Sunday, March 16, 2014

Why haven't I read that yet?

Jam and Idleness and Wuthering Expectations have been making lists of authors they haven't read yet, authors they feel they should have read. Wuthering Expectations takes it a step further and includes the authors he read instead. I find that an intriguing idea, I've never been aware of making a conscious decision to read one writer rather than another. I think of my reading following a path with one book leading to another, and collect books like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter. I'm also in the habit of assuming I'll get round to reading through my book store - though as it grows obviously there's clearly a greater chance of byways left unexplored. Anyway I thought I'd have a quick look and see what books I had on the shelves that I probably should have read by now.

That list is obviously much longer than 10 books (much, much, longer) and there are plenty of books on it that I should have read - Moby Dick is somewhere near the top. It came as a highly recommended gift and every time I walk past it I feel guilty about not having read it yet. But the list of individual books would be very long indeed, almost as long as the list of books I don't have (or have any particular interest in which includes just about anything Russian) that you might imagine anybody reasonably well read would have managed to get through...

Here then is a list of authors that I seem to have acquired plenty by, without ever having read a word of. They represent books bought with an earnest intention of reading them, as well as ever so many conversations in second hand bookshops which go like this - friend 'Do you have this one?', self 'oh yes...' friend, 'Is it any good?', self 'Who knows?'. I'm sure we all know that conversation.

My Virago collection has everything they've ever published by Kate O'Brien who not only have I failed to read, I even failed to listen to a radio adaptation of one of her books. This isn't really good enough.

The same collection has a whole lot of Mary Webb in it. 'Precious Bane' is one of those books I really don't want to read but the others all sound much better, so over the years I've bought them, lots of them, still not read any. If anybody can recommend a place to start I'd appreciate it - if anybody strongly recommends that I take the lot back to a charity shop I might also be inclined to listen.

It's Virago which is responsible for the Christina Stead's as well. Lots of them. All still waiting to be read. I must have been attracted to them when I picked them up but when I had a quick look at the shelves earlier I was surprised by how many there were and how little I know about her.

I've never read Vera Brittain either (guess who published all the copies of her book I have) which is at odds with a very definite interest I have in the first world war. Maybe this year is a good time to tackle her - although as she's waited this long for me it might be that 2018 will be soon enough.

I have John Cowper Powys on the shelf too, only 'Wolf Solent' but that's long enough to count as several books anyway. I really wanted it when I bought it, I occasionally read something that mentions Powys and think about how much I want to pick it up, an yet somehow never have. Frankly I'm intimidated by how long it is.

George Gissing feels like a real gap in my reading, but there it is, I almost bought another title at the weekend but decided I had to read one of those I already had before I could reasonably get another. It seems crazy not to have read any of his work as it so clearly sounds like exactly my sort of thing. How has the path not lead there yet?

It's not lead me to Thomas Love Peacock either. I went to the Astley Book farm yesterday with friends, it's been an unusually long time since the last visit when I got a lovely two volume set of his novels (hard back and very nice). I was really excited by those books when I got them home but they're still sitting unopened (next to Moby Dick) on the shelf. I really feel I should have read him.

Stefan Zweig is another omission, I have a couple of his book - bought because they sound brilliant, but I've yet to actually open one. However we went to see the excellent 'Grand Budapest Hotel' today so maybe that'll be the necessary push.

Somerset Maughan is an omission that's about to be corrected - slightly unwillingly if I'm honest, I fear it's going to be a struggle because whenever I've actually picked up one of his books I've had no trouble putting it down again, but he's another writer I feel I should have read and be able to go on reading. The sort who comes recommended by plenty of people who's taste normally coincides with mine and the sort who's books I have bought.

I'm going to make Henry Green the last on this list. I found him when I briefly worked in a bookshop not long after graduating. For almost 20 years I've thought I should read him and still haven't - which is one of the wonderful things about books; they wait for you, more or less without reproach (damn you Moby Dick) until no other book will fit the moment.


20 comments:

  1. How funny that this should turn up just as we've kicked off 'Shelf of Shame' week at Vulpes Libris! I picked Christopher Isherwood for my author there, but I could equally have picked most of these. I feel especially lacking by not having read any Vera Brittain. I have read a Henry Green, though (Blindness), and it was very good. And one Maugham (Up at the Villa) which was just ok. And you know my feelings on Mary Webb...

    But this is a fun game, and I think I'll do the same this week.

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    1. I've read Isherwood and like him very much, I fear Mary Webb is going to make me feel the same way you did but I guess I'll give her a go sometime, and Henry Green really needs reading (by me) so many books and so little time.

