A Guest Contribution by Friend of the Scene Freddie deBoer
As a hedge against those who would accuse those of us participating in the recent literary discussions here at TAS as a bunch of smarty-pantses desperately trying to one up each other, I’m going to start a thread discussing the books we’ve never gotten through.
I’ve never read the Proust. (If you want to be cool you have to call it the Proust.) I’ve tried before. I’ll try again. I’ve read the classics illustrated graphic novel. Never read the real thing. It’s particularly shameful because my academic focus for awhile was 20th century European novel. I’ve never read War and Peace. I read Anna Karenina, although it was kind of a half-assed reading effort. But I read it! But no War and Peace. Just too iconic, too daunting, too big. I’ve never felt prepared enough. Ready for the trek. (You know an author has a serious reputation when you get tired just thinking about reading him.)
I never finished The Tale of Genji, although I dug what I had been reading. Just lost the thread, if you know what I mean. And sometimes when you lose it, getting it back can be the hardest thing in the world. The Tin Drum might be my favorite novel, but I got very little out of Cat and Mouse and didn’t attempt Dog Years. I loved An Explanation of the Birds but have never even attempted another novel by Antonio Lobo Antunes. I’m missing a ton of Shakespeare’s histories, all of the Henrys except for the V, for example. I couldn’t even tell you the title of a single volume of Balzac’s.
I’m shockingly incomplete when it comes to the great Greek dramatists. I’ve read Oedipus and Antigone and a play or two I’m forgetting. I never read the Purgatorio or the Paradiso. I never read Don Quixote! Shameful. I never read a solitary goddamn word of Goethe or Flaubert. (I think.) I never finished a book by George Eliot. I love Thomas Hardy’s poetry but couldn’t finish (barely started, in fact) Jude the Obscure. I didn’t read Love in the Time of Cholera, although once I spent an hour discussing how great I thought it was with a very lovely young lady who called it her favorite. Never read Chabon, Franzen, Moody or John Irving. No Portrait of a Lady, or the Ambassadors, or The Golden Bowl. I like Steppenwolf and Demian but never read Siddhartha.
Never finished a Stephen King. No Man Without Qualities. No Eugene O’Neill. (Had to look up how to spell his last name, in fact.) No Tom Sawyer or Innocents Abroad. Never finished Lady Chatterly’s Lover. The Trial depressed me so thoroughly I never attempted another piece of long-form Kafka. Couldn’t finish White Teeth, or Money. Not a page of Nick Hornby or Jeffrey Eugenides. No In Cold Blood. Never read Bonfire of the Vanities. No Satiricon. No Vanity Fair, no Go Tell It On the Mountain.
Then there are the mountains of books I “read”. By this I mean my eyes passed over the text and my brain turned the visual images into coherent language, but I didn’t actually do anything close to the mental work necessary to actually have gotten much out of them. I “read” Tristam Shandy. I “read” The Aeneid. I “read” Karamazov and I “read” The Magic Mountain (which would have broken my father’s heart!). I “read” Kidnapped. I “read” Walden. I “read” Oblomov, but I don’t really feel bad about that because that was on assignment for Noah and the project never went anywhere. I vaguely remember something resembling Uncle Tom’s Cabin passing before my eyes in my teen years.
And, friends, have I still gotten into spirited discussions, at times, about the quality of some of these books, not read or “read”? Have I broadly hinted that I have read some novels when in fact I never have? Have I ventured a critical opinion that if sincere would have required an actual thorough reading? Have I out and out lied about having read a great book?
Yes, I’m sorry to say I have. I’m working on it.