Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: The List

 Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 6: I Just Haven’t Gotten Around To It

Perhaps this applies to my sister muses as well, but perhaps it’s just me.

All sorts of people assume I’ve read things I haven’t read.  Maybe they figure my high school covered everything their high school covered; maybe they heard me mention that I’d read one book by an author and assumed I’d read the whole bibliography; maybe they figure Hillsdale wouldn’t dare allow anyone to declare themselves an English major without having read everything on that one list from ten years back, when the BBC surveyed readers all over the UK to determine the best-loved books (and set off a chain of people filling out those “Have you read more than 6 of these books?!!” surveys).

Well, I’ve got my diploma sitting on my desk, and yet.  To Kill a Mockingbird?  Haven’t read it.  1984?  No, but I’ve got Animal Farm.  The Count of Monte Cristo, Charlotte’s Web, Secret Garden, Wuthering Heights?  No, no, no, and no.  I can hear the gasps of horror and distant cries for my mortarboard, gown, and cords to be stripped (along with a voice muttering “Eh, Wuthering Heights was kinda weird anyway”).

I suppose part of the reason my skipped books come as a surprise is that I don’t typically acknowledge them.  If a friend wants to discuss Heathcliff brooding and Cathy wandering the moors, well, I’d rather not derail her from her point with picky details of my ignorance (especially if her point is “Check out this Kate Beaton comic“).  So I do a fair amount of smiling and nodding, and usually the moment passes without my having to say “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that reference.”

This whole week was written as a response to that, I suppose.  But all the reasons, excuses, or rationalizations given thus far are (with the possible exclusion of “I have no excuse; I am a vicious and slothful creature”)  just another way of saying

I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

It’s further down on my list.

Some other book took precedence.

This is the reader’s lot: one will almost always have more books one desires to read than time to read them.  We prioritize as we can, and though we may lose a book, fall asleep, get distracted, or whatever, we still have a vast pile of possibilities before us.  And as Lewis said,  “Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we’ve got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them.”  (Thanks, Em!)

So.  Carry on, friends.  Read as you list, give whatever reason you wish for the books you ignore, and just be sure to share your thoughts about your reading with us.

I read as I list, too, most of the time.  On the other hand…there are things I list and then proceed to ignore.  In hopes that full disclosure will encourage me somehow, here is a longer list of books I mean to read at some point.  Some of them are what I think of as “Hillsdaleian” books; some were on the aforementioned list from the BBC; some have been recommended by people I respect (or, at least, whose writing I respect).  I listed them chronologically as it seemed more orderly than listing genres and themes.

What’s on your list?  What should I add to mine?

( I’m a little surprised that out of 118 books, only 18 were written before 1800.  Problem?  I am not sure)

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Pastiche

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 5: There Are a Lot of Reasons, Really

I Sort of Encountered It Already/No Narrative Lust – This is basically the opposite problem of yesterday’s post.  Sometimes you read the dumbed-down and sugar-coated version as a child; sometimes you see a movie or stage production or some other medium.  Because you know where the plot goes, more or less, you don’t bother with the unabridged, unadulterated prose of the original book.

This is part of the reason Lord of the Rings took me such a long time.  It’s why I haven’t been especially inclined to read certain Shakespeare plays: A Winter’s Tale, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Henry V, and Coriolanus can wait.  It’s why I haven’t gotten more than 100 pages into Les Miserables or 3 chapters into Moby Dick or any pages into A Christmas Carol.  Having read a version or two of Arthurian legends, I haven’t read Morte d’Arthur.

But who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll want to see how the author originally wrote it.

Critically Acclaimed and Hated – That is, critics loved it, but a friend/relative/other trusted source reported it as loathsome in some respect.  This is why I never bothered with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and sequels.

I Read It And Then Forgot It – “The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. We have all known women who remembered a novel so dimly that they had to stand for half an hour in the library skimming through it before they were certain they had once read it. But the moment they became certain, they rejected it immediately. It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match, an old railway ticket, or yesterday’s paper; they had already used it. Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life.”  Thanks, Jack.  By that metric, I don’t even know how many books I ought to reread.

