Friday, May 14, 2010

The Dusty Shelves of Unread Books

At The Millions, Kirsty Logan dreams about the enticing possibilities of the 800 unread books on her shelves.  To which I say, "800?  Feh!  What an amateur!"  The number of unread volumes in my basement library stretches into the thousands, as documented on my Library Thing profile.

Still, Logan has some interesting things to say about the excitement and potential of an unread book.
Sometimes I hold these books in my hands and imagine what I will learn from them. These books have affected my writing, and I haven’t even read them. Maybe we can learn as much from our expectations of a story as we can from the actual words on the page.
Frankly, I rarely think about the unexplored worlds of unturned pages.  Occasionally, I am overjoyed by what I find.  For instance, there was the sensation of being blown to bloody smithereens when I finally read The Catcher in the Rye nine years ago.

But, for the most part, I am constantly nagged by the growing list of books I feel I should read.  This reader's guilt grows from arrows shot my way from years in academia, lists of "Top 100 Must-Reads" from media critics, and, okay I'll admit it, the enticing cover art and blurbs on newly-acquired books.  I spend my days swimming against the flood of books flowing into my house, struggling to keep up with the demands of review assignments and the whims of my wandering attention span which pull me toward one book or another.  "Look, here's a new translation of Tolstoy!  And, my oh my, doesn't that new Elmore Leonard look tasty?"  I really want to read Ulysses.  I really, really do.  But since I haven't yet invented the hermetically-sealed reader's pod (complete with massage chair and automatic coffee dispenser), I keep putting it off for the tomorrow after tomorrow.  Poor James Joyce, he's been pouting from his perch on my bookshelf for years now.  He's not alone.  Scoot over Jimmy and make room for Proust, Dreiser, and Miss McCullers.

Here then, are those books currently residing on my very dusty shelves which have been begging me for years to take them down and crack their spines.  I've divided the list into two parts between the established canon and those more recent (i.e., within the past 40 years) books which have piqued and tweaked my interest.  I've also added a section for fresher books--those released in the last few years.  It's an eclectic list populated by authors I've yet to meet, with only a few exceptions--Joyce, Cather, Nabokov, Proulx.  (Note: when I say "Anything by...", I really mean "Something by...").  They're in roughly the order of my desire to read them.

The Classics
Ulysses by James Joyce
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Anything by Marcel Proust
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Stories of John Cheever
The Complete Works of Isaac Babel
Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Anything by P.G. Wodehouse
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Anything by Thomas Hardy
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Anything by JRR Tolkien
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Little Big by John Crowley
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Dead Souls by Nikolay Gogol
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Anything by Sinclair Lewis
Anything by Upton Sinclair
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey

Recent Releases
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Anything by Marilynne Robinson
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safran Foer
Among the Missing by Dan Chaon
Half in Love by Maile Meloy
Close Range by Annie Proulx
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Anything by Chuck Palahniuk
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Anything by James Ellroy
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander
Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Anything by Margaret Atwood
Europe Central by William T. Vollmann
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Deliverance by James Dickey
Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Possession by AS Byatt
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
Waiting by Ha Jin
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Wicked by Gregory Maguire

New-ish Releases
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
The New Valley by Josh Weil
The Language of Elk by Benjamin Percy
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Sunnyside by Glen David Gold

As you can see, I'm in desparate need of sudden wealth, unlimited time, and a desert island.

So what about you?  What books have you been meaning to get around to....someday?  Post your list in the comment section below.


  1. David, I love a lot of those.

    But take my advice and move Lolita to the top of the list. Now.

    Nabokov's prose is the kind that makes you simultaneously burn with the desire to create something just like it and melt with the tragedy of knowing it can't be equaled.

  2. Will do, PC. That's a great endorsement for "Lolita."

    Okay, Vlad the Impaler just kicked Joyce's skinny little ass to the curb.