A Lists State-of-Mind: the Results!

Don’t get me wrong, but I worked hard to complete those lists… It was not so easy as it seemed at first! After 3-4 obvious titles in each category, I had to rake my memory and ask myself deep questions. So here it comes (in no particular order):

Ten books I haven’t read and feel bad about it:

  1. Anything by D.H. Lawrence, to Mr. Smithereens’ dismay. That’s where the bad feeling comes from.
  2. Homer, Odyssey – because at school too many excerpts were forced into my brain, because it was supposedly fun but I did find it cruel and gore (the cyclope made blind by a spear through his eye…!). Perhaps it should move to the second category.
  3. Willa Cather, why, I don’t know. As a teenager I wanted pioneer stories and briefly  turned to her but expected something like The Little House on the Prairie. Guess what, I was disappointed.
  4. Faulkner – his name is enough to terrify me. It just seems too hard.
  5. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960): it’s only by reading American blogs and Oprah magazine that I realized it was a big deal in the US. This book is virtually unknown in France and I don’t even have a clue how they translated the title if they ever did.
  6. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. I don’t know why I didn’t take that one. I was slightly afraid not to understand the deeper meaning – or worse still, not to enjoy the ride. I watched the movie though (with Tilda Swinton) and I have second thoughts.
  7. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses: well, there was a time where everyone said you had to read Rushdie to support freedom of speech, but I didn’t really manage to.
  8. Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
  9. One of the big Chinese classics: either the Water Margins, or the Three Kingdoms, or The Dream of Red Mansions.
  10. Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum. A shame that I haven’t read his most famous pieces, as I loved other books. A recent discovery, I’ll certainly get to the Tin Drum soon.

Ten books I haven’t read and feel (quite) alright about it for the moment, thank you:

  1. Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – I put these names in the first list and then realized that I didn’t really care so much. I don’t understand these guys at all. Am I missing out on something? Perhaps I will never know, but it doesn’t seem a natural “fit” with me.
  2. Teenage vampire stuff. You know whose. Perhaps, one rainy Sunday afternoon with the flu, I’ll watch the movie, but these huge books? I don’t see myself taking the time for them. Sorry folks.
  3. Dostoevsky: I might miss out on something BIG, but nothing in the story of his books appeal to me.
  4. Speaking of Russians, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago. There are other painful accounts of the gulag, I don’t feel the pressure to tackle this, all the more as it is controversial.
  5. Nabokov’s Lolita. I’m not ready for it.
  6. Dan Brown’s stuff. Just not my cup of tea. Watched the movie, found it so-so. Will not waste any more time.
  7. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the rye. I have missed that one when I was a teenager, and as I don’t have a teenager at home for some years, I don’t feel concerned for the moment.
  8. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables. Foreigners who imagine that every French has read it are dead wrong. I have read bits and am familiar with characters and plot, but I don’t feel that it has aged quite well.
  9. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I’m really not sure I will ever get to that one.
  10. Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. It’s out of my league. I don’t want to try just out of literary snobbery. I loved his short story The Dead though.

Ten books I have read and feel bad about it:

  1. Virginie Despentes, Baise moi (Rape me): highly disturbing and provocative book, not to mention obscene and violent. I’m not a good customer for that.
  2. Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho: it might be second-degree humor, but I just couldn’t smile at the violent bits and the voyeur he makes out of us readers
  3. Perhaps not exactly “have read” but should be “have tried and skimmed through”: Mo Hayder, Tokyo: strong stuff, probably too strong for my stomach
  4. In the same sub-category: David Peace, Tokyo Year Zero. It was too post-modern and violent (I have nothing against violent books in general, but there’s a limit not to cross)
  5. ok, lighter stuff, but more controversial: Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Edgehog. This might be shocking to some, but I didn’t like it at all. Couldn’t identify with the schematic characters and found the philosophy behind it too preachy for my taste. Yet I should have liked it, I was right in the target. Weird, ugh?
  6. Gustave Flaubert, L’Education Sentimentale: because I pretended to love it when I read it 10+ years ago, but I’m ashamed to tell I didn’t understand a thing. Must re-read it one day.
  7. A different kind of “bad feeling”: guilt. Tchekov, Sakhalin Island. Because it was a good book and a review copy as well, but I couldn’t bring myself to write the review on my blog. The richness of the book defeated my early attempt to summarize it.
  8. Wilkie Collins, The Dead Secret. I feel bad, because I feel ripped off: there’s no secret in this book! I am very well tempted to shout this out at every prospective reader.
  9. Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher. Disturbing read, even if Jelinek has a lot of literary talent. Not for the faint-hearted, emotionally.
  10. Martin Amis, The Time Arrow. A backwards, highly disturbing book, that left me a bit cold. Memorable, but not in a good sense.

