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.