There’s a funny thing that happens when you read fairly widely: you’re going to end up with a lot of things that you’ll be glad that you read. You finished all of Pride and Prejudice? Good for you! Made it through the entirety of Moby Dick? Great! But if there’s something that two English degrees has taught me at this point, it’s that there’s always going to be something you haven’t read. I call this the list of shame.
The list of shame is all the classic literature and great works I haven’t read, and (for me at least) the list is probably longer than it ought to be. The books that are on the list of shame are long and quite varied, and they represent just a small sample of things that I haven’t read yet, but really plan on reading at some point.
So, by way of a confession, here, in no particular order, is just a small sample of a list that is more extensive than it should be:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Why it’s on the top of the list: this book has been gathering dust on my shelf for a long time. I actually own the physical book, and I even brought it with me on my move from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest. Anyone else who might own the book knows that it’s quite large, so moving it that far is no small feat. It’s been almost three years since I moved and probably about five since I bought it. I still haven’t touched it. Also Dostoevsky has been my favorite author for years, and even that hasn’t made me actually finish this book. For shame.
- All of Jane Austen. Why it’s on the list: I’ve never read a Jane Austen book. Seriously. Not a single one. I know what her writing is all about, and I would probably enjoy it, but I’ve never gotten around to actually reading her books.
- The Road by Jack Kerouac. Why it’s on the list: I love Kerouac. I’ve read more of his poetry than I can even remember, and I even read his stream of consciousness insanity in Old Angel Midnight, but I’ve never read his single most well-known book. This is even a fairly short one compared to some of the other things on this list, so I am really left without an excuse for this one.
- Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant. Why it’s on the list: there are two books that I’ve started and just could not finish reading. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is one of them. I decided a while back that I needed to know more about philosophy, so I picked this one up along with a few other philosophy books. I admit that this one was beyond me at the time. Half the time I didn’t know what Kant was saying, and the other half, I felt like I wasn’t familiar enough with the arguments to really grasp what was going on. I know a little bit more now than I did when I first started reading this, but I’m still hesitant about trying to pick this up again.
- Almost all of Hemingway. Why it’s on the list: I’ve read some of Hemmingway’s work, and I honestly can’t get into it. The short, completely unadorned sentence structure is distracting and obnoxious, and I can’t read it without thinking that I’m reading work by students who are unnecessarily afraid of all punctuation except the period. Terrible stuff. I might read more Hemingway, but then I might not as well.
- Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. Why it’s on the list: has anyone really read this book? Did they actually get anything meaningful out of it? I don’t really believe it. I’ve read some of Joyce’s more coherent works, and those seem fine, but this one? I don’t know. That being said, there’s an argument that really no one has actually made it through this book either, so I might be in good company.
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Why it’s on the list: so many pages… so many… pages. I’ll get around to it one day, but in the meantime… so many pages…
- Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Why it’s on the list: way back in 2012 when the movie came out, I said I would read the book before I saw the movie because at that point I still hadn’t read the book. Fast forward to 2018, and I still haven’t read the book. I still haven’t watched the movie either.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why it’s on the list: Another time that I said I was going to read the book before watching the movie. I’ve done neither of those things.
- The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer. Why it’s on the list: two of the oldest books in existence and basically the “start here” section of Western literature. You can even find them for free on the Amazon Kindle Store, and yet, I still haven’t read them. Terrible.
So why the list of shame? This was not put together in an attempt to flaunt my own ignorance. We get plenty of that from our politicians these days, and I don’t need to add to the mix. This was also not put together for some kind of self-flagellation, but it does have a point. A lot of us here in the blogosphere are literary types: writers, at least, or fairly voracious readers, and we have a tendency to obsess over the things that we have read and downplay the things which we have not. I think this does us a disservice as readers because it can give us a false impression of our accomplishments. Basically it comes down to this: no matter how widely read you are, there are going to be things you haven’t read, and there is going to be someone out there who has read all the things you haven’t, and all the things you’ve read will be on their list of shame.
The list of shame has an alternative purpose as well: this is my list of things that I want to read, and probably will get around to reading at some point. I know there are some great books on this list, and I know I will probably enjoy some of them (even if others on the list are a slog). So in its own way, the list of shame is a bit of a motivating thing for me. It’s all the books I will get around to.