Books you haven't read but feel you should

I really hope you’re kidding, here. Not to be too pointy; it’s just that I’m generally annoyed by anti-genre snobbery, especially as Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos is so steeped in Romantic/Transcendentalist attitudes and concepts. The books may be SF, but they’re not “just” anything.

(Edited to moderate tone.)

As always, late to the conversation but eager to take part:

I teach American and English literature, so I’ve read an awful lot of the usual “classics,” but the books I haven’t read are kind of telling. For pleasure I mostly read either non-fiction that is associated with my field or, more commonly, sci-fi and fantasy literature. There are only a few “mainstream” authors, such as Ha Jin, Alice Walker, Amy Tan, and a few others, that I follow at all regularly.

So, those gaps:
Anything by Tolstoy except Anna K.
Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables and The Marble Faun (and I am something of an expert on The Scarlet Letter and “Young Goodman Brown,” so this is really quite pathetic, in my opinion!)
Joyce’s Ulysses (started it once, couldn’t finish it)
Les Miserables
Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen (read excerpts but not the whole thing)

On the Tolkien discussion: I’ve always liked the story, but can only really appreciate the writing now. In college I took a course in LoTR, half-expecting it to totally destroy my love of the story. Fortunately, it only deepened it; learning about JRRT’s attitudes about Fairy Tales and their place in modern (and ancient) myth and discovering the ways he intertwined those ideas into the structure of LoTR was fascinating.

No, I was being completely serious here, if not a little tongue-in-cheek with the “mere genre-ist” line.

Simmons said you must have read and immediately recognize a line from a 50+ year old novel by some American writer if you want to be a novelist. Saying that is completely offensive, culturally biased, and completely wrong. Good writing requires good reading, but to claim everyone must have read whatever he decides is “good reading” if they want to be a writer is bullshit pretentious snobbery.

The quality and genre of his books are irrelevant to that - except that I wonder if he is trying to elevate himself above “that fantasy crowd” who haven’t read what he has read. I found the rest of his discussion pretty interesting though.


Ps - for the record, I intend to read one of his books eventually.

I don’t like prescriptive remarks like that, either. On the other hand, consider what he’s saying: writers who came of age in 1960 (50 years ago) were born around 1930-40. They were educated in schools that were far more demanding in language instruction and required reading than today’s sorry excuses for training. They belonged to a print generation, when nearly all knowledge came from reading. Radio and films were the only media distractions, and they were quite literate, with heavy emphasis on dialogue, wit, and irony instead of snark and special effects.

Writers like Mailer, Kerouac, Bellow, Heller, Vonnegut, Updike, Ellison, O’Connor, Ginsberg, Pyncheon, Morrison, Roth, Cheever, Didion: all had extensive educations, deep reading, and editors with similar backgrounds. Many of them were “steeped in Romantic/Transcendentalist attitudes and concepts”. Try Kerouac and Ginsberg, if you want instruction on the ideas of Emerson, Melville, and Whitman. Many other influences, especially jazz and abstract art, led them toward progressive visions of a wide-ranging, racially diverse, global culture. So reading them as models is not that bad an idea. Since, after all, it’s only deep, extensive reading that creates people who are able to write well.

Oh, I see. THAT I totally agree with; I misunderstood and thought you were just putting down that genre of writing. Sorry; I probably should have asked in a less antagonistic way.

That attitude of his IS pretty bad; so is Terry Goodkind’s. Once I read an interview with him, I couldn’t even read his stuff anymore (though it was also that the Sword of Truth series was getting midlessly bogged down with nonsense).

Hmmm I’m new to the board lets see probably at the top of the list of not read but feel I should have are:

Malory’s Le Morte Darthur and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

I have now! Only a novella (‘Mr Gilfil’s Love Story’), but I can now say that I have actually read some George Eliot, and liked it well enough that I will make an effort to seek out more.

To redeem myself from the nearly-recommendation of Twilight, I’ll just say no :smiley:
Although I liked to read it, I definitely wouldn’t say that anyone has to read it.
My own list of must-read-sometimes only contains H.G. Wells at the moment.
I don’t enjoy reading drama really much, but I read some in school - so I know Shakespeare, Goethe and Schiller a bit and I guess that’s… sufficient.
Maybe I would like having read the work of Immanuel Kant, but I assume that I don’t like reading it. :smiley:

Ignoring ones that I’ve no doubt I’ll get round to someday, there are a number of books that I’d be embarassed to read on the train because I should have read them twenty years ago.

