Thursday, November 08, 2007

Books I Haven't Read

Inspired by Sleepy E's idea for Humiliation and the game from David Lodge's Trading Places, I am going to OUT myself by admitting the books most literature majors have read but that I have not.
  1. Moby Dick. I know. This is must be a mortal sin for a fiction writer. But hey.
  2. Canterbury Tales. At the University of Oregon, where I got my BA, there was this scary professor who taught the Old English classes and he made you come to his office and read Beowulf to him in Old English. I avoided this class until the English Department finally hired a woman who taught a class on Medieval Women, and then I took that. Needless to say, we read neither Beowulf nor Canterbury Tales. But I had already read (at least one page of...) Beowulf.
  3. Paradise Lost. To be honest, I "read" this for a class in grad school, if by "reading" you mean opening the book and turning the pages but retaining none (and I mean NONE) of what has passed before your eyes. I used to think it was because I was stupid, but now I know it's because the book( I should say "poem") sucks. You heard it here first.
  4. Aeneid. I did read part of this, but I never finished it. This is the second book from the same class in grad school that I didn't read/like/finish. I much prefer The Odyssey, thank you very much.
  5. Any novel by David Foster Wallace. I think this is only a sin for a lover of postmodern fiction. I like his short stories. You know why? Because they are short.
  6. Remembrance of Things Past. Nothing. I have not read it. If I ever get stuck on an island, maybe I'll get to it. But I doubt it. I'm shallow!
  7. Some James Fenimore Cooper novel I was supposed to have read in grad school. I read some of it. But I didn't finish it. The professor was mad at me because I didn't talk in class for about three weeks, while we discussed this novel. I hated it.
  8. Billy Budd. Is it nice to include two Melville on such a short list? I was supposed to read this for AP English in high school. I just couldn't do it. It was so boring. So. So. Boring. Even now, I still couldn't read it. And I didn't read Pierre when it was assigned at UO. My teacher had a thing for introductions, so I just read the introduction. I knew there would be a question on the introductions on the final, and there was! So I passed the class!
  9. Invisible Man. Okay, I started it. I read most of it. But I didn't finish it. Again, so long. Why? I know it's good, but I tire easily of novels that get too preachy.
  10. The Bible. I've read parts of the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament. But I've never read the whole thing. This, I think, is a mortal sin.
Next time: 10 Canonical novels I love!!


ErinAlice said...

I am sure the list of books I should have read but haven't is extremely long. I don't even want to think about it. It seems that it hasn't harmed you much as you do have a PhD in fiction....oh and every time you talk about English classes I think of Mrs. Covert room B9.....

middlebrow said...

Of course, in the David Lodge novel, the professor of Renaissance lit wins by confessing he has never read Hamlet.

Nik said...

Ah yes. This seems about right. I know of no one who has read all the Proust except Eleanor Wilner--she says she read the whole thing and then the next morning, woke up a poet. I need a story like that. I OWN the Proust. That must count. And I know the last LINES of Paradise Lost. I think that's what they mean by canonical--having a specific shelf dedicated to stuff that looks like it must have been read. By someone. Somewhere.

susansinclair said...

Wait--were you in the canonical american lit seminar with me? Because I struggled all the way through that frigging Moby Dick, and it sucked big time. (Okay, I speed-read large sections, but still.) And having read the JFP, I can safely say that this is one instance in which the movie was much much better. Much. Plus, Daniel Day Lewis was cute. Plus, I think of it all the time, because I now live in all this scenery straight out of it. (You should have been in our exam prep group at WWU--I was in charge of drama, and made little puppets to act out Congreve's The Way of the World. I kid you not.)

susansinclair said...

(Oh, and I've never read Billy Budd, but when I hear the title I always think of the SNL spoof when they kept wanting to boink the cabin boy. That's the sum total of my BB knowledge. But remember what the great medievalist Dr. Steel used to say back in the day: "Well, I haven't read it, but I've read *about* it."

Condiment said...

Middlebrow gave me a Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick annotated by one of his WWU profs. I really enjoyed it--it felt like rollickin seafarin boys adventure fiction! Darn the mainsail, Queequeg!

I read Swann's Way when I lived in New Orleans, which is pretty weird. I don't remember much of it, I confess. But I do remember that Monty Python gameshow skit, "Summarizing Proust," where contestants attempt to summarize the entire Remembrance of Things Past in twenty seconds or less.

susansinclair said...

I think the best way to get a taste of Proust is to read Allison Bechdel's brilliant graphic memoir. It figures prominently.

lis said...

I keep a copy of Fielding's Joseph Andrews on my bookshelves because I was supposed to read it for some Brit survey and I didn't (along with a lot of other things). I keep planning to read it as penance for getting through my undergrad quite brilliantly without reading a lot of the assigned work. But who am I kidding? I will never read it.

I will also confess that I read the first volume of Proust because of love--I was trying to make a grand gesture. the book was bad and so was the relationship