Saturday, January 31, 2015

Books I Think I've Read--but I haven't.

RHYS BOWEN: Earlier this week I wrote about de-cluttering. That included mercilessly weeding out books from my many bookshelves.  In doing this I came across books I'd stare at and ask myself "Did I read this or not?"
In some cases the story was so unmemorable, but other books were classics that I've kept because one should have sufficient classics on the shelf to prove that one is a cultured person--right?
So I'm looking at Moby Dick. Of course I know the beginning--Call me Ishmael. Of course I know that Captain Ahab fought the great white whale and succumbed to it in the end. But as I turn the pages now I find myself asking "Did I actually ever read this?"

Then I started considering other classics and wondering "Have I been faking it all these years when I have joined in discussions on Dickens or George Eliot? So which books do I know that I've read?  Every term at school we had one Shakespeare play, on classic novel, one group of poems and sometimes one more modern work. So I really can claim to have studied much of Shakespeare, some Dickens, Eliot, Thomas Hardy etc. Also some George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde (those counted for modern at my school).

But when I think about it I've never read Tom Brown's Schooldays. I've never read The Last of the Mohicans or the Legend of Sleepy Hollow or the Pickwick Papers or even Bleak House (although I've seen the latter on Masterpiece). I know the story line of each of them but as I turn the pages I know I've never read them.  When I was a student I had to read so much in German and French that I had no time for pleasure reading. And pleasure reading would never, never NEVER have included a long, meaty, boring classic.

it was only when I matured that I chose to read all of Jane Austen and loved them so much that I've read them over and over. I chose to revisit Middlemarch that had bored me to tears in school and actually enjoyed it.  So now I'm thinking I should make a list of books I need to read before I die.

The only problem is that my friends in the mystery community keep turning out such good books that there never seems to be time to tackle old ones. Maybe when I retire (which my husband tells me is never)!

So, fellow Reds--which books do you think you've read, (but you haven't)? Which books do you still want to read?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  That happened to me with Edith Wharton. In high school, I was about to stab myself in the throat, I thought her books were so boring. Now she's my idol. But what do I think I've read that I haven't? The Fountainhead (But do I need to read that?). Maybe...what's the one in the Spanish Civil War?...For Whom the Bell Tolls. Again, because of the movie, I think I know it.  Oh--I bet I've never actually read Gone With The Wind. Huh, funny! Gosh, I'm sitting here, surrounded by books I haven't read. (LIke The Goldfinch. I know, I know.)  I can;t even think about the ones out of sight, out of mind.

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh, Hank, I haven't read "The Goldfinch" or "Secret History," either, though I have read "Gone with The Wind." My eighth-grade teacher Mrs. Diebold took it away from me as inappropriate reading.

I have not read anything by Edith Wharton, I'm ashamed to admit. And I think I started "Moby Dick." I have however read virtually all of the Greek tragedies and comedies and most of Shakespeare. And of course all of Austen (several times) and most of Alcott. And, I'm proud to say, I got all the way through 600+ pages of Günter Grass's "The Tin Drum."

The author I wish I could say I've read is Virginia Woolf. I've listened to "A Room of One's Own" on tape and read "Mrs. Dalloway" right after reading Michael Cunningham's "The Hours." To paraphrase what Salieri supposedly said (in the movie Amadeus) about Mozart, there are simply too many words in her sentences. But I know I'm missing out. Maybe I should alternate reading a novel by Woolf with a novel by Hemingway... as a palate cleanser?

RHYS: So which books do you think you've read, but haven't?
Which books are on your "to be read before I die" list?

And a message from Cindy Brown : her favorite comment from her guest blog on Wednesday was by Pat D.  So Pat D please contact Cindy at and Cindy will send you a copy of her new book, MacDeath.


Joan Emerson said...

I occasionally think I should give Joseph Conrad another try, but then I look at the bookshelves filled with all those books I really want to read and I don't. My list of must-read books [that always get read immediately] is generally limited to Jungle Red Writers' books; everything else tends to go on the I'd-like-to-read-list.
Lately I've been considering re-reading all of Isaac Asimov's Foundation books and I've a bit of a yen to revisit Nancy Drew . . . .

