Friday, June 3, 2011

Q. Which Book Are You Embarrassed to Admit You've Never Read?

(And do you plan on ever reading it?)

A. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Last year I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee for the first time. I know! I was never required to read it in middle or high school, but it was one I always wanted to read. For one reason or another I just never got around to it. Same with the *list below. Although I majored in English and read many classics, we (obviously) didn’t cover every work by every author.

After I graduated, I gravitated to the authors I enjoyed studying such as Dickens and Forster, and later Tolkien, but that was it. As a teacher my focus shifted toward children’s literature as I searched for authors I could introduce to my students. One of my goals was to inspire a love of reading in them which I hoped they would carry with them. I read them James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Richard and Florence Atwater), Ramona Quimby (Beverly Cleary), Chocolate Fever (Robert Kimmel Smith) among others.

When I had children of my own, again, I read to them in the hope that they would become readers as they grew older. Now that they've passed the infant/toddler ages, the last few years have been wonderful as I’ve turned back to reading for my own pleasure. So many books and so little time. As a writer I try to read as much in my genre as possible, but not exclusively. It’s important for me to read in different categories and across genre lines. And I’ve realized that there are many classics that I’ve never read and feel that I should read.

But why? Where does the guilt come from? I claim to love literature so much that I sought a degree in it, but have neglected to read and study certain novels that “everyone” else has read. If I’m so well-read, why haven’t I chosen to seek out the classics that I didn’t read as a student? And if I’m a writer, shouldn’t I read from the masters – the ones who have stood the test of time? This last question is one that haunts me every so often, and so I try to make a point of choosing a couple of these novels a year. Since I have summers off and more time to read, I try to mix up my reading material: more MG and YA, adult fiction, and classics.

As I mentioned above, last year I read To Kill A Mockingbird. Loved it so much that it’s now one of my top 10 favorite reads. Two years ago I read The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), a powerful dystopian from the 80s that floored me. Three years before, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – another classic, never read before, that I ended up loving.

*Here’s the short list of books I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read. My plan is to cross off at least a couple this summer.

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
The Great Gastsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Frankenstein – Mary Shelly
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Middlemarch - George Eliot

Okay. I could add more but my face is properly beet red at the moment.

Is there a book(s) that you're embarrassed to admit you've never read? Do you plan to read it?

Don't worry. I won't judge. Feel free to leave a pseudonym if you don't want to leave you're real name. *wink*


  1. The Catcher in the Rye is way overrated in my opinion. Moby Dick is unreadable. Catch-22 is a total mind-f***. The Grapes of Wrath is staggering and I would definitely recommend that one.


    I am banishing you from your own blog until you have read this, young lady. It is my favourite classic. You are going to totally fall in love with Rochester.

  2. I cross my heart and pinky swear I'll read Jane Eyre this summer! But first, I MUST read Catcher in the Rye. My son loved it (and he's not a big reader) and I think it's on my daughter's reading list this summer. What kind of lit preaching mother would I be if I didn't read CitR?

    As for Moby Dick...let's just say it's at the bottom of the deep blue sea of my list.

  3. I hated The Grapes of Wrath when I read it, though it's probably the Steinbeck book I hated the least. I thought the ending was lame. To me, when I read it, it felt as though he just got tired of writing and quit. Now, I was in high school, so I might feel differently now, but I wasn't impressed enough to give it another go.

    When I was in 8th grade I was given a list of suggested reading for students who wanted to go to college. That summer I read TONS of books. My mother had just died, we'd moved to a new location, and I didn't know anyone. So I read Jane Eyre (LOVED it), Wuthering Heights (HATED it), The Caine Mutiny, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Count of Monte Cristo are books I remember reading that summer. Didn't get into Austen until after I saw the Colin Firth 5-hr BBC version.

    Enjoy your summer reading!

  4. You know what? I'm over that guilt trip. I've thought about this a lot (out loud, which slothboy patiently listens to and nods), and here's my conclusion: I read for pleasure and to be entertained. I don't read so I can brag about the books I've read, or to collect some kind of trophies. I like to learn from reading, but that's secondary to my main goal of spending my free time in a way that gives me pleasure. As such, I feel driven to choose books based on what I think I will enjoy, rather than what I think I'm supposed to read. I end up reading historical fiction most of the time, because that's simply what I enjoy the most. I'm sure I'll still read classics occasionally, but not because I think I should but because I feel like it. Does that make sense? If you're choosing to read these books because you want to, that's great, but if you're only reading them because you feel guilty, and really there are other books you'd rather be reading, I say don't waste your time. Time is precious and limited. Spend it doing something that's valuable to you. That's my conclusion.

  5. I've never read Moby Dick and I can't say I have any urge to, either! :)

  6. I'm with Talli, Moby Dick I have not read and really don't have a desire to read. Though I've never had anyone tell me to read it either so I haven't had to feel embarassed.

    That being said I've never read a Jane Austen book because they're very difficult to get through. I feel silly admitting that. I hope no one's listening.

  7. I've read a lot of classics because I lived in China and that's what we had available to read. :) I've read all the books you listed (mostly for the reason above), except Moby Dick, but I'm not ashamed not to have read that one because I've heard from about 10 million people that it's horribly boring. :)

    You know, I thought Don Quioxte was hilarious. Try it! And Ethan Frome is one of my favorite books. I read it in high school and bawled my eyes out!! I still remember it. And it's very short and easy to get through.


  8. @Donna W. - You make a great point about how some of the books you didn’t care for in high school you may enjoy if you read them now. That was case with The Hobbit for me. It was required reading one year and I found that I didn’t have the patience for Tolkien’s detail rich prose. Fast forward to when the LotR films were made. I really wanted to read the books before seeing the films, so one summer I started with The Hobbit (for background) and then continued with the trilogy. I LOVED them all!

  9. @tuuli - Hi! Great to see you here! *hug*. You’re right and you make some great points. Reading shouldn’t be because of guilt or to brag about how well read one is.

    For me there’s a curiosity about some of these classics. Why are they required? And did I miss out by not reading them? Does the author have anything interesting to say about universal theme X, Y, or Z? For the most part my reading choices reflect what I want to read for pleasure. But I’ve found that some of the classics that I’ve chosen because I felt I should (<--self-imposed should) read them have affected me powerfully, like the two I mention above. I’m glad I read them for whatever reason. During the school/work year I only choose books for pleasure, but in the summer when I have more time, I love to explore a variety of reading material.

  10. @Talli and Jen - Yeah, I can't see myself reading Moby Dick in the near or distant future either.

    Jen, I'd recommend giving Austen a try. The style of the language does take a chapter or two to adjust to, but it's worth it. I keep meaning to read more of her works.

  11. @Amy - Thanks for recommending Don Quixote and Ethan Frome!

  12. There are so many good books & it's impossible to get to them all. I figure life's too short to try Moby Dick or War & Peace.

    I haven't read Catch 22 or Catcher or a couple others from your list. I tried Austen but it wasn't my thing. And the only Bronte one I liked was Wuthering Heights.

    There are SO many books I want to read!!!