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:
- Anything by D.H. Lawrence, to Mr. Smithereens’ dismay. That’s where the bad feeling comes from.
- 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.
- 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.
- Faulkner – his name is enough to terrify me. It just seems too hard.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
- One of the big Chinese classics: either the Water Margins, or the Three Kingdoms, or The Dream of Red Mansions.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Dostoevsky: I might miss out on something BIG, but nothing in the story of his books appeal to me.
- 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.
- Nabokov’s Lolita. I’m not ready for it.
- Dan Brown’s stuff. Just not my cup of tea. Watched the movie, found it so-so. Will not waste any more time.
- 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.
- 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.
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I’m really not sure I will ever get to that one.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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
- Perhaps not exactly “have read” but should be “have tried and skimmed through”: Mo Hayder, Tokyo: strong stuff, probably too strong for my stomach
- 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)
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher. Disturbing read, even if Jelinek has a lot of literary talent. Not for the faint-hearted, emotionally.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five (1969): because it’s not the kind of books I usually read, and yet I enjoyed it.
- 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)
- William Styron, Sophie’s Choice. A meandering, challenging book – but I loved it. My next attempt with Styron was not as succesful though.
- Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible — they’re definitely worth it.
- Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky – because it was truly beautiful, even though I had to fight every page against very unsympathetic characters
- Philip Roth, The American Pastoral – I might not have understood it all, but I definitely was moved.
- 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.
- 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!