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  2. A familiar refrain, I was trying not to buy any more books until I had read everything on my shelves but I just don't seem to be able to do that. I know I do in a chaotic fashion get around to reading almost everything I buy but I do have some guilty omissions, Moby Dick is also one of mine.
    For Mary Webb I would probably start with Gone to Earth.

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    1. But who can resist a new book? Likely nobody here at any rate. I feel far more guilty about the books I've half read and never finished for no good reason. Not finishing books I don't enjoy is fine. My current read is a book about books and that's adding even more to my list of things I feel I ought to read.

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  3. I can imagine the reader who is not sacrificing one author to read another. Say someone who would just be reading Jane Eyre for the 50th time. But for most of us, what can I say, it is this fellow rather than that one. By reading more 19th century authors, I am reading fewer 20th century authors. What can you do.

    I love the restriction to books on the shelf. I want to read the book, I bought the book, I have boxed
    it up through several moves, yet I have not read it. Yet I do genuinely want to. Several of my choices certainly fit that pattern.

    Maugham would go on another list I could make - writers I have barely read. Two short stories, in his case. It's something, but not much.

    I should add some of your choices to my list.

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    1. I'd just never really thought of it like that before but certainly every time I read a Trollope I'm not finding the time to read another over sized Victorian novel. What I can't tell is which one.

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  4. Moby Dick is one of mine, too. I don't really fancy Mary Webb after reading Cold Comfort Farm (& listening to Simon say unkind things about her). I love Vera Brittain, especially the letters & Testament of Youth. Maybe Margaret Oliphant is one of mine. I collected the Carlingford novels after reading your reviews & have still only read the first. I've been collecting the Vintage editions of Maugham but haven't read much. I've also ordered 5 Margaret Kennedy novels that Vintage are reprinting later this year on the strength of only having read Constant Nymph. I'm also collecting the Virago Angela Thirkells but haven't tread many yet. Still, one day I'm sure the mood will strike for all these authors - except maybe for Moby Dick...

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  5. My book group solved my Moby Dick block - by having to read it, I found that I enjoyed a lot of it (but not all), but more so I was so glad to have read it as it is a truly influential book - and I found myself going 'so that's where that came from' all the way through as I spotted references in other authors' books. My list of shame is going to be too long to mention here - now there's an idea for a shameless steal of a blog post! :)

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    1. I might take it on holiday with me this year. I think it will see me through a week and it's one I really want to read.

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  6. This really struck a chord! Kate O'Brien, Mary Webb and Christina Stead are all regularly passed over and have sat on my shelves for a least 20 years! Some writers just seem destined to be passed over, time and again. I loved Vera Brittain, however, so can strongly recommend her. And the book shelves just keep growing and so, despite best intentions, these poor writers will probably continue to languish there...

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    1. But one day their moment will come! (Probably)

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  7. I agree with Arabella about starting with Mary Webb's Gone to Earth. I read Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth years ago, but still haven't got round to reading my neglected copy of Testament of Experience. Not sure I'll get through my TBR pile before I die... in fact it's so high it may topple over and be the death of me ;-)

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  8. Ooh, I'm off to look up those Margaret Kennedy's (which I know totally misses the point but there you go) Mary Webb will be my sticking point because she's the only one I bought without a very definite intention of reading.

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  9. I don't find Christina Stead very reader-friendly (she's a bit like Jean Stafford in that respect), but I've read two of her books and after I read I'm Dying Laughing: The Humorist, I'll be ready to call it a day. I'm ashamed of myself for not getting to Vera Brittain yet; she's been on my shelf for a couple of years now.

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    1. Now I haven't even heard of Jean Stafford so that's something else to go and investigate. So many books.

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  10. Vera Brittain's autobiographical books/letters are all worth reading but I found her fiction really annoying. Honourable Estate felt like a rehash of Testament of Youth and well I never finished Born 1925 and I gave up after that. In contrast I love Winifred Holtby who is a far superior author.

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    1. I've read one Holtby or she would have been on my list too. One day I will read Brittain, oh one day...

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  11. I like this game, I've been considering doing it myself. But my sin is perhaps more centred around individual books than authors. For instance, I have read James Joyce, but not Ulysses. So I might seem better read than in fact I am.

    Also, having a goldfish memory, after about 5 minutes I've forgotten so much it's as if I never read them anyway.

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    1. I managed about 100 pages of Ulysses in an airport once but never got any further, it's the only Joyce I've tried. There is also a list of books that I really have no desire to read despite their classic status and I think Joyce might earn a place on it. One curious thing is how many copies of 'Precious Bane' and 'The Well of Loneliness' I find in charity shops, generally accompanied by an Antonia White. Clearly all books people feel they should have read and finally couldn't face.

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