Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reading Lists of Shame

by Robison Wells

It was my birthday on Saturday. (Thanks for remembering. If you put a gift in the mail now, you can still claim that the mailman was slow and you didn't actually forget!) After General Conference, I went to my brother's house and played board games. He said it was for my birthday, but you shouldn't believe him. He celebrates every event by playing board games. I imagine that someday when my parents die, Dan will call me up and say "Since you're going to be in town for the funeral, why don't we play a little Age of Conan?"

He also invited two other people to this game playing party, one of whom is called Ben and the other of whom is called Lovebasket. Ben is notable because he appears in all three of my books (as the small sidecharacter "Ben"). Lovebasket is notable because he never shows up on time to anything.

So, while sitting around my brother's house, waiting for Lovebasket, I found a book and began to read. I was on the third page when my brother, who was scurrying around trying to get his kids to bed, came into the room and asked what I was reading. I told him it was Dune, and that I'd never read it before. I can't remember what was said in reply, but I know it was derogatory and condescending*. Any writer worth their spice would have read Dune.

I knew that, of course. Dune, if you're not aware, is considered the Lord of the Rings of science fiction. I'd always meant to read it, but I'd just never gotten around to it. (As I left his house, I asked to borrow it, and he replied "Yes, and if you like it then maybe we can still be friends.")

In related news, Masterpiece Theater has begun showing several mini-series based on Charles Dickens' books, and my wife and I have been eagerly watching them every Sunday night. Erin and I were trying to think back to high school and list the Charles Dickens books we'd read, and I was ashamed to say that I'd read embarrassingly few of them. In the eighth grade I read the abridged version of Great Expectations, and the next year I read A Christmas Carol. As a junior I was supposed to read David Copperfield, but never did, and later in life (not in school) I listened to it on CD.

But, I have never read his other great novels, not even A Tale of Two Cities, even though it's the only one I actually own.

In fact, due to the fact that I didn't come to like writing (and even reading) until late in life, I am painfully poorly-versed in the classics department.

To better illustrate this fact, I just searched the internet for lists of books, and I present my findings with shame:

  • Time Magazine listed the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time. I have read nine of them.

  • Random House made their list of the 100 greatest, and I've only read five of them. However, Random House also polled readers for a Reader's Choice, and I've read twelve of those.

  • Prentice Hall has a list of 100 suggested books for reading in high school, and I've read 19 of those. (Hooray! I've read almost one fifth of the high school reading list! Only thirteen years late!)

Anyway, I know that you'll be inclined in the comments to complain about the books on these lists, and you're welcome to. But, my point isn't about what's on the lists; it's about the fact that I haven't read an awful lot of books, and I should have.

So, let me pose the question to you. What books are you ashamed to admit you haven't read? I'm not asking what books you don't want to read, but what books have you always meant to get to, but never have?

To start this embarrassment-fest, here are a few of mine:

I have never read (and I would like to have read):
The Great Gatsby
Jane Eyre
Anything by Jane Austen besides Pride and Prejudice (which I haven't actually read either, but listened to).
The Diary of Anne Frank
Catcher in the Rye
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Foutainhead
A Brave New World
Anything by John Steinbeck besides The Grapes of Wrath

So, what haven't you read?

*More than usual, I mean.


At 4/07/2009 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is interesting is that I have actually read two on Time's list in the past couple years "There Eyes Were Watching God" and "A Death in the Family" (plus a novel by Toni Morrison, not Beloved). All the rest of my eight were more than 20 years ago.
I think that sometimes I have seen a movie (or the play-Animal Farm) and feel like I know the story, even if I haven't actually read the book. I mean, if you can quote the beginning lines of Tale of Two Cities AND quote the ending lines of Tale of Two Cities, and remember the plot, you kind of feel like you've read the book, even though you haven't.
Thanks for the lists. I think perhaps I'd like to read "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "All The Kings Men."

At 4/07/2009 5:57 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

I'm too busy smirking over the "any writer worth his spice" pun to amass my List of Shame.

I will confess to only skimming through Beowulf though.

At 4/07/2009 7:54 PM, Blogger LexiconLuvr said...

