Tuesday, November 30, 2004

All the Books I Haven't Read

Mostly recent purchasesOn the floor outside my bathroom is a largish cardboard box. Inside it are bathroom supplies (soaps, cleaners, etc., plus an entire drawer of my dysfunctional bathroom cabinet), old homework, handwritten notes (maybe that's where that one missing poem is! No? Rats!), four slightly damaged magazines and six books. Actually, that's not quite true any more. Since I started typing this paragraph, I've pulled out the books. They are Unseen: The Burning (a Buffy/Angel novel), Project Princess (a very thin Princess Diaries novelette by Meg Cabot), Girl Meets God: A Memoir by Lauren F. Winner (which I bought on the basis of the author's NPR commentaries), New American Bible: St. Joseph Medium-Sized Edition (which vies with the NRSV as my Bible of choice), Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki Leon (a budget hardcover at $7.95 from B&N), and Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2004. Still in the bathroom, until a moment ago, were The Vest-Pocket CPA, Second Edition (bought as extra help for a past course and my future exam), Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis (which I started reading shortly after the 4th of July, only to bog down somewhere around the WWI era) Barron's How to Prepare for the CPA Exam, 6th Edition (which I plan to spend serious time with this spring) and my Heirs of Mâvarin binder.  All that came out of one small corner of this house. There are at least two more books flopping around in the kitchen, others sitting in boxes or under papers near my end of the couch, and a bunch more lying sideways on top of other books in bookcases, on the floor of my office, on this desk--in short, taking up space in nearly every room of this house.

Except for the Bible, I've purchased all of these books since starting school a little over two years ago. Some I've read, some I've read parts of, and some I've merely sampled or purchased on the basis of author or cover copy. I'd like to think that once I finish school, I'll read all of the fiction, and a fair bit of the non-fiction. That would be nice.  I'd like that.

But in the meantime, I've been stuck reading textbooks, most of them boring, too many of them laboriously printed off the student website, hole punched and (maybe) put into binders. I've read at least one Harry Potter book, possibly two, as they came out, because I couldn't stand not to do it. I've read at least one new McCaffrey, and Lord of the Rings for the first time in a decade or two, and a couple of volumes about the writing of LotR. I've also read The Autobiography of Santa Claus, three or four Buffy novels, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, some Meg Cabot novels (not all of them about Princess Mia), The Time Traveler's Wife, and a couple of Diane Duane novels. But the books I've read since going back to school probably account for fewer than half of the books I bought, or of the books I would have read in a comparable time period were school not occupying so much of my time.

Even if I'd read all these books, there would still be dozens more, perhaps hundreds more, that I'd feel guilty for not having read. I wrote before about what constitutes a "classic" novel, and whether one should feel guilty or illiterate about not having read Silas Marner or Moby Dick or War and Peace. I do feel guilty about not having read these books, and many more; but that's not the half of it. I also haven't read large numbers of well-respected "classics" of science fiction and fantasy: the Foundation series, for example, and the works of Philip K. Dick, and books by nearly every major fantasy writer of the past two decades.

note the stuff that doesn't fit!Over on Aurora Walking Vacation, Paul Little has posted a reading list snagged off another journal, added to it, and marked which ones he's read. I looked at the list this afternoon at work. My reaction was "read it--yay me, haven't read it--guilt, haven't read it--don't care, never heard of it--guilt, read it--who cares, haven't read it--more guilt, haven't read it and I'm glad..." and so on down the list. On the whole, there were an awful lot of books on that list I hadn't read.

Darn it, though, I'm a pretty well-read person!  I have thousands of books in this house, and I've read most of them. I was an English major--for part of the time, anyway. Is it therefore unreasonable for me to feel guilty about not having read every acknowledged classic of the past three centuries, every Hugo or Nebula or World Fantasy Award winner?  Or is my self-criticism legitimate, because the thousands of books I have read include hundreds of novels about Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, Star Trek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and hardly anything by Dickens or Asimov?

I bring this on myself with lopsided reading habits that go back decades. When I was a kid, it would take a lot to get me to read one book by a writer whose work I didn't know. Once I did read something, assuming I liked it, I'd read everything by that writer. So in elementary school I read every book I could find by Albert Payson Terhune, Walter Farley, Thornton Burgess, Beverly Cleary, Jim Kjelgaard and Eleanor Estes. In high school I read all sixty Sherlock Holmes stories in two weeks, and started collecting James Thurber. Until a few years ago, I used to read every Madeleine L'Engle novel I had (there are dozens!), in order of character chronology, every time a new title came out.  If I have time, I'd reread the Harry Potter books every year, and the Narnia books, and probably several other series. Unfortunately, I don't have time. And there are lots of other books that have grabbed my attention, mostly from nights studying (and taking breaks to wander around) at Barnes & Noble. There are writers whose works I want to try, and writers whose work I'm a decade or two behind in collecting and reading.

