One of my favorite Mark Twain aphorisms is, “A classic is something that everyone wants to have read but no one wants to read.” I agreed wholeheartedly. I ran into a friend on the train this morning, and told her that I’ve decided to take on Crime and Punishment. She gasped and said “WHY?” and I said, “Because I haven’t read it, and I feel like I should.” C & P, though, is just one of many I could say that about. Here’s my list of my most embarrassing haven’t-reads:

Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, The Grapes of Wrath, Invisible Man, Animal Farm, Beloved, Heart of Darkness, A Farewell to Arms, Tropic of Cancer, Huckleberry Finn, A Tale of Two Cities, The Iliad, Pride and Prejudice (or any other Austen), Mrs. Dalloway, Brave New World, Anna Karenina, War & Peace, The Lord of the Rings, Lady Chatterly’s Lover…and possibly the most dangerous, job-security-wise, The DaVinci Code.

The list goes on. I’m sure everyone has a list like this one, albeit maybe shorter. Feel free to comment with your own confessional, if only to make me feel better.

But anyway, I know of a few books to help with shortening your own list of embarrassments. I’ve used Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel and Dr. Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die to help me decide which ones to knock out first when I get a spare…month. They take different approaches, Ms. Smiley describing her experiences with each of 100 novels she read after 9/11, and Dr. Boxall providing brief why-you-should-read-this explanations for each of the members of his collection.

For the Kids, there’s also: Great Books for Boys, Great Books for Girls, and The New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children. And for Big Kids with Little Time, there’s 100 One-Night Reads.


What I haven't read: A confessional

Category: Staff Picks


  • Great photo! I’m afraid I’ve got quite a few on my list too: I never read Catch-22, The Grapes of Wrath, Invisible Man… Though I have read the Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter series. I’d be interested to see who else has not…

  • My top never-read books are: Moby Dick, Anna Karenina (which I’ve started twice), and Lolita. I have read all the Harry Potters and The Da Vinci Code, but I’ve always felt like I need to read The Kite Runner. Someday!

  • Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Grapes of Wrath, Beloved, Heart of Darkness, Huckleberry Finn, A Tale of Two Cities, The Iliad, and The Lord of the Rings are all phenomenal. Whether they’ve earned a reputation reflecting Twain’s sentiment or not is hard to gauge, but I think they’re definitely worth picking up.

    On the other hand, The Scarlet Letter and Pride & Prejudice are, in my opinion, not so great.

    Books I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read: Gravity’s Rainbow (at least, not the whole thing), Ulysses, Lolita, Atlas Shrugged, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

  • Thanks for commenting, Ladies and Gentleman! Thanks for mentioning Harry. I’d forgotten. I’ve read the first 3 of those, so I think that counts.

  • Isn’t Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon? I think getting part way through a Pynchon book counts! I couldn’t make it through V.

    The Kite Runner is right up there with the Da Vinci Code. I’m always shocked to hear someone hasn’t read it.

    Here is an alternate question for librarians out there: What is your library’s most borrowed book? Have you ever been surprised by check-out trends? Please comment! I’d love to hear your answers.

  • You might be interested in heading over to Arukiyomi’s blog and picking up a copy of the new version of Arukiyomi’s 1001 books spreadsheet .

    Along with calculating how many books you need to read a year before you die, there’s all the 2008 edition books, all those removed from the 2006 edition, links to wikipedia , and and Google books.

    Happy reading!

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