The best and worst thing about books is that there are too many of them. According to Bowker, there were 288,355 titles published in 2009 in the U.S. alone. What that means is you have a whole lot of options, but that also means there are over 288,000 books every year that you haven’t read (unless you have nine eyes and more than 365 days, in which case you’re a time-traveling mutant and are readying plans to take over Earth). I’m not very good at math, but if you multiplied 288,000 and 100, I’d imagine you’d get a number with roughly 70 zeroes. This number would represent, give or take a few digits, the number of books in the last hundred years you haven’t read.
So, it’s only natural that some books will pass you by, including some books that didn’t pass by a lot of other people. These are the classics you haven’t read, and over at Knowledge Lost, they’ve coined a phrase for where these books go: Your Literary Wall of Shame. This is the most confessional blog post you’ll ever see on PWxyz, the most naked and the most raw, so won’t you help me out in my abject confession and tell me your Literary Wall of Shame? Okay then, let’s just rip the band-aid off all at once. Here are my literary blind spots.
1. More Shakespeare
By my count, I’ve read 11 of his plays, and at least one of those I’ve only seen performed on stage. Since he’s credited with 38 plays, that mean’s I’m batting about .300, which wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that William Shakespeare is William Shakespeare. But do I get extra points because I wore yellow garters as Malvolio when I was an adolescent thespian?
2. Don Quixote/D.H. Lawrence
It might seem an odd pairing, but they’re only together because both Cervantes’ epic and Lawrence’s oeuvre are sitting on my bookshelf, and I know I need to read them. In other words, they’re the blind spots that I’m most inclined (and excited) to address. I’ve always been drawn to really, really long books, and while Don Quixote tips the scale a little more than any of Lawrence’s books, the latter’s seem epic and satisfying in their own right. Plus, any writer who can inspire this book is a writer I want to read.
3. Charles Dickens
I’ve only read A Christmas Carol, which means I have the same knowledge of Dickens’ work as any American sixth grader. For me, his books are the anti-Quixote–they’re long books that just don’t appeal to me. And while I feel an obligation to read at least one more of his books, the dauntingly wide spines of David Copperfield, Bleak House and Great Expectations win every time. I suppose I don’t have the same excuse for A Tale of Two Cities, however…
4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
More than any other book of very high repute, Catch-22 has a lot of smack talked about it. People I know personally have said they just couldn’t get into it, while others have said it’s one-note. And then there are publications like The Guardian saying that Catch-22 is “too long, messy and takes 100 pages to get going.” And yet it seems to be following me: eerily placed on display tables for its recent 50th anniversary edition, on a ton of “Best Of” 20th century lists, and even lurking on my bookshelf when I come home. One day it will appear on my pillow, I know it. It’s getting closer.
5. Jorge Luis Borges
I have a weird, irrational fear of Borges. I’ve picked up his Collected Fictions at least half a dozen times in bookstores, then put it down each time. Mostly, I’m afraid that I won’t like him, and this, really, is probably the heart of why I don’t read what I think I “should.” We “should” read Walden and Thomas Hobbes and all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time. But, we don’t have the time to read everything we “should” and within that category of things we “should” read, there are certain books that we just don’t think we’ll like. I’m a little less uncertain about whether I won’t like Borges than I am about whether I won’t like Dickens, but with Borges, I’m more afraid of reading him and not liking him and what that’ll say about me as a reader. Like I said, irrational. I feel like I “should” like Borges (he seems more in line with what I like than Dickens), but I’m worried that I won’t. Does that make sense? Okay, I’ll just go buy Collected Fictions.