All Those Books I Haven’t Read

It’s that time of year again: ‘best books of 2012’ lists are popping up on every blog, website, magazine, and newspaper I read. December, January, and February are months for reflections, compilations and awards, and yet for me they often seem to induce guilt. There are so many books and so little time. How did I get through another good year for books while reading so few? If I look at statistics that I’ve kept on my blog, I’ve read nearly 70 books this year from a wide variety of genres. Seventy books is a lot and yet it is only a tiny drop in the vast sea of books existing in the world today.

For the first half of this year I worked as a librarian in a public library and I have now spent six months working in the circulation department of an academic library. In some ways, my regular perusal of Publishers’ Weekly and Library Journal and the carts of books that surround me each day at work have dulled my appetite for reading, much like the employees of a chocolate shop who must inevitably become desensitized to their wares lest they risk perpetual indigestion. On the other hand, working among so many tantalizing options sometimes produces a sort of frenzied anxiety within me: how can I pass up reading so many interesting things when they are sitting there waiting for me every day?

Equally as strong as my desire to simply possess the knowledge enclosed in all those lovely books is my desire to be the person who is cool enough to have read all of them. Yes, I know that this mystical person doesn’t exist, but who among us has not had the experience of being the lone person in the room who hasn’t read Moby Dick or The Sun Also Rises? My first brush with imposter syndrome occurred, naturally, in a graduate program studying literature. Like many graduate students I became adept at talking about books I’d never read and films I’d never watched. Yes, I did get around to filling in some of the holes in my knowledge, but there are still some classics of the canon that I’ve never read.

Then I started working in a library and realized that, contrary to popular perception, librarians don’t actually know everything. They’re just really good at finding everything. Sure it was great to recommend books based on what I had read, but I also learned how to use review databases, booklists, sites like GoodReads, and my coworkers to talk about books. I don’t have to have read everything—that’s just impossible. I think sometimes this is a hard concept for me because I love to read all kinds of things. Though, if I think about it, I do have topics and genres I prefer above others. I’m not a big fan of speculative fiction or horror, most romance books don’t do a lot for me, and I have no interest in reading about sports. Right now I read a lot of contemporary literary fiction, historical fiction, and nonfiction about history or social issues. One of the fun things about working in a library is that you can associate with people who care about all kinds of books.

One thing I do care about is LDS literature, and I’m afraid that this year I have been failing miserably in my attempts to show how much I care by reading books. This is when I shamefully confess that I have not yet read anything by Stephen Peck, I haven’t read Millstone City yet, and I’ve barely thought about The Five Books of Jesus , The Unlikely Gift of Treasure Bloom and The Roots of the Olive Tree. Not to mention new things by some of my favorite authors like Dean Hughes, Carla Kelly, and Melanie Jacobson. I feel the most guilt about falling behind with new LDS fiction because failure to read it before December 31st means I cannot nominate it for a Whitney Award. There are three weeks left in the year, so I guess I could still give it a go and do my part. I invite you to do yours. No, you can never read all the books. But read a few LDS books from 2012 and hop over to the Whitney Nominations site. You’ll feel better about yourself if you do.

This is when I confess that I’ve never read Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, or The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve also never seen a James Bond movie or watched any version of Star Trek. What literary sins of omission have you committed? Have you nominated anything for the Whitneys yet?

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19 Responses to All Those Books I Haven’t Read

  1. Scott Hales says:

    I’ve never read Ender’s Game, which I understand severely undermines my credibility as a Mormon fiction enthusiast.

    I’ve also never read a Harry Potter novel.

  2. Wm says:

    I nominated Millstone City, Partials, Palace of Stone, Midnight in Austenland, The Hollow City and The Five Books of Jesus.

    I still need to nominate The Emperor’s Soul. And I’m running out of time to read more (I may not get to the Santo so those of you who have read it, please go and nominate it). I nominate almost every work that I’ve read that’s elegible because I want them all to clear the bar so that the judges will look at them. So long as I at least kinda liked it (and all the titles I list above go from liked to really liked) I nominated it.

    And: I have to ask Th. what he was thinking getting Byuck out now. Have not I railed against December publication for Mormon novel? Well, hopefully, enough of you read it to nominate it. It only takes five, right?

    • Scott Parkin says:

      Speaking for myself only, it’s the desire to be available for the Christmas print-book season, and the January e-book season (after people get their Kindles, Nooks, and iPads/iPods for Christmas).

      Awards should consider going to a July-June fiscal year (or at least push/grandfather December books into the following year’s eligibility) to avoid that well-known tendency and encompass both August and December pushes.

  3. Scott Parkin says:

    Sins of omission:

    * Nearly any of the notable books in Mormon fiction over the last ten years. Other than a few gifts or review copies, I have read very few of the novels or anthologies that have been discussed here.

