Friday, July 8, 2011

Did you read it, really?

I was thinking about picking up a copy of Moby Dick this summer, and trying to read it … again. I read a little of it in college, and a little more of it in a bookstore one day, but have never come close to finishing it. There, I said it.

I’ve always felt that admitting that I haven’t read all the classics could lead to my English degree being revoked at any moment. But I didn’t feel so bad after attending my book club meeting last month, and discovering that a couple of English teachers also had never read it!

Their admission freed me! I realized I wasn't the only one who hadn't read it. I no longer feel the need to change the subject when the book comes up in conversation, pretend to know what everyone is talking about when discussing the massive tome, or excusing myself to go to the bathroom in case someone asks me a difficult question about the novel that I can’t answer.

The Huffington Post last year listed the top 13 books people lie about having read. They include the aforementioned Moby Dick, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ulysses, As I Lay Dying, War and Peace, The Canterbury Tales, Democracy in America, The Satanic Verses, A Christmas Carol, A Brief History of Time, Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time.

Do you have a list of books you think you should read, but haven’t? Have you ever lied about it? What are you willing to admit? Leave a comment and let me know. Let’s see if our list looks like the one above.

Write soon,



  1. I would have to lie up a storm, because out of that list, I've only read "1984."

    The book I have tried several times to read is "Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon. I don't lie about because 1) no one has ever brought up the title at the many cocktail parties I attend at our country club (not!) and 2)I'm not ashamed. However, I AM bamboozled why I can't get past a certain point (quite early in the book). If anyone has any suggestions, please email me at sroslawski(at)yahoo(dot)com. A great friend from my past loved that book, and it's been more than three decades and still no turning to the final page of Pynchon's "classic."

    "Ulysses" is also on my list (again, a dear friend--a different one--recommended it). I keep saying, "This summer" but then Zora Neale Hurston or Sandra Dallas or Jodi Picoult's latest appears, and I surrender without a fight.

  2. Sioux, love your comment! Haven't read Gravity's Rainbow either! Thanks for your comment!

  3. I read 1984 just for fun, and The Canterbury Tales as an assignment for high school English. I haven't even attempted the others, and see no need to lie to appear well-read. I live in backwoods Missouri, for cryin' out loud. Expectations of my literary prowess are not that high.

    I tried to read The House of the Seven Gables, but barely made it through the first chapter. The Scarlet Letter was a breeze compared to that.

    My list of books that I think I should read includes: any Jane Austen, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Moby Dick, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, and The Great Gatsby.

    I'm just not that into them.

  4. Loved the Great Gatsby, you know my Moby Dick status, and have you seen the movie "Easy A?" It's based partially on The Scarlet Letter. I wonder if people lie about movies like they do books?

  5. Great post, Mary! I have a theory about our difficulty finishing books we really want to read. First, you must believe as I do that reading is a journey; we are in one place when we decide to read a particular book and we expect it to take us on a journey. When we finish the book, we expect to be in a different place for our trouble. The problem, as I see it, is that some books (different ones for different people, although many people share difficulties with some books) are simply not relevant to our lives and/or experiences YET. Therefore, there's no path to lead us into the text or the author's style, or the path that is begun is lost as we attempted to read. To solve this problem, I suggest you find someone who loves the book or who is an expert on it, its subject matter, or author. This is fairly easy today as we can do Internet research when experts and other people aren't available to fill in the gaps in our information. Find out about the book before you attempt to read it--or as soon as you see you're having difficulties. Another suggestion is to partner with someone else to read difficult books--then carry each other along. I still recommend research. The reading experience is always richer with some contextual framework to a book. I made several attempts to read Faulkner and gave up. Then, a few years ago, I went back to school to study writing and literature. Listening to my professor talk about Faulkner and his genius made all the difference. I was able to read AS I LAY DYING, Faulkner's short stories, and ABSOLOM, ABSOLOM! I love Faulkner now. The same thing happened with Don Quixote (I confess I haven't read ALL of it). I was struggling with it until a friend told me how much she loved it and explained why. I was able to read it then. I don't think I could have read WINESBURG, OHIO without help--and I love it! Sorry if I took your topic off into the uncharted territory. To answer your question, I do have a list of books I want to read, but I feel daunted without lining up someone to help me. Ulysses is one.

  6. You have covered every possible reason for not reading! I love the analogy of a journey, and I also believe great literature teachers are a wonderful gift to the world. I have an appreciation for Picasso (a different kind of artist) because I had a great teacher who explained what he was trying to do. I gave up on Faulkner a while back, and I guess I should add him to my list of books I need to read. Thank you for your insightful comment. I hope this discussion continues!

  7. I am 25 years old and I feel like I've read a few books that I haven't. All because of the TV show "Wishbone" that was aired in the 90s. I could tell you all about "A Tale of Two Cities", but I've never read it. Thanks, PBS!

  8. I'm sure you're not the only one! I loved that show more than my kids did. Another benefit of public television! Thanks, Melissa, for your comment. I wonder if we can get Wishbone on Netflix? And, more importantly, did Wishbone ever cover Moby Dick?

  9. I tried reading Moby Dick several times, but still can't get past "Call me Ishmael." Even tried it in altered mental states. That didn't help.

    Of the others however, read Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Canterbury Tales, loved As I Lay Dying. The Satanic Verses is incomprehensible. I've also tried A Handmaid's Tale several times but to no avail, as well as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Gravity’s Rainbow.

    Hasn't everyone read A Christmas Carol?