List Thursday: Books I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read… yet!

Sometimes books slip through the cracks.  Whether out of laziness or academic shortcomings, we miss out on some really killer reads along the way.  Lots of times it’s simply easier to lie and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve read that, but it’s just been so long…” than admit you’ve actually never even cracked the dustjacket.  Well, here’s my list, in all it’s brutal and gaping honesty. I might need to do something to restore my street cred with all my book-nerd homeys. Word life, son.  Or something…

1) A Brave New World – Aldous Huxley: Given my love for dystopian literature and having read both G. Orwell’s 1984 and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, this seems like a no-brainer. However, I’ve somehow managed to miss out on reading this book for 29 years.

2) Catch 22 – Joseph Heller: I came to literature late. I was a journalism student in my undergrad days and my high school didn’t teach Catch.  But really, there’s no excuse.

3) American Pastoral – Philip Roth: American Pastoral is on my list because it’s considered by some to be Roth’s best, however, my real confession is that I’ve only read one book by Roth, The Human Stain.  It should be noted that Human was good enough to compel me to buy the rest of Roth’s bibliography.

4) Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Sallinger: see Catch 22

5) The Recognitions – William Gaddis: A friend of mine and I were talking about my favorite novel of all time, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and tried to come up with four predecessors that probably paved the way for Jest to be conceived. This is one of those four books we’d ultimately dub, “The Four Horsemen” of metafiction.

6) Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov: This one is simply embarrassing.  The only thing more embarrassing than having not read this is the fact that I’ve read zero Nabokov…

7) War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy: It was the size of this tome that always scared me away.  But now that I’ve read Infinite Jest, and am currently reading Adam Levin’s new 1,030 page opus The Instructions, I feel like I can probably read anything short of In Search of Lost Time.

8) The Sot-Weed Factor – John Barth: One of the “Four Horsemen[1]” of metafiction, the author of Lost in the Funhouse was truly a generational talent. In fact, the most embarrassing thing to admit here is that the fairly short Lost in the Funhouse is the only Barth I’ve finished.

9) On the Road – Jack Kerouac: Yes this is probably sacrilege.  I’m apologizing profusely here. I just never got around to it.  That’s all.  which, even a background in journalism doesn’t save me from. I’ll rectify this soon.

10)  Crime and Punishment – Fydor Dostoevsky: see War and Peace

11)  Labyrinths – Jorge Luis Borges: I’ve wanted to read this for a long time.  Honestly. I own it so there really is no excuse other than time; there never seems to be enough of it.

12)  Ulysses – James Joyce: The supposed difficulty always scared me away from this book in college.  However, my aptitude for reading difficult texts has increased dramatically since grad school.  I done gone and got smarter!

13)  Moby Dick – Herman Melville: Again it was the whole length thing.  As it turns out, Melville’s a pretty kickass writer!  I have Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno to thank for this realization.

14)  A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway: I’ve read a lot of Hemingway, but not this, or For Whom the Bell Tolls or A Moveable Feast. I’m working on it.

15)  Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner: Super embarrassing literary fact #?? of many: I haven’t read any of Faulkner either… Ostensibly, if I were going to get a PhD in Literature, I’d have to specialize in second half of the 20th Century Lit.  I missed a lot of stuff pre-1950 that I’m trying to catch up on.

16)  Armies of the Night – Norman Mailer: As a former journalism student, my face is red for this admission.

17)  The Divine Comedy – Dante: I was never big on the old epics written in verse even though they are some of the greatest stories of all time.  I single out Dante here, but the truth is I’m seriously lacking in Homer and Virgil too.

18)  Nostromo – Joseph Conrad: After reading Heart of Darkness, Conrad made me want to quit writing altogether.  Is this guy for real?  English wasn’t even his first language and he slays it, the guy was a genius.  Heart made me swear I’d read everything Conrad ever wrote and so far, I’ve yet to make good on that.

19)  The Three Musketeers – Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite stories of all time — not just favorite books — but stories.  Revenge just doesn’t get any sweeter and similarly to Conrad, I swore I’d read all of Dumas. I’m 0/2.

20)  Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman: Finally, I thought I should include a poet here. If there’s one area I’m severely lacking in in my biblio-arsenal, it’s poetry.  I’ve read almost nothing by Dylan Thomas or Charles Bukowski either.

[1] The two other “Horsemen” of metafiction are Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and William Gass’s The Tunnel, both of which I’m currently reading.  Really, Gass’s Omensetter’s Luck would be more appropriate as an influence to Infinite Jest (as Wallace was admittedly heavily influenced by Gass) but we disqualified it because of its shorter length.

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7 thoughts on “List Thursday: Books I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read… yet!

  1. I don’t do too bad on this list, though funny enough two of the books on here that I have read were at your recommendation. Out of 20, I’m missing 6:

    15) Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner (read other Faulkner but not what is supposed to be the best)
    16) Armies of the Night – Norman Mailer (the only Mailer I’ve read was “The Naked and the Dead”)
    17) The Divine Comedy – Dante (Only read “The Inferno.”)
    18) Nostromo – Joseph Conrad (Read “The Heart of Darkness” and “The Secret Sharer,” but not this one.)
    19) The Three Musketeers – Alexander Dumas
    20) Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman (Read part, but not the whole thing)

    • joemowens says:

      Really I’d expected you to have read all of them, ha! I was even going to send you a note that said something like, “I’m sure you’re 20/20 here!”

      ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ would be on here, as would ‘The Tunnel’, but I’ve gotten pretty far into them and totally have real intentions of finishing them soon.

  2. Anyway, there are so many good books out there that you just can’t read or be familiar with everything. You read what you can, as you need to, and as the fancy strikes you. You should still read all these eventually, but then you’ll just come up with another list of books you are embarrased not to have read.

    • joemowens says:

      A lot of these books I’ve read parts of [you know how some classes will have you read passages?] but there’re none on the list I’ve come close to finishing. ‘Sot-Weed Factor’ I felt comfortable recommending because Barth can flat out write! He’s just incredible. When I saw ‘SWF’ compared to ‘Candide’, I knew it’d be a winner. Same thing with ‘The Recognitions’. I’d read ‘Agape, Agape’ and knew ‘TR’ was considered a lot better (plus The Man himself, DFW, spoke highly of Gaddis.

      Totally agree about the inability to truly be familiar with everything. Even if one works as a book reviewer, there are still things they have to read that may not be on their lists. Seems like only lottery winners and trust fund babies can really take advantage of unlimited reading time, haha!

  3. Brandie Ashe says:

    Love, love, love Moby-Dick. Did not think I would, because I had started it in high school and gave up after a couple of chapters. It was assigned for a 19th-century lit/theory class when I was at Georgia, and I dreaded it, but ended up loving it. Who knew 800+ pages about whales could be so fascinating?

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