I Dropped It in the Bath – This reason comes from Thalia.  I have never Wet Paperbackactually done this, because the idea of dropping a book in the tub has dissuaded me from the salutary practice of reading at bathtime.  The peace and rest would be shattered by frantically grabbing the volume, attempting to towel off the cover, thumbing helplessly and hopelessly at the waterlogged pages.  When it eventually dries out, the crinkled pages remind you of your folly forever.

It’s in a Language I Haven’t Learned (Yet) – This one is also from Thalia, but resonates with me.  Some things are more than adequate in translation, or so we are assured, but we won’t be able to judge that for ourselves until we’ve read the original Greek/French/Russian/Atlantean/etc.

No One Has Commanded Me To So I Figured It Wasn’t Urgent – If it’s a book that has no champions, not even the advertising e-mails from the bookstore, then I will probably pass it over in favor of something else.  But by that token, no one will care if I’ve ignored it.  Victory!

I HAVE NO EXCUSE; I AM A VICIOUS AND SLOTHFUL CREATURE.  Increasingly, this is my answer.  Opening a new book is lovely, but it is a commitment of sorts.  Sometimes I am so lazy that even that teeny little commitment is off-putting, such that I end up wasting all sorts of time online instead.

What’s your go-to reason?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Cliffhanger Avoidance

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 4: I Don’t Want Another Cliffhanger

I was among those who started reading the Harry Potter books at age 12 when only the first three books were out.  And so began the waiting: a few months until Goblet of Fire, three YEARS until Order of the Phoenix, another couple years for Half-Blood Prince, and two more until the finale in Deathly Hallows.  In retrospect, waiting was part of why I loved the books so much: no matter how many other books I read from 1999 to 2007, there was always this series I reread and revisited, learning it like the back of my hand, sewing it into my mental map of reality, into my language.

Albino Deer

All of which meant I used to get impatient with people who couldn’t remember, say, the difference between a Muggle and a Squib; that’s like confusing albinism with melanism, or worse.  But a year or so ago, I read all the Hunger Games books in 4 days and forgot most of the details in them after a few months.  Sure, I could paint a broad Melanistic Deerpicture of what bad stuff goes down, what affronts to human dignity take place, and perhaps which people die, but I couldn’t name all the tributes or victors or weird technological weaponry that gets used.  None of my Hunger Games discussions can turn on a detail like that.  I realized that my rereading in anticipation of the next installment of Harry Potter made me so much more literate in that universe, and rather insane invested in the storyline and characters.

All of which sounds like an argument for getting into a series, even if it isn’t finished, right?  After all, even if the larger story told in the series weren’t finished, each book has its own plot which can stand alone, more or less.  But the longer and more expansive the series gets, the more loaded each book, and the more pressure there is for the crisis to be reached and resolved, the loose ends to be tied and tucked neatly away.  Years of waiting for that can take their toll; just look at the Sherlock fandom.  Whatever good you get out of the wait, you also get…the wait.  Nor do you have any guarantee that your patience will be satisfied.  Christopher Tolkien and Brian Herbert attempted to finish book projects their fathers John and Frank had begun (reviews on the resulting books are mixed); Robert Jordan died before finishing Wheel of Time; and they are far from the only authors who died, leaving unfinished stories.  I’ve said that I won’t start reading A Song of Ice and Fire until George R. R. Martin finishes writing them, which at his current rate (extrapolated from the other publishing dates) might well be 2027.  Or it might not happen at all.  Some friends want to discuss the extant books and thus urge me to reconsider; I’ve been accumulating Martin’s books gradually in preparation, and I might crack the first two before buying more.

Unfinished series don’t always put me off; I’ve started the Dresden Files and found that there are enough of them to keep me busy for a while (I started reading them over a year ago and am only 9 books in).  And meanwhile, sometimes a series is complete, but I still hesitate to start it because I’m not sure which book comes first.  This is why I haven’t started the Earthsea Cycle yet (do you have to read “The Word of Unbinding” first?  Are there three books or six? Someone please share their wisdom).  It’s why I haven’t read Vale of the Vole, despite my friend’s insistence that I’d love it – it’s the tenth of a series I haven’t tracked down.  Then there are times when I gleefully read things out of order:  I read the Peter-and-Harriet books before I got to Peter’s bachelor days, and Prisoner of Azkaban before Chamber of Secrets.