Margaret Turkevich said...

I always read the same assigned books that my kids were reading, hoping for more meaningful discussions than the composting piles of dirty clothes in their rooms. After a third trip through Great Expectations, I donated it to the library book sale, so relieved that my days with Dickens were over, forever.

FChurch said...

A dear friend bought a new house many years ago-one of those with too many little rooms--so he turned one into a library. And to fill the shelves, he purchased a set of beautifully bound classics, because he felt he really should read these before he dies. I think, given his reading tastes, that the majority of the books will never be opened.

I had tremendous English lit classes in high school and college--read a lot of classics. Read The Fountainhead on my own (WHY???), will never be a Sinclair Lewis fan, loved all of Hemingway, loved Dickens. But these days, my pleasure reading revolves mostly around mysteries--and I would argue that some of the most highly-nuanced writing I've ever been privileged to read are mysteries. I often come away with more than "whodunit"--with thought-provoking questions lingering on the condition of humankind, the ways we choose to live our lives, the ways in which we create ourselves, our ties to others, our ties to God--I could go on, but I'll stop right there.

Hallie Ephron said...

I read a news story once about first editions of Ulysses. In most of them if the pages had been cut (for someone reading it), they were uncut a short way in. I have books I'd love to say I've read but know I haven't got the discipline or stamina. Anything by Thomas Pynchon. Or Confederacy of Dunes...

Dickens I do find readable. I think. I haven't tried in a while. Fun to listen to.

Kaye Barley said...

Because I'm never happier than when I have a great big book in my hands, I've read some of the books mentioned and I have to say, loved them. (Hallie, do give "Secret History" a try!).

Howsomever, as my dad used to say, that does not include some of the classics that we were supposed to read in school, and I just didn't. I tried. And I've tried since.

I finally decided to give those away when I did my massive book culling and I have not regretted it. Now when someone comes in our house and says "Have you read all these books?" I can say "Yes. Yes, I have. Well, except for that mountain of books you won't ever see that is in the bedroom floor next to my side of the bed."

I remember deciding I really, really wanted - no, needed - to read Proust. This based solely on what he had to say about madeleines.

I can, without hesitation, say that I am not part of the audience for whom Proust wrote. But really, I don't think he cared a whit about an audience - he was writing for himself. And, that is, of course, maybe the best possible reason to write.

Mary Sutton said...

As an English (literature) major in college - BA and MA - I've read a LOT of classics. Most of which I have no desire to read again. There are a few exceptions. Hemingway was tolerable. Didn't like Fitzgerald or Steinbeck. Austen a favorite, but not so much Bronte (for whatever reason). Yes, I've read Moby Dick. Ugh. Read the unabridged Les Miserables and now know more about the Paris sewer system than I ever wanted to know.

Hank, I haven't read The Goldfinch either and I'm not sure I want to. Recently read Bel Canto, and while I'm glad I did, I don't think I'll ever re-read it.

Yet I re-read Agatha Christie all the time. And Harry Potter. And CS Lewis.

I am not ashamed to admit that my leisure reading leans heavily to mysteries/thrillers/suspense. Like FChurch, I often come away with a lot more than "whodunit" and I have more fun in the process.

Kay said...

So, speaking of books I've never read - not a big classics reader. It has something to do with my High School Honors English teacher, a little troll of a man. He and I disagreed on William Faulkner. And it gave me attitude about the classics. Although I have read GONE WITH THE WIND and all of Austen's books and most of Alcott's. But not MOBY DICK (seriously, what do I want to know about whaling) and I like watching LAST OF THE MOHICANS much better. The book didn't have Daniel Day-Lewis. :-)

Cyndi Pauwels said...

I couldn't finish A Secret History, - just didn't connect with any of the characters enough to care.

But somehow, I did slog my way through Atlas Shrugged a few years ago.