*cringe* I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read any Dickens.

At 4/07/2009 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have only ever read three books. One when I was in Jr. High School. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. I thought she was the best author on the planet. But on my planet there were only three books. She didn’t have a lot of competition.

There was that one book I have since read more than once. I think. The Book of Mormon. Which, they tell me was translated by an man who read fewer books than me. I am, indeed, in good company.

I'm sure there is a third book I’ve read, but I can't remember the title. I got through high school and college asking people what books were about and reading reviews here and there. I got lots of As. Does that make me uneducated or brilliant? Mostly lazy I would venture.

I am woefully under-read, and, if I were to a sign this comment with any other name than anonymous, I would be under siege.

I don't want to be considered by Rob or any of the frog bloggers as a bungling disambiguator. I claim the fifth. No one can accuse me of plagiarism if I haven't read it. I remember the fateful day when my editor asked me what books I liked, which was a rather uncomfortable question. Is it a lie to like something you don’t know? What he should have asked was; have you read any books? That was a question to which I could have answered yes or no, and we could have moved on. As it stood, what he was really asking was did I have any education? Any culture? Any depth? Did I have any tastes cultivated by reading that should merit their trust in publishing my works? How deep, really, was my well of invention? Of insight? Of experience? To which I could only claim that of the common man. I grow tomatoes better than Rob.

I am a published author who never read anything. Ever. Can any reader trust an illiterate author? Certainly no frog blogger worth their literati credibility. But I can't help asking, who did Dickens Read? Or, for that matter, Homer?

Rob never should have written this blog. Now I must bare my soul.

Anonymously of course.

PS: "bear" and “bare” my soul are both correct usage Annette Lyon. Explain that one, dear word nerd, before you rant on this comment. And may I suggest restrained ranting on your son's English teacher? The poor boy could have had me instead of the incompetent he has now and then you'd do more than email the principal and schedule an unscheduled visit to the counseling office. You might as well shame me right out of my job. My only source of comfort is that Edison would never have been hired by a modern electrical engineering firm and Twain would never have passed a ten word spelling bee. I am a self-made author. Illiterate, but without a plagiarizing bone in my skinny body.

At 4/07/2009 9:39 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Anon, Not sure how to reply to a comment about my blog made on someone else's . . . and I can't tell if you're kidding or serious. Since all you know about the situation is what I posted, I'll just smile and move on.

Ahem . . .

I haven't read but wish I had:

The Great Gatsby
A Farewell to Arms
My Antonia
Of Human Bondage
Brave New World
The Three Musketeers

and many others. Some day I will.

At 4/07/2009 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Annette:

It was all in fun. I assure you. But now that I re-read it, I can see your point. Sorry. I can only say that you should count your blessings that I am not your son's English teacher. For sure.

I am, however, hopeful that you will, in a future WNW post take on the bear and bare your soul usage. I'd be fascinated to learn more from you for sure!

At 4/07/2009 10:04 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

One of my literature professors once defined a classic as a book you wish you had read. There are a lot of books I haven't read and a lot more I have no intention of reading. Sometimes they're the same books. I'll admit I never read One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest or Catcher in the Rye either. I probably never will. I've also read a lot of books I hope I never have to read again like Moby Dick and Tess of the D'urbervilles. Fortunately the books I've enjoyed far outnumber the ones I haven't.

At 4/07/2009 10:33 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I haven't read Tess of the D'urbervilles, Jennie, but I hear it's depressing.

Anon, I'm curious (and have been for some time). When you have such an incredibly distinct writing voice, why do you bother commenting anonymously?

At 4/07/2009 10:37 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

First, my admission:

I've never read Hemmingway (and a lot of other books on these lists). My wife says I haven't missed anything by not having read Hemmingway.