What series(es) have torn you up with waiting?  Which are tearing at you right now?  Upon which cliffs do you hang?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Sleep

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 3: I Keep Falling Asleep

There are a number of wonderful books which, though highly recommended, I have not finished because I fall asleep every time I try to read them.  Even when I’m not reading in bed, I fall asleep: I curl up in my chair, I melt into the couch, I lie on the floor like a cat.  This probably indicates that I don’t get enough rest at night, but perhaps it also indicates something about my reading material.

kitty sleeps on book

Some might think falling asleep indicates the book is dull.  I think it mostly reflects the reader’s (lack of) wakefulness, blood circulation, and attention span; it’s not necessarily the book’s fault.  Thalia and I discussed the fact that though Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture is beautiful, lucid, and interesting, we conk out after a few pages.  My theory is that the ideas are heavy.  It’s like trying to balance a number of well-cut rocks.  You can follow where the reasoning goes, but you also have to carry where you’ve been with you, as though you were trying to pick up a road as you walk on it.  That’s the heavy bit, keeping all those premises in mind, and it exhausts my brain.

Leisure the Basis of CultureOrthodoxyStudies in WordsFrankenstein

Presumably this is also why I fall asleep reading Orthodoxy and, to my shame, Studies in Words.  Possibly I made my attempts at both books in a severely compromised state, since by all rights I ought to have read and loved them by now.  It’s why I never finished my Intercollegiate Studies Institute Reading (work by Kirk and Burke, oh my) or Frankenstein (which still waits on my bedside table for me to return to it).

What books have you fallen asleep reading?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Don’t Have It

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 2: I Do Not Physically Have the Book

As excuses rational explanations go, this one’s pretty airtight, assuming one does not have an e-reader (I do not).  No words, no reading.  That means, of course, that it isn’t one of the myriad titles available on Project Gutenberg, Google Books, or similar online sources.  But then, a lot of books were published too recently for that sort of internet hosting/availability, because copyright.  In which case the actual, physical book must be obtained, and the following potential obstacles surmounted:

    – I’m saving up for it – Sad, maybe, but often the case, especially with textbooks, beautifully bound volumes in used bookshops (all the sets of Austen, Dickens, Doyle, et cetera), and Absolute Sandman Volumes 3-5.  You walk through a bookshop thinking “I’m sorry!  I wish I could take you ALL home, but I can’t!”  Which is responsible of you.  Fret not.

Until I see you again, my dears...

Maybe next paycheck, my dears…

    – I have the money but forgot which title I was looking for at the bookstore – This kept me from SO MANY BOOKS.  It prevented my beginning the Dresden Files for awhile.  I think this is also the reason I haven’t read A Prayer for Owen Meany, as well as other books which, astonishingly, escape me at the moment.  My friend Reneé once gave me a book journal so this wouldn’t happen, and I do use it, but it mostly means there’s one more place for the titles to be other than my head.

This place is HUGE. It must have EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED.

I remembered the title BUT they didn’t have it – Prevented me from getting some Chesterton, Sayers, and Walker Percy along the way.  I think I eventually gave up on big-box bookstores because their target market is just…someone else.  Someone who is really, really interested in board games, financial planning, and self-improvement.

What...no, this isn't what I wanted.This isn't what I wanted at ALL.  I'm gonna grab my coffee and go.What…no, this isn’t what I wanted.  This isn’t what I wanted at ALL.  I am gonna take my coffee and go.

    – I know it’s in my house somewhere… – Dang it, I swear I don’t need your copy of King Lear.  Or Murder on the Orient Express.  I really do have my own!  Why can I find two copies of Murder Must Advertise and none of Whose Body?

    – It Isn’t In My Library (not even via ILL or MelCAT!)  – Since I live in Ann Arbor, this has happened when I’ve looked for particular religious books or conservative thinkers.  Look for Martin Luther and you get Martin Luther King, Jr.  Seek out John Henry Cardinal Newman and you get a single book of essays (which, on one hand, is 35 essays I ought to read; still, a scant offering).  Gene Veith’s work is on MelCAT but not the A2 catalog.  On the other hand, let it be noted that Ann Arbor has a surprisingly wide range of Wendell Berry!  He must appeal to the home-grown locavores etc.