Then there are the books that I've deliberately never read, for no better reason than stubbornness. On my first date with R.E., New Year's Eve 1975/6, he took me into Economy Books in downtown Syracuse (yes, the same store mentioned in the fiction), bought me a copy of Dune, and ordered me to read it. That is pretty much the only reason that I haven't read the book in the nearly 30 years since then. Silly, huh? But I tend to resist books that people order me to read. I've never read David Copperfield, which my mom tried to make me read in high school. I never read Remembrance of Things Past, which Harlan Ellison tried to blackmail me into reading in 1977.  And I've never read Frank Herbert's Dune, or anything by Roger Zelazny, another RE favorite. Maybe someday I'll break down and read all of these, but it's been a matter of perverse pride with me, not to have let myself be ordered around in my reading choices. And yet I feel guilty about it. Go figure.

I think the only way I'm going to settle this will be to get a block of time someday when I don't have studying of any sort to do, or house cleaning, or editing on the current novels.  Maybe then I'll be able to go on a reading binge, and find out whether I really want to read a lot of Asimov, Bujold, Dickens, Herbert, Melville, etc., or whether, having sampled it, I feel comfortable setting it aside for another decade or two. I have a feeling, though, that that block of time will never come, and that  I'll always feel guilty until the day I cram in reading David Copperfield while doing ten other urgent things.

Karen

6 comments:

dornbrau said...

Oh I would have a blast with your bookshelves!  I never buy a book I don't read right away... I'm usually deep into the pages within a couple of hours... and don't even ask me to do something until I've finished the book!  I don't get to read very often now days... I probably could if I weren't on this dang computer so much of the time.  Lately I've been obsessed with... JOURNALS!

shellys555 said...

I probably have over 500 books here to read (probably close to 1,000), and another 25 or so on a shelf at work. I keep adding to the stacks. Some are shelved and others are stacked in front of them. I read no more than 22 or so books a year, so as you can see it'll take me probably more years than I have left to read 'em all, unless I stop buying new ones, which I doubt I'll do. :)

jeff466 said...

I know exactly how you feel.  I have a pile of books sitting under one of my end tables that I dust every now and then and think "I need to read these".  My bookshelves are double stacked.  I rotate them when I'm in the mood and always find more I haven't read.  

I am trying to read Ayn Rands "Atlas Shrugged" since I have always felt guilty for not reading it.  I have picked it up and put it down several times but as God is my witness I will finish it this time!!!  If not, back in the pile it goes, and I'll try "Crime and Punishment" again :)

A fellow guilt ridden reader,  http://pointclickjeff.blogspot.com/  Jeff

ondinemonet said...

Karen :)

Dear One we are surely soul-mates! LOL. I have so many books all of which are considered best friends and therefor they could never be parted with. I am also a major fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer...LOL. I own all seasons on DVD but have never read one of the books. I feel in love with reading with "Horton Hears A Who" and it is my contention that if one has that book together with the bible in their library then they are set...just my opinion. LOL. If you are looking for a great book, that is almost never mentioned try these two...

Earthlight, By Arthur C. Clark *Great Science fiction

Silent Snow, By Steve Thayer * Nice blend of fiction and history.

Take care love, Always, Carly :)

plittle said...

So you've read The Lord Of The Rings, you say. Several times perhaps. Ever ventured into The Silmarillion? An interesting note in the foreword of that book. At least in the foreword of my 1983 edition. In it, Christopher Tolkien says, "in the difficult and doubtful task of preparing the text of the book I was very greatly assissted by Guy Kay, who worked with me in 1974-75." Guy Kay. Who do you suppose that is?
-Paul
http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/

ryanagi said...

I swear...it's spooky how much alike we are at times. I too feel guilty for passing over some of the classics in favor of pulp fiction fixes. What will they say someday when people find out I would rather read Laurell K. Hamilton than Azimov? eeep. How was the Time Traveller's Wife? I was JUST reading the dust jacket on that one at B&N the other night. I almost picked it up. All your "re-reads" are at the top of my list too. I can't tell you how many dupe copies of C.S. Lewis I have (L'Engle too). I can't resist buying the pretty box sets when I see them. LOL As for Silas Marner, Moby Dick and War and Peace...you aren't missing much. Read em. Eh. Foundation series? I started one and couldn't wade my way through it. The language...ugh. I made one startling discovery in my trip to B&N...I'll have to blog about it.