Agatha Christie, of course, and my sci-fi guilty pleasure is anything by Douglas Adams (did you know he also wrote two paranormal-ish mysteries in addition to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

As for the classics, as a Humanities major when I finally made it to undergrad completion, my concentration was World Classics, so I read lots of stuff I never would have been exposed to otherwise: all the Greek tragedies, some early Japanese works, early philosophy tomes, The Prince, Dante...

But as all of you have mentioned, trying to keep up with all the great stuff coming out from writer friends now keeps me from going back to all the titles I've missed (Hank, I never read Gone with the Wind either!).

Triss said...

Middlemarch. I've tried too, more than once. I believe I was permanently blocked for Eliot by having to read Silas Marner in high school. Or maybe I have lost the ability to get lost in a long, demanding book.

Proust. Never read any, probably a real gap in my education.

Ulysses. I have read other Joyce though and am glad I did. Ulysses some day.

War and Peace. But I have read Anna Karenina.So I'm not a completely ignorant.

Triss said...

I wanted to add that I read a lot of the real classics - Dante, Cervantes,etc - in college and I am glad I did. I don't know if I would have ever done it on my own, but I value a lot having that experience, the real thing of the book itself.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, I agree..The Secret History is fabulous. Do you realize how long ago that was? Whoa.

An I came late to Dickens, too..we "fake read" Nicholas NIckelby in high school--my pals and I each read bits of it, and then shared notes. But it's-I now realize--a marvelous book.

Rhys said...

Mary, you and I are soulmates--I too re-read Agatha Christie, Harry Potter, C.S Lewis whenever I need comfort reads.

Deborah Crombie said...

I think I read Thackery. And Henry James, but which novel was it?

I have read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and would happily delete both from my memory bank.

I know I read all nine volumes of John Galsworthy's The Forsyth Saga. (They redid this on TV not too long ago. Should have stuck with the original version.)

I read Brideshead Revisited, which I loved. And the Brontes, whom I did not. I read Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I liked F. Scott better then, but prefer Hem now. I read Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Austen and Alcott, both much loved.

I suffered through Steinbeck and can't imagine I will ever reread, or Faulkner.

I didn't read Middlemarch. No Russians at all. Not Moby Dick or The Scarlet Letter or The Last of the Mohicans.

Dickens I didn't much like in highschool, but revisted when I was writing In a Dark House, and loved.

And I bought Proust a couple of years ago, thinking I really should read. It's sitting untouched on my bookshelf...

Pat D said...

I read a lot of the classics by my own choice in junior high. I was dumb enough to choose Moby Dick for a book report. OMG. One whole chapter was a sermon. I read the first hundred or so pages, popped into the middle for a few, and read the good stuff at the end. And used Classics comic books to fill in the rest. I read a lot of James Fenimore Cooper; he could really turn on the atmosphere. I read a lot of Ernest Hemingway. I tried to read him again recently but just couldn't get past the beginning of the book. It all seemed trite. I read lots of F Scott Fitzgerald in college. I haven't tried to read him again. All I can say is quit trying to film The Great Gatsby. It just doesn't work! I'd like to read more Dickens and I feel like I should read Faulkner since I'm from the South, sort of. Texas counts. But my big problem is too darn many great mysteries are being written and I can't keep up. So it's all your faults!

Kathy Reel said...

As much as I read and have read, I'm still amazed at the amount of books, classics in particular, that I haven't gotten to. I was an English major in college, so it befuddles me how certain books could have escaped me. One excuse is that there seemed to be more emphasis on more modern classics than older ones.

However, I've read some classic books that don't get as much publicity as say, Moby Dick (no, I have not read it yet). Brideshead Revisited, The Severed Head, The End of the Affair, Spoon River Anthology (one of my favorite books), Camu's The Stranger, Silas Marner, and Winesburg, Ohio (another favorite). Edith Wharton appealed to me early on, and Ethan Frome is on my favorite books list, too. I came to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the fabulous Sherlock Holmes after college, and it has been a love affair since. Agatha Christie started in my twenties and consumed me until I had read them all. Mark Twain was read, and Huckleberry Finn was much enjoyed, but then I realized a few years ago that I have never read Tom Sawyer.