    – It Was Due Back At The Library – I got close to getting somewhere with Golden Apples of the Sun, a complete volume of MacNeice’s poetry, Parade’s End, etc., but then someone else requested it and I had to cry surrender.  I have not yet mustered the will to demand them back.

Have any of these fates befallen you?  What titles are you currently seeking at the store/library/hidey holes in your house?

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Introduction

The Egotist’s Club was not necessarily founded to be strictly a literary blog.  Sure, we love Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter enough to own them as godparents of sorts, and we do read, write, and talk about reading and writing a great deal.  But we also blog about the movies we watch, our observations of society, food and drink, music, and craftsmanship.  Anything pertaining to humanity is fair game: its feats, its fascinations, and its foibles.

And yet…we have, perhaps, given ourselves a rather bookish reputation.  This creates certain impressions, such that every once in a while, there comes a conversation wherein a friend will edge near me, glance about furtively, and then confess that she never got all the way through Lord of the Rings.  Or he’ll say “You’ll judge me for it, but I never did read all of the Narnia books.”  Or “I know everyone’s read it, but I just haven’t finished Hamlet.”

Then I have to tell them how after reading The Hobbit, I started The Lord of the Rings, got to Bree, and stopped.  And then I started again, got to Weathertop, and stopped.  I started again, got to Moria, and stopped.  There was just so much walking, guys.  Eventually I was a sophomore in college, where (seemingly) everyone loved Tolkien with an undying passion, and I had that exact same anxious twinge because I had never made it all the way through.  It came to pass that I befriended the Scrupulously Exact Physicist, who, on hearing this confession, urged me to repentance, saying “You have to read them!” (and moreover, penance: “And then read The Silmarillion!”)  Having been so commanded, I finally muscled through the entirety of  Fellowship, and in fact the entire trilogy – partly by reading during an extremely dull class; never let me claim that Science 101 profited me nothing.

My point is, sometimes you just haven’t read a book, or you feel like it’s too late for it, or sometimes you try reading it and then stop, and far be it from me (or from any of us, really) to make you feel bad about that.  I think the xkcd approach is the best to take:

Randall Monroe, you are totally right about the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Randall Monroe’s right: it’s cool to be around the first time someone picks up that book you love so much.

So this week is for confessing the ways and reasons we are the antithesis of a book club.  To wit, this is the week we (or, well, I, at least) tell you Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet.

Feel free to join in!

On the Reading of Books in the Bath

Back when I did that series of Why I Haven’t Read that Book YetThalia submitted that she might leave a book unfinished because she had dropped it in the bath.

I noted that my fear of getting a book wet had dissuaded me from ever trying to read a book in the bath, and for the most part, this remains the case.

However.  It would be remiss of me not to share this image with those of you who would love nothing more than to take a book and read it amid the delight and bubbles of outrageous bathtime:

Bath book trick


I have been wondering lately. About a Great Many Things.

And yet I have come to no conclusions.

Many things will never be understood in this world, but so thoroughly do I enjoy turning them over in my mind  that I do not mind never having complete answers.

More importantly, there are things that I have no desire to know more about. A little research might lay the subject bare, but I refuse to be so callous in my examination.  They are wonderful in their abstraction and nebulous-ness in my mind.

Or, as more often the case, the strange and very physical presence of wonderous things in my life. I am too dumb practical-minded to be able to concentrate on abstract forms for a long a time.

Shall I make a list of these spurs-to-thought? I like lists! However silly and simple my pondering may be . . .