    * Any portion of either The Work and the Glory series, or the Storm Testament series.

    * Foundation sf works, including the Foundation series by Asimov, anything by Brandon Sanderson, anything by C.J. Cherryh, anything by Lovecraft, Howard, or Rice-Burroughs.

    * Classic Russian novels, though I did enjoy the one I read (Crime and Punishment), it took me four tries to get past that bridge scene about half-way through. Loved it once I did. My wife recommends Brothers Karamazov; I’ve been reading Tolstoi short(ish) fiction recently.

    * American sitcom TV. Never watched Lost, West Wing, Seinfeld, X-Files, any CSI series, or anything (except Fringe) currently popular.

    Sins of incompletion:

    * Only read one book each of Twilight, Hunger Games, and Wells’ Serial Killer series. Only regret not completing the Wells series.

    * Not nearly enough Dan Simmons or China Mieville.

    Sins of commission:

    * Golden Compass series; Lord of the Flies; Atlas Shrugged. All useful for context and broad literary familiarity, but no personal enjoyment in the end.

    ===

    The key to Moby Dick is to read it as a tongue-in-cheek, overstated, mildly absurdist comedy. Read as such, it’s both powerful and funny. In my opinion.

    • Wm says:

      I totally agree on the Golden Compass series.

      With China Mievelle, I’d skip straight to Railsea.

    • Wm says:

      Scott P:

      The Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Anna Karenina is a must. Even more than the Brothers Karamazov. Okay, maybe even with.

      Also: their translation of The Master and Margarita.

  4. Jonathan Langford says:

    Imposter syndrome. Ah, yes. I know it well…

    I agree with Scott Parkin about Moby Dick, except I’m not sure I would say “absurdist.” Definitely tongue-in-cheek, though. Melville is poking fun at an entire intellectual tradition. I mean, really. Classifying whales by book size (quarto, octavo, etc.)?

    Sins of omission… As a sometime medievalist and reader of Italian, my most breathtaking is that I’ve never read The Divine Comedy. That’s the sort of thing they’d take away my PhD for, if I’d ever completed it. (Kidding! Just kidding…) In Mormon literature, the fact that I haven’t read The Giant Joshua or The Backslider probably are my biggest gasps/gaps. I’ve never read any of the Twilight books, but don’t feel any great absence there. In my native field of sf&f, probably my biggest omission is never having read anything from Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series.

    And I’ve only seen the first of Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies, though I’ve heard plenty about the other two. That’s probably something I should correct before being on a Tolkien panel at LTUE this coming February. My lack of knowledge in movies and television, however, is vast and nearly comprehensive.

    It’s been an extremely bad year for me for reading Mormon fiction. Or rather, it has been since my big effort toward the beginning of the year for Whitney voting. I’m not going to try to repeat that this coming year. Only so many places I can put my efforts… though several of the books I’ve been hearing about sound really good. Assuming that we get the AML book review club going, I’ll try to stay up with that for the coming year.

  5. Scott Parkin says:

    Okay, not absurdist. But at least intentionally over the top. The whaleskin vest, how St. George slew a whale rather than a dragon, whale by book size, etc., end up being marvelous satire, but only if read as such. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe it’s still taught as a serious novel rather than a satire.

    Of course you can read The Divine Comedy in Italian, but if you decide to go with an English translation let me suggest the John Ciardi set. It includes very useful notes at the ends of each canto, and makes a creditable attempt to recreate an English poetic rhythm that’s true(-ish…I hope…what do I know about Italian?) to the spirit of the natural rhythms and rhymes of Italian. A delightful read, even for a guy like me who gets no thrill from poetry.

    (German poetry, btw, is the second easiest thing in the world to rhyme since most German verb infinitive forms end in -en and are stacked at the ends of sentences.)

    Though for me, The Paradiso remains only half-read (despite having read both The Inferno and The Purgatorio at least three times each). It bores me senseless.

  6. One valuable function of the Whitney Awards (or any award, actually) is to narrow the list of top books in a field enough to make it manageable.

    That said, my sad confession is that Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet may be the only Whitney winner in any category that I have actually read.

  7. Th. says:

    .

    Mormon books: The Backslider must be my biggest gap. I did read The Giant Joshua this year, I still haven’t read its competing novels by Virginia Sorensen and Vardis Fisher. Haven’t read any Samuel Taylor. Most of the most reputable books from Deseret and Covenant over the last ten years. Pretty much Dean Hughes’s Promises (first series only) is it for me.

    But look at my Mormon books and how few are marked “e-read” and see for yourself. (Not up to date, but a good glimpse.)

    Note: I’m only halfway through Courtney Santos’s Roots of the Olive Tree but it’s great and you should totally read it.

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