Oh the shame, the shame of it all……

Plowing through the insane number of boxes of books in my apartment does more than make me question how relentlessly acquisitive I am. It also reminds me of the strange twists and turns of my reading habits over the years. Remember when we were all reading Jim Thompson? I stumbled across all of my old Black Lizard editions a while ago. I’m also shocked to realize that at some point I felt compelled to consume all the Tobias Smollett I could get my hands on: How did I find time in the late 80’s to get through Peregrine Pickle? Not to mention all the theory, true crime pulp and vaguely experimental queer novels.

But the other thing that’s come up is those books that I haven’t made my way through, that sit exposed on my shelves in reproach. So, in hopes of starting a new meme, here are

THREE BOOKS I’M ASHAMED OF NOT HAVING READ

1. The Bible I’ve dabbled, and god knows I own enough copies but I’ve never sat down and gone cover to cover. I view my lack of familiarity with it as the intellectual equivalent of having a comb-over.

2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius A title that is cited by gasbags in The New York Review of Books all the time, and yet I’m always defeated about a third of the way in. I don’t even have the excuse of saying that it’s too long.

3. Boswell’s Life of Johnson which is supposed to be a thumping good read full of spite, bile and adoration. And yet the closest I’ve come is snickering at the episode of “Blackadder the Third” that Johnson appears in.

There are many more – but for now I invite you to share the shame – post your three in your journal.

0 Comments +

  1. There are Bathroom Books!

    i.e. you don’t have to read them from the beginning to the end, you can just pick them up and read a bit from the middle while you, uh, are, um, uh, busy? Which is how I read Machiavelli’s the Prince, Suetonius’ the Twelve Caesars, and nearly everything by Harold Bloom. Recommended!

    The reading style, not necessarily the books. Though Suetonius rocks.

  2. 1. The Bible I’ve dabbled, and god knows I own enough copies but I’ve never sat down and gone cover to cover. I view my lack of familiarity with it as the intellectual equivalent of having a comb-over.

    I only ever read Revelations from beginning to end. It was during my college «discovering all things dark and spooky» period.

    My explanation for Revelations: John was fond of wild poppies. And not just eating the seeds.

  3. Oh, yeah, the real meme

    • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Brilliantly written, but I hate present-tense narration. I got 400 pages into it, and that’s only halfway.
    • the Koran. I should, just to understand where people are coming from, but the blamed thing makes the Bible look like an easy read by comparison.
    • Iliad and Odyssey by that Homer guy. And I read the Aeneid, so I know I could
  4. How very coincidental; just this weekend I ran across a copy of The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom, purchased during a Smollett phase. Though I remembered reading it, I couldn’t at all recall its plot, and I doubted very much I’d read it again.

    Disposing of it with all the other books like it that I’ve accumulated and read over the years seems like too much of an effort at this point. Yet it needs to be done.

  5. book report

    The Bible is a pretty good fantasy novel, but too much sex and violence in it for my taste.

    Here’s a book you could and should read instead of Boswell’s Life of Johnson: Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright by Steven Millhauser. (Pay very close attention to the title. It’s a deft parody of a obsessive hagiography, among its many other literary qualities, and has deservedly been compared to the best of Nabokov.

  6. Re: There are Bathroom Books!

    I’ve never been able to do the bathroom thing. While I can walk and chew gum at the same time (even though I think gum is vile), I can’t multitask on the can. Although there is something appealing about highlighting “The Anxiety of Influence” while clenching and unclenching.

  7. I am relieved to know that other folks have Smollett phases! I too am having that same crisis; for example “Miss Macintosh, My Darling” by Marguerite Young – I’ve read it, I don’t remember it yet I don’t remember loving it enough to want to reread it. On the other hand It’s hard to track down new copies, so what to do? Keep or chuck?

  8. Re: Oh, yeah, the real meme

    I’m sorry to hear that about Cryptonomicon. I loved His earlier books, but haven’t gotten around to the newer ones.

    Ditto about the Koran.

    We had to read “The Oddyssey” in high school and then I reread it for a course in college that revolved around Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s the fun one with all the monsters and chicks. I’ve started the Illiad many times, in a number of translations but never seen the last page. Strange, since I like pro wrestling.

  9. Re: book report

    I’m always glad to read Millhauser, and you are the person who first intoduced me to him.

    Gee it’s hard to type while I’m laughing so hard at the idea of something having too much sex and violence for you

  10. I have a reverence bordering on neurosis when it comes to books. I cannot bear to see them damaged in any way – even a tear in the dust cover – and throwing them out is impossible. I’d give them away, but not even libraries want them. The market for used books is zero.

    The result is a crisis of space. I have the money to buy all the things on my Amazon wishlist, and the desire to read them, but I don’t buy them because I have nowhere to put them!

    I suppose I could add another 20 feet of shelf space, but that’s not solving the problem, only postponing it.

    The Bible, at least, can be read and searched online. And if I had a copy, I’d have no trouble whatsoever throwing it in the recylcer – there’s always a zillion more to be found. Does anyone actually read it cover to cover? The more I look at it, the less relevant it seems to my life.

  11. In the course of doing resarch for a novel, I recently bought a copy of _Don’t Know Much About The Bible_. If not having read the thing cover to cover is the intellectual equivalent of a comb-over, then what I’ve just done is the intellectual equivalent of using that spray-on head flocking they sell on late night T.V.

    Ah, well.