The top 10 novels I wish I had read are:
* Lolita - Nabokov
* An American Tragedy - Dreiser
* The Assistant - Malamud
* Naked Lunch - Burroughs
* The Big Sleep - Chandler
* On the Road - Kerouac
* Catch-22 - Heller
* Catcher in the Rye - Sallinger
* Things Fall Apart - Achebe
* The Maltese Falcon - Hammett

Can't imagine trying to read: Ulysses;; anything by D. H. Lawrence

Now my bragging:
I've read 12 of the Time list
9 of the Modern Library list
22 of the Modern Library Reader's list (I'm a Science Fiction fan, and there is a lot here)
15 of the Pearson High School list

My observations:
* The Time list is only novels in English since 1923!!
* Modern Library lists are only novels in English since 1900!!

Those limitations leave out huge numbers of novels (and other material - poetry, plays, short stories, and, most importantly, non-fiction).

IMO, the omission of foreign literature is inexcusable. There are about 20 classic works in Portuguese that I've read, for example, that are worthwhile.

The magnitude of what has been left out is mind-boggling.

And finally, one more list to look at - the 50 most important Mormon books (see - you will need to register on the site to see the page). How many have you read?

I've read 10 (but none of the 6 anti-Mormon books).

Just one more list to fee a little guilty about!!

At 4/07/2009 10:48 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Ooh, that's a good list, Kent. I've read nine. Ten, if you count the hymn book, I guess. (And, admittedly, I'm counting some books that I haven't read straight through, but referenced a lot, like Mormon Doctrine and the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.)

At 4/07/2009 11:40 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Well, I did a presentation to a creative writing class today and probably put my foot in my mouth. I said to read the classics, but don't write like them. Too much dang description.

Out of that list, I haven't read Fountainhead, or Brave New World. But I'll be darned if I can remember much about the others. Of course it helped that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Diary of Ann Frank, and most of the others are all movies. LOL.

At 4/07/2009 11:42 PM, Blogger Laura said...

I'm totally leaving a comment just so I can brag. On the national lists I've read, on average, 25 of the titles. The HS recommended reading list I've read more than 2/3 (That's probably a reflection of when I went to HS!). On Kent's Mormon list I've only read ten, but I have made a concerted effort to read a LOT of Mormon works and many, many were left off that list that shouldn't have been.

I actually love these kinds of lists. I remember working through entire book lists when I was in middle school. I think writing is chiefly an act of communication and one of the first things an author communicates with is other works their readers have ingested. I firmly believe you have to be a good reader to be a good writer. Part of being a good reader is knowing what other people are reading/have read and why. These lists certainly aren't the end-all, be-all, but they do serve an important purpose.

At 4/07/2009 11:44 PM, Blogger Laura said...

Oh, and I forgot to add this: I really enjoyed reading most of the books that I read from these lists. _To Kill A Mockingbird_ and _All the King's Men_ are awesome books. I'm not a Dickens or Austen fan, but since so many others are they were worth reading :)

At 4/07/2009 11:46 PM, Blogger pwells said...

I would like to have read more Dickens than I have, but my reading list counts come out pretty well:

Time Magazine - 13
Random (board) - 21
Random (Readers) - 22
High School - 49

But there are many books on the list tht I have absolutely no interest in at all, Dune being one of those (sorry to Dan). And the list doesn't count the ones I have read more than ten times (like all of the Austen books) or the ones read more than 50 times (like Alcott's Little Women, which was not on any list, but should have been).

At 4/08/2009 12:16 AM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

I thought I was well-read until you wrote this blog, Rob. Shame on you. Here's my list:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald

Middlemarch by George Eliot

At 4/08/2009 1:20 AM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Whoa, the PPH is a different list from the one I was supposed to read during high school. Of course, I'm as old as mud, so some of those books weren't even written yet when I went to high school. I've read 27 of them, though.

Someday I want to finish War and Peace, since I figured out a way to keep the Russians straight; and give the Bronte sisters another try. Like Jennie, there are some books I have no interest in taking the time to read.

At 4/08/2009 1:52 AM, Anonymous Dan Wells said...

I hate lists like this. If that Times list were actually titled "Books people claim to have when they want to sound smart, written in English in the last 75 years," then it would be wonderfully accurate. Calling it "the greatest novels of all time" is not only incorrect but insulting, especially if you're not a native English speaker.

