Ten Books Unread (Why We Don’t Read Books)

Ten books I have not read:

1) Middlemarch by George Eliot
2) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
3) Moby Dick by Herman Melville (unfinished)
4) The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
5) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Bettie Smith
6) Dune by Frank Herbert (unfinished)
7) The Name of the Rose by Umberto echo
8) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (unabridged)
9) The Time Machine by HG Wells
10) A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I read a lot. When I hit my stride, it can be more than a book a day. In linguistic anthropology there’s a principle that for every word you say, you don’t say 1000 others. It is the same for books. Every time you pick up one book, you do not pick up any other book that has been written. This is why there will always be books you haven’t read.

More interesting are the reasons why we don’t read them.

1) Stubbornness

When I learned piano, I refused to learn Fur Elise. I could listen to it without being annoyed, but it was what every other person was learning to play. This is what has prevented me from reading The Scarlet Letter. I have nothing against Nathaniel Hawthorne. I picked up a book of his short stories once. But the way that they push it on highschoolers could give drug dealers lessons.

As with Beethoven, this has led me to miss out on a work of literature that has stood the test of time, is revered by many, and provides introduction to American literature to most.

Not a good enough reason for me not to read it

2) Forgotten and Someday Books

The Alchemist and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn fall into this category. I only remembered these two specifically because I was browsing through my new library and saw the titles. I thought to myself, “I’ll read them later.” Then I moved on to something else. I probably will read them later, but only if I remember to write them down. Neither of them have been impressed upon me by other readers and, while I know they are modern classics, I always seem to have another book that is more insistent.

This is also not a good enough reason to not read a book, but it is easily alleviated. I keep a book journal. In it I list out the books I would like to read and read them as I can get a hold of them. Both Both books are the available at my local library, so they will probably come off the list in the next year.

The forgotten books are usually those that I don’t feel like buying and are not worth going out of my way to find. Frequently, I discover I’ve missed out on something quite wonderful by putting them off.

3) The Projects

Even though I write posts on making classics accessible, there are the classics that I haven’t approached. While I am not avoiding them, I usually want to dedicate a period of time to them to treat them as they deserve. Then I make excuses if I have a different time block. The problem with this logic is that I can indefinitely put them off. The three books in this category for me are Middlemarch, the Name of the Rose, and Moby Dick. Each of these books I intend to read this year, partly because they are towers of their own and partly because they have lasted for a reason.

3) Story Dread

There are books that I have begun and gotten significantly into, but I can see the trajectory of the story. If it follows through on its promises, then horrible things are going to happen. Or it isn’t going to follow through on it’s promises and I’m going to be grumpy about the storyline. The main book for me in this category is Dune by Frank Herbert. I have really enjoyed the combination of science fiction and fantasy, but I cannot bring myself to finish it. I have picked it up four times, most recently in audiobook format and only made it halfway through. I don’t subscribe to the hundred pages minus your age way of assessing a book. As Alan Bennett said in The Uncommon Reader, “one learns to finish ones books.” I can’t do it with this one. I could list on one hand the number of books in this category.

The thing is I cannot decide if this book will just fall into the next category or if I need to get over myself.

4) Books I Never Intend To Read

This is where A Confederacy of Dunces falls. Like I said at the beginning to choose to read one book is to choose to not read many others. I have read the back cover, the Kindle excerpt, and talked to people who have read it. It does not interest me. And that’s OK. It is not keeping me from reading other books or from talking to people about them. Does not having the intention of reading a book ever mean I never well? No, if someone I wanted to get to know or cared about deeply wanted to read it with me, I would. At that point it is about the person, not the book.

Good enough reason.

5) Other Books Sound Better

In this category are Gulliver’s Travels and The Time Machine. I have read some crummy children’s version of Gulliver’s Travels. I’m sure it does no justice to the real thing. Every time I pick up these two they go back on the shelf for something else. They aren’t forgotten and they aren’t on my
‘to read’ list, they are passed over. I would rather be reading Poe, Goethe, or Jim Butcher. They are adventures and they might sound better than something else someday, but until then I won’t read them sometime at all.

Good Reason.

What we read and what we choose not to read are a part of what make us unique individuals. I need to lay aside my prejudice against The Scarlet Letter. As to the rest, as long as what I am choosing fits the guidelines of quality, diversity, and good old fun what is on my unread list doesn’t bother me too much. The most important thing is not to read in fear or be ashamed of what I haven’t read. Reading is a conscious choice and so what we don’t read should be too.

Happy Reading,
– Kate

Think about the books you DO read and why for the next thirty days.

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