Monday, May 28, 2012

Some Supposedly Great Books I Haven't Read (yet)

To begin, allow me a brief orgy of lit-geek bragging: I've read Infinite Jest (every jot, tittle, and footnote), and liked it enough to title this post with a DFW allusion; I've read Ulysses (so many times I've lost count--8 or 9, I think, over the course of 20 years, and I've read individual chapters more often); I've read Finnegans Wake (once end oundly ounced; eat teaks aleavetime to ride its wheel [pardon my truly awful mock-Wakish]); I've read In Search of Lost Time (once complete in Moncreiff's English, and parts of Swann's Way in French while sardined into the coach cabin of a flight from Paris to Detroit); I've read The Magic Mountain, The Recognitions, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Gravity's Rainbow (twice), Against the Day, Underworld, You Bright and Risen Angels, An American Tragedy, and many, many other books that ill-read philistines like to think no one really reads. (And chances are, if you're reading this, so have you.) If you've ever wandered into the literary fiction or criticism aisles of a Barnes and Noble and picked up a wristbreaking volume and asked, "Who reads this shit?" I'm probably the answer to your question.

But enough literary dick-measuring. This post is about the widely acknowledged great books that, for one reason or another, I haven't gotten around to reading (yet), the canonical books that remain closed to me. Since I can't say anything of interest about them, a bare list must suffice:

  • The Aeneid by Virgil
  • The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
  • Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
  • The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
  • The Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle
  • The Changing Light at Sandover by James Merrill
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  • The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  • Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes
  • JR by William Gaddis
  • A by Louis Zukofsky
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I know, I know...that last one raises your eyebrows, doesn't it? "He hasn't read Jane Eyre?! What the fuck?!!?" People are always surprised when I tell them that. It's my sleeved ace in games of 'Humiliation.' I still don't understand how I was able to acquire a B.A. in English without being forced to read Jane Eyre at some point by a Victoriana-enthralled feminist prof. My only answer is: Without god, all things are possible. (To paraphrase a character in another of these books I haven't read.)


Joe Miller said...

Man Without Qualities is fucking incredible (while also being highly accessible and engaging). Be sure to read the old Kaiser/Wilkins translation; it may be incomplete, but it does capture the tone of the German original far more accurately than the newer rendering.

Joe Miller said...

Oh, and it's good to see you posting somewhat frequently again.

Kerridwen said...

I haven't read any of these either, but Jane Eyre will soon be read - In my case my degree won't happen without it! Though I managed to write an essay about Brideshead Revisited without ever reading it..