That said:

Times list, 11
Random House list, 9 (thanks to the fact that the person who wrote the list was having a secret affair with Joseph Conrad; I think I'd be at 4 otherwise)
Random House reader list, 18 (even though they picked the wrong Philip K. Dick and the wrong Cormac McCarthy)
High School list, 35 (though at least 25% of these are plays, which technically don't count in a list of novels)

Now, to the far more important list -- "Books I wish I could take back and unread":
My Antonia
Ethan Frome
A Separate Peace

And how about "Books you claim to have read even though you haven't":
Jane Eyre

At 4/08/2009 6:25 AM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

Laura wrote: "On Kent's Mormon list I've only read ten, but I have made a concerted effort to read a LOT of Mormon works and many, many were left off that list that shouldn't have been."

Two observations that may not have been obvious:

* The Mormon list is only works published before 1980 -- it leaves out anything published during the last 30 years, which are, clearly, the most productive publishing years in the history of Mormonism. As a result it also leaves off the vast majority of all LDS fiction and literature, which saw a huge increase starting in the mid 1970s.

* The list is limited to the 50 most important outside the Scriptures and Church periodicals. So yes, lots of things were left off because the list reached 50 titles.

To be honest, if the Mormon list added another 50 for each of the last three decades, it would still leave off a lot.

At 4/08/2009 11:09 AM, Blogger Melanie J said...

Since I'm too lazy to click through today, I'll just comment on your list. I would say I'm ashamed to say I haven't read Anne Frank. Up until Monday night, I would have included Jane Eyre but I finished that in time for book club last night. The rest of those I read so I feel okay there. If I remember right, on the Time list I've read maybe 25, but there are lots on there that I started and didn't like so I quit them. I'm past the point of obligatory reading. Well, except for book club. Which is why I actually finished Jane Eyre because the first two thirds are boring.

At 4/08/2009 12:23 PM, Anonymous ally condie said...

There's plenty I haven't read, but to my shame as a former English teacher, I haven't ever been able to finish Moby Dick or Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I keep trying, and then after about twenty pages I want to gouge my eyes out, and I quit. Then, five years later, I'll try again, and the same thing happens.

At 4/08/2009 6:43 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I've attempted to read Rebecca several times, but can't seem to get into it. I want to "have read" one of Ayn Rand's books, but not necessarily to read it. I guess that's not in the spirit of your question, though.

I will say that those of you think that Jane Austen was the original chick-lit author, (probably true) Pride and Prejudice is a really good read. Plenty of humor and wit.

Most of the old classics don't really appeal to me, so it's hard for me to say that I want to read them.

At 4/09/2009 10:38 AM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.

At 4/09/2009 1:40 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

Hey...that means you and I were born exactly 1/2 year apart.


At 4/10/2009 1:04 AM, Blogger Alysia said...

I would like to be able to say I've read:
Catcher in the Rye
Anne Frank
A Christmas Carol
War and Peace (just to hear people ooh and aahhh)
The Screwtape Letters
Lectures on Faith

I can also proudly say that I've read 40 of the High School Recommendations list.

At 4/10/2009 7:25 PM, Blogger chill said...

I've got 30 on the High School, 13 each on the Times and Board (Random House), and 17 on the Reader's. I do wonder why the Reader's panel apparently consisted primarily of Scientologists and Ayn Rand fans...

As a scholar of Irish theatre, I am ashamed that I have not read much by Joyce. I have so many plays to read that I couldn't care less about most of the other books on those lists.

At 4/13/2009 1:46 PM, Blogger christina pettit said...

I would like to say I actually read Dickens al the way through. Or Steinbeck. what the heck is so great about these guys? If I can read and love Shakespeare, surely I can read Dickens!!!

At 4/13/2009 9:49 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Little Women wasn't on any of the lists? I hereby call for a boycott of the lists. They are obviously not complete.

At 4/13/2009 10:21 PM, Blogger Kent Larsen said...

"Little Women wasn't on any of the lists?" said Tristi.

Little Women was on the High School list.

IIRC, Little Women was written in the late 1800s, and so it doesn't qualify for the other lists, which only include works written after 1900.


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