Things to ponder:

  • The first day of Latin, the teacher announced, “Latin is like calculus. And as a language, it is dead. Dead, dead, dead.” Is that supposed to be encouraging?
  • The Latin word for ‘ambush’ or ‘treachery,’ insidiae,’ is only ever plural. Apparently so is the word “Arma”. Why? Do dangers only every happen two at a time?
  • Why do squirrels eat tomato plants? This, no one knows! (Also, this I might actually research. And attempt to prevent.)
  • How can I lose track of time to such an extent that is actually over a year later before I return a phone call?
  • My friend and I have been planning a clothes shopping trip for over a month. We had a list of items needed, set a date, and looked forward to bargain hunting with anticipation. But the day before our expedition we looked at each other and said, “Do you want to go book shopping?” Duh. Why did we not think of that earlier? At least we got our priorities straight in the end.
  • I hate calculus. It might rank with live chickens – creatures of the Devil – and Paradise Lost.
  • I had a list of books that I needed: some Woolf, some Eliot, Sylvie and Bruno . . . but as soon as I walk into a book store these lists fly out of my head. I think Pratchett is on to something about large quantities of books distorting space and time and reality  . . .
  • I love mangoes. They make my heart contented. Why is this?
  • How can a person think that Latin is like calculus? This boggle my mind, and actually makes me angry.
  • Why can’t people speak in iambic pentameter? Most of have us read enough Dr. Seuss to at least get the idea of it!
  • How can mangoes taste so much like sunshine?
  • Wither went the long, long, long summers of childhood? I will swear that time lasted longer when I was five years old.
  • Words are only representative of ideas or things, so what if they miss the small details of the idea trying to be communicated? What if words fail?
  • Are words like numbers? At all?  Yeah . . .  I didn’t think so.
  • It need more than stark words to communicate an idea or experience. It takes all the cadence and expressions and pictorial quality of poetry to really make the reader know the subject . . .
  • Most people have read Dr. Seuss, haven’t they? If not, then the world is a sad, sad place.
  • I was hunting for a Virginia Woolf book, and I stumbled across a beautifully bound copy of Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter. I was so excited that I started bouncing on my toes and dashed out of the “W” section in order to share the discovery with my friend. And then I remembered Woolf and had to go back. And then I discovered the novel that Welty dedicated to Katherine Anne Porter!!!
  • What is it about beautiful binding that calls to me?
  • Maybe if I had a gorgeous copy of Paradise Lost, I might enjoy reading it more than I do now.
  • Why are some sounds more fun to say than others? I have been chanting “quisque” in my head, solely because I like the sound of the hard “k” and soft “wu” repeated in rhythm.
  • I told my friend the Classics Scholar about the Latin=Calculus remark. She was silent for a moment, then asked coolly, “How big is this guy? Could I take him down in a fight?”
  • I love this friend.
  • We went out for cocktails to charming little place, and I was smitten! Studying at a cocktail bar is a delightful – and surprisingly productive – activity. This seems like a contradiction. Or maybe it is a paradox?
  • One of my professors said that if you repeat a word often enough, it begins to lose all sense of meaning and to you and just becomes sounds. I tried it with the word “voluptuous”. (Only because as a word it very pretty, and it rolls off the tongue easily, I swear!) And it did begin to be simply a voice exercise, with no significance. Hmm. What does this mean?
  • I always forget how much I love Autumn, until I am in the middle of a searing Summer. But the South does not have much an Autumn; last year I did not see any trees turning colors! Why am I here again?
  • Right, I am here because I am learning about beautiful things, like Allen Tate’s Seasons of the Soul. Which justifies the need to experience a hot Southern summer. Both as a reason to endure to learn more and a reason for participation in summer itself.
  • Four book stores later, and still I cannot find a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno, one of my new favorite books. I am not even looking for a nicely bound edition, just a simple copy for me to own! This breaks my heart.
  • I can say, “Nunc Latinam dicere possum,” and “Wheelocum odi!”
  • I have ordered “Green Eggs and Ham in Latin,” just for fun. Will it help me learn Latin? Collapsing Seuss and Language Studies sounds like a brilliant idea!
  • Night time is gorgeous. It has always been my favorite time of day, but only recently am I learning to appreciate night in a city. Fewer stars and more noise, but the presence of humanity has a beauty in its own right.
  • These questions of the limited ability of language and Sylvie and Bruno are closely linked. Carroll seems to be exploring – among many other things – the nature of signs, and how they communicate meaning. Since signs are a social construct, then they are liable to be abused or changed or misunderstood. Not in a Derrida-esque way, but in a Carrollian way of “what would happen if we tweak this word here  . . . ? Can the sounds of “brillig’ suddenly have meaning?”
  • Should I write my thesis on this subject?