Ten books I have read and feel proud thereof:

  1. Alfred Doblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz. This one is often mentioned in the lists of “books you must read”, but I do feel this is a bluff. This one is nearly un-readable. I tried very hard and finished it but most of it escaped me.
  2. Homer, The Iliad. Because if I have been turned away from the Odyssey, at least I managed this one and even enjoyed it. To enjoy something about 2000 years old was a new concept to me.
  3. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (1969): because it’s not the kind of books I usually read, and yet I enjoyed it.
  4. Roberto Saviano, Gomorra: it was a challenging read and all the more shocking as it is about real organized crime happening close (at least, Italy doesn’t feel so far away anyway)
  5. William Styron, Sophie’s Choice. A meandering, challenging book – but I loved it. My next attempt with Styron was not as succesful though.
  6. Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible — they’re definitely worth it.
  7. Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky – because it was truly beautiful, even though I had to fight every page against very unsympathetic characters
  8. Philip Roth, The American Pastoral – I might not have understood it all, but I definitely was moved.
  9. André Malraux, A Man’s Fate – I read it as a teenager. I’m sure I haven’t reached the deep, philosophical level, but I followed through and liked it.
  10. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Because I was quite afraid of Hardy, but it was quite readable in the end. Will read more of him.

It was a lot of fun to reflect on all my years of reading, to come up with truly memorable titles (even in the third category). And it’s a good way to focus on future areas of discoveries as well! Authors I haven’t read are so many, that the choice was much too large. I wonder if the lists would look the same if I attempt the same exercise in ten years’ time. I don’t mean to tag anyone, but if these lists inspire you, jump in!


5 thoughts on “A Lists State-of-Mind: the Results!

  1. Fantastic list of books. I might steal the idea for a similar round-up. I think you would like To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s an easy read, but beautiful and strange at the same time. And I’d like to read Rushdie, I’ve started him and failed miserably. Maybe one day… I am with you on the Barbery, and if the world doesn’t agree, we’ll form our own little club.

  2. Verbivore – i’ll grab a copy of the Mockingbird next time it’s available on Bookmooch. ok for the secret little Barbery club. I’ll invite the caretaker of my building to join us.

    Stefanie – the notion that people have a nickname such as “Les Mis'” must send Victor Hugo spinning in his grave! 😉

  3. I loved Sophie’s Choice, too, despite all the controversy over it and The Sheltering Sky, too. I never wanted to read anything by Willa Cather as a teen, but I just recently read My Antonia and loved it–am now reading The Profoessor’s House and want to read all her other books as well. Confession–I read Les Mis and it was an uphill slog at times. I feel bad as so many people love it, but it was just too much for me….

  4. I strongly recommend:

    The Odyssey – I too was turned off by the Iliad and all the violence, but the Odyssey is an adventure tale of a man who is going home (eventually).

    Cather – try The Song of the Lark – the early (not pioneer particularly) West and female aspiration and a New Mexico adventure

    Orlando, not – I didn’t care for it, although I like other books by Woolf. Orlando is not “typical” Woolf.

    Rushdie – skip Satanic Verses and read Midnight’s Children. If you can’t do the entire thing, the first 100 pages or so will give you a good idea of Rushdie’s style. He gets repetitious after that.

    Genji – I loved The Tale of Genji and am thinking of rereading it. It is light-hearted stuff – you will enjoy.

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