Of course, Shakespeare was required in my major, a class by itself. Then there was British lit and American lit, but the American lit, again, focused more on recent hits (recent then), like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Fahrenheit 451 (another favorite book). Poetry was covered well, except I'm not good at quoting it, like some people. Poe is one of my life's love affairs, too, with his poetry and short stories. Invisible Man was a great college read that has stayed with me throughout my life. The Sun Also Rises is another of those books, but I still haven't gotten to For Whom the Bell Tolls.

And, yet some of the big ones have eluded me. How could I not have read Grapes of Wrath or A Tale of Two Cities yet? I'm almost certain that I've read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, or have I? I must have read Of Mice and Men at one point, but I can't remember when. Did I read it?

I keep a running list each year on my reading list for that year of classics that I want to read, kind of a classics bucket list. My top to-reads on that list are A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Awakening, The Bluest Eye, The Handmaids Tale (doing a group read with my daughter and daughter-in-law soon for it), All Quiet on the Western Front, Middlemarch, The Woman in White, Main Street, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Pillars of the Earth, and Shadow of the Wind.

There are some classics that I really don't care if I ever read. I've rather come to terms with it being okay if I don't. Those include anything by Ayn Rand, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment. I did manage to read a couple of Russian authors in Doctor Zhivago and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I defend my lack of Russian reading by touting my fandom of The Iliad and The Odyssey as being just as worthy literature.

Now, coming to the reason that I've been unable to get to some classics. You Jungle Red authors must share a large part of that blame, as I would throw over A Tale of Two Cities any day for one of your books. My venturing into Bouchercon territory, too, has made an impact on what I read. The first year I attended was one of my most important reading years, as it was in 2013 I discovered you wonderful authors here. With my reservation made for this year's Bouchercon, it looks like reading will be largely geared toward that again. Yes, I have a separate reading list for Bouchercon.

Oh, and Hallie, as far as The Goldfinch is concerned, I wasn't on the hallelujah bandwagon for it. I thought it about 200 pages too long, more editing would have been a huge improvement. I enjoy long books, but not when the material is superfluous.

Ellen Kozak said...

I read and loved A Confederacy of Dunces, and read a lot of Early American lit in high school (House of the Seven Gables, Legend of Sleepy Hollow), but missed most 19th century English Lit. because I skipped a semester of high school.

Masterpiece Theater turned me on to Balzac and Tolstoy (if you don't speak the language, you need a GOOD translation) and I read Manzoni's The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi) in an Italian class, and love most romantic novels from the 19th Century, but-- okay, I KNOW this is sacrilege to some of you, but Austen makes me want to barf. As do most Regencies. I can't get past page two. But I did love Thackeray's Vanity Fair.

I've not been able to get past chapter three in the first Harry Potter book, have never read Ulysses, and admit to spending money on A Canticle For Liebowitz, The Name of the Rose, The First Man in Rome (though I loved The Thorn Birds-- RIP Colleen M.) and A Brief History of Time-- and reading NONE of them.

There are a lot of books in this house that I meant to read, still mean to read, and will probably never read (I'm an Asimov fan-- actually knew the man-- but could never get through any of his Foundation series).

And then there's Moby-Dick-- someday!

But the WORST is when you can't manage to read through a friend's book(s). How embarrassing. What do you SAY? How do you cover for not having read them?

Susan D said...

Pat D mentioned the Classics Illustrated comics. They are the reason I think I've read more books than I have. My brother had lots of them in the late 1950s, early 1960s, and I read them all. So I'm familiar with The Three Musketeers, the Count of Monte Cristo, The House of Seven Gables, Rip Van Winkle & the Legend of Sleepy Hollow (in 1 volume)and Jane Eyre.

And of course I later read JE again and again. And again (just this month, in fact). Not so much the others.

Mary Sutton said...

Rhys, too bad there's no "Like" button here. =)