  12. I have read both the Bible and Quran. The Quran was read back in the 70s when I was hanging out with Yemeni Arabs all the time. They said I lived my life as a Muslim (except that I didn’t pray five times a day). I was honored that they accepted me as a brother and family. I miss them dearly. I also have a few books that I haven’t fully read but, if I can get to them one day, great. Otherwise I’ll just live on and continue to read what I feel is “current” in my life. 🙂

  13. There are a staggering number of books I’m ashamed not to have read, but the first ones that come to mind are:

    1. Ulysses by James Joyce — although my reading group keeps saying we’re going to tackle this one sometime.

    2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert — just no excuse for this one.

    3. Don Quixote by Cervantes and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — because my late father always tried to guilt me into reading these in the original Spanish, and the reading level of my Spanish barely gets me through my favorite Spic comics. One of these days I will give myself permission to just read these in English, already.

  14. Re: There are Bathroom Books!

    I’ve never been able to do the bathroom thing. While I can walk and chew gum at the same time (even though I think gum is vile), I can’t multitask on the can. Although there is something appealing about highlighting “The Anxiety of Influence” while clenching and unclenching.

  15. I am relieved to know that other folks have Smollett phases! I too am having that same crisis; for example “Miss Macintosh, My Darling” by Marguerite Young – I’ve read it, I don’t remember it yet I don’t remember loving it enough to want to reread it. On the other hand It’s hard to track down new copies, so what to do? Keep or chuck?

  16. Re: Oh, yeah, the real meme

    I’m sorry to hear that about Cryptonomicon. I loved His earlier books, but haven’t gotten around to the newer ones.

    Ditto about the Koran.

    We had to read “The Oddyssey” in high school and then I reread it for a course in college that revolved around Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s the fun one with all the monsters and chicks. I’ve started the Illiad many times, in a number of translations but never seen the last page. Strange, since I like pro wrestling.

  17. Re: book report

    I’m always glad to read Millhauser, and you are the person who first intoduced me to him.

    Gee it’s hard to type while I’m laughing so hard at the idea of something having too much sex and violence for you

  18. If I read a novel–no, make that two novels–a week, I still wouldn’t run out of books I wanted to read. Sigh.

    Despite being a modernist, I’ve never quite been able to finish Finnegan’s Wake *hanging head in shame*

  19. 1 – best sex and violence going, and seminal, or rather semenal, western text

    2 – somehow I think it’s wisest you’ve avoided this one. it’s featured, far too often, in that great BOMC tome And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. I can’t believe I read that piece of shit.

    3 – well, once upon a time I was an 18th century faggot. Yes, I’ve read the entire Boswell, and Smollett, though my tastes run more to Dryden and Pope (just imagine what he said about Lord Hervey and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu!)

  20. Re: There are Bathroom Books!

    Harold Bloom doesn’t quite write all his own books. Underpaid graduate students at Yale have been known to contribute more than a few chapters to any of his books bearing the Chelsea House imprint.

    Suetonius? Did him, or rather his book, in Latin class. The joy of a BA in Classics, non?

  21. Shame vs Regret

    Hmmm… it seems odd to me to feel ASHAMED at not having read… whatever. Regret, I would understand more easily… but shame… is perhaps more interesting… gives a little window into your psyche!

  22. Re: Shame vs Regret

    The things I regret not having read tend to be more on the best seller end – things that are popular or have a kind of cultural currency. Or there are plenty of things I regret not finishing. But the things I’m ashamed about seem to me to be the sorts of things that a well furnished mind should have – standards in other words.

    Above and beyond that I am in all other ways very shame based.

  23. If I were to list a fourth above it would be Don Quixote. I’ve even read Nabakov’s lectures on it twice! And now there’s a new translation. And I’m curious – what are your favorite spic comics?

  24. All right I’ll come out and say it: the whole of Revelations is clearly some disturbing, drug-induced hallucination. Which is why it’s so popular to read for mopey goth-chicks, teenaged stoners and mopey goth teenaged stoner chicks.

  25. Re: Shame vs Regret

    The things I regret not having read tend to be more on the best seller end – things that are popular or have a kind of cultural currency. Or there are plenty of things I regret not finishing. But the things I’m ashamed about seem to me to be the sorts of things that a well furnished mind should have – standards in other words.

    Above and beyond that I am in all other ways very shame based.

  26. If I were to list a fourth above it would be Don Quixote. I’ve even read Nabakov’s lectures on it twice! And now there’s a new translation. And I’m curious – what are your favorite spic comics?

  27. Well, Mortadelo y Filemón, definitely. (That’s where my icon comes from.) I also like 13, Rue del Percebe, by the same artist. I liked Zipi y Zape when I was a kid, but I haven’t picked one up in ages. I can never find them in the States, so whenever someone I know goes to Spain, I always force them to bring me a bunch back. ( gets Super Karma Points for bringing me comics and a ginormous supply of Cola Cao, which is kind of like the Spanish Ovaltine.)

  28. But is Xenia, Ohio all that interesting a town? I mean aside from the big tornado that hit the university in the ’70s? And all that mishigoss about not wanting to open a public library because dirty poor people might touch the books!

  29. I’m sure they just resented all the attention Winesburg got and wanted a book of their own.

    Seriously, I haven’t picked the thing up in nearly 20 years, I don’t really remember any of the plot details. Except the part about the hot doctor who shuns the smart girl to marry the pretty bitch, only to have the latter lock him out of her bedroom after their first child is born because she doesn’t want to sully her perfect figure with any more rugrats. I always cast Brooke Adams as the smart girl while I was reading it.

  30. Certainly, it was shame – or regret – or something – that made me pick the following titles out of the discard pile:

    James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
    Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
    Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt

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