disoriented to leave on his own, so the women called on his dear friend Paul Gauguin to take him away.  Gauguin led Vincent home and immediately wrote to Theo, probably some variation on “Dude, get down here, your brother is LOSING IT.”
  4. Moby Dick – A lot of people think they should read this book but don’t, because they are scared off by its length, by its reputation, by its presumed erudition.  I would totally be one of these people except for the fact that I took a class for which I had to read it (the Early American Novel, WMU, 2008).  I did recently read an incredibly interesting point of view on the many, many, many digressions in the book, from Linda Holmes at Monkey See, who chose the book as one of her “I Will If You Will” book club selections last winter.  She suggested that—seeing as the book is being narrated by Ishmael after the fact, perhaps he is exhibiting a simple unwillingness to get to the end.  “Ishmael, what happened when your ship went after the white whale?”  “Well, we—hey, speaking of whales, did you know that their skeletal structure…?”  An awesome insight that I really wish was mine.  I don’t know if anyone has done the article on “Ishmael’s Trauma Narrative,” yet, but if you do, you should clear it with Linda first.  So, the real questions: do I value Moby Dick as literature?  Yes, absolutely.  Do I enjoy it as literature?  Not particularly, although the pre-ship parts, when Ishmael is banging around the whaling town trying to figure out what he’s going to do, are largely entertaining.  (Gotta love that Queequeg.)  Do I view it as a badge of honor that I made it through?  Of course.  In short, it is better to be a person who has read Moby Dick than it is to be a person who is reading Moby Dick.
  5. The Nanny Diaries – Ha, opposite end of the spectrum!  I don’t read a lot of mainstream fiction, but I did pick up this book of my own volition, and I did like it well enough.  It didn’t blow me away, and I had sympathy for all the wrong characters, I think.  Like the kid’s mom, Mrs. X.  OK, she has her priorities all out of whack—but she’s clearly been acculturated to it, and also her husband is the real villain.  Remember the scene where she’s trying on outfits for their anniversary and asking the nanny’s advice?  She seems so human in that moment (and of course, the bastard lets her down).  Anyway, the book was funny enough and it was a nice break from the senior year finals being held the week that I read it.
  1. Stella M.
    October 30, 2010 at 7:29 am

    Well, I might have seen the Twilight movies, but I have always refused to acknowledge there is a bestseller series behind all that.
    I have never read Rowling nor Tolkien as well. The Lord of the Rings is good if you’re recovering from a broken leg or something.
    I think you should read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It’s not just “a kid’s book”, in my opinion.
    Ulysses and Finegan’s Wake are way too tough for me. I have read The Dubliners several times, though. “Eveline” is a masterpiece.
    In my country high school students have to study The Odyssey and The Iliad. I have always preferred the latter. “Troy”’s plot was simply so wrong.
    Stephen King did write very much, but I kind of like the way he describes middle-class family dynamics. The first part of Heart in Atlantis, which is called Low Men in Yellow Coats, is brilliant. The rest is a huge disappointment, though.

  2. Leanne
    October 30, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    I too could never get into Oates, Cormac, or Tolkien. Stephen King books are something you would buy at a small town grocery store. I need to compile a list of books I HAVE that I’ve never read. It’s embarrassing. The Corrections, The History of Love, Never Let Me Go, The English Patient, Tomcat in Love. Also, I love your review of Dear Theo.

  3. October 30, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Oooh, do you want me to catalog my shelf-sitters? I’ve got about fifty, probably. (Thanks, library book sales!) I’m about halfway through Never Let Me Go right now and it’s really slow-moving, but I would guardedly recommend it just because I love Ishiguro.

  4. November 1, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Huck Finn is far better than Tom Sawyer. The Invisible Man was the only assigned book I had in high school that I couldn’t finish. I just didn’t have it in me. Stephen King is underrated by the literary establishment…I really do believe this.

  5. Leanne
    November 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Well, my daughter truly loves Stephen King, so I will humbly retract my smarmy comment.

  1. December 12, 2010 at 11:04 pm

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