I’m thinking of books like “Catcher In The Rye” here.

Here are the books I began to read, but had to abandon, because they were boring me. I know that some people find them fantastic, but I just could make my way through them.

Here are some books that grabbed me as soon as I started to read them, and that I could not put down, until I’ve read to the end.

If you find Hamlet a problem, I suggest you try to find a video copy of the Russian version of the play, made into a movie in 1964: I saw it when it came out, and again in Cambridge UK a decade ago. It was still as good as I had remembered it. Hamlet (Russian: Гамлет, tr. Gamlet) is a 1964 film adaptation in Russian of Shakespeare’s play of the same title, based on a translation by Boris Pasternak. It was directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Iosif Saphiro (1907-1989), and stars Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Prince Hamlet.


1964 Special Jury Prize of Venice Film Festival (Won) - Grigori Kozintsev.
1964 Golden Lion of Venice Film Festival (Nominated) - Grigori Kozintsev.
1964 Best film on the Wiesbaden Shakespeare Film Festival.
1964 On the All-Union Film Festival
    Special Jury Prize for The outstanding realization of the Shakespeare's tragedy and best music - Dmitry Shostakovich.
    Prizes of the Soviet Union of Painters - E. Yeney, S. Virsaladze.
    Prize of the Soviet Union of Cinematographers - Innokenty Smoktunovsky.
1965 USSR State Prize (Won) - Grigori Kozintsev, Innokenty Smoktunovsky.
1966 BAFTA Award for Best Film (Nominated) - Grigori Kozintsev.
1966 BAFTA Film Award for Best Foreign Actor (Nominated) - Innokenty Smoktunovsky.
1966 Special Jury Prize of San Sebastian Film Festival (Won) and Prize of the Nation Federation of film societies of Spain.
1967 Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film (Nominated).

Wikipedia (not Wikileaks!) has a detailed account of it:


Yes, this is probably the best version I’ve seen (I used to know the play pretty much by heart, having been involved in a production that toured overseas). Interestingly, it’s also one of the most straightforward, although in a foreign tongue.

Hmm… I’ve found reading this discussion very interesting. It leaves me not with the burning need to cook up a laundry list of respectable books… but with a few very particular questions.

Everyone seems in agreement that being a great reader is a prerequisite for being any sort of writer. On most days, I’m right there with you. I wonder, though, what that says about human capacity for truly original thought. Must everything be borrowed or influenced or inspired by something else?

Here’s another question: Why be ashamed of great books we have not read? Instead, why not add “yet’’ to the end of that thought? I love knowing that all good things are not behind me. There’s some twisted sense of delight in knowing that literature is not exhausted. Sometimes I think, ''I’m not procrastinating. I’m saving it up!”

One last question… Some writers are doubtlessly skilled and have been acclaimed over years and centuries. That does not mean that their stories speak to me. No, I take that back. Great writers do make you identify with their protagonists, even if the protagonists are abysmal human beings. But. Maybe I don’t want to spent a week or two living inside the head of someone distasteful? I’ve rarely given up on a book because it was boring. I have, however, walked away from a classic author’s tone – a few come to mind that seemed to enjoy the sound of their own voice too much even for a writer. I’ve also put down books that bemoaned the struggles of selfish people who Just Want something that they know to be wrong. Eventually, they decide that they’ve felt guilty and suffered long enough and proceed to do what they want, as if now it’s somehow less wrong. My question is whether it makes me shallow to forgo a book touted by all of intelligent society simply because there is a brand of humanity I don’t care to confront?

Everything you write will be influenced or inspired by the milieu in which you find yourself, whether you like it or not. There’s nothing you can do about that. What you can control is the nature of your influences.

The way I look at it is that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Reading widely gives you a more complete toolbox, a more thorough understanding if what is possible, a better ear for what works and what doesn’t. You’re always going to be influenced by your environment, so the more different colors and textures and sounds your environment contains, the more space for creativity and originality you have.

There are plenty of extremely famous authors whom I can’t stand. If that makes me shallow, who cares: life is too short to waste on books I don’t enjoy.


If you read widely, you are far more likely to understand the current bounds of literary technique and style and therefore be better equipped to continue it’s evolution and write something original.

The narrowly read person who knows no better may be original in his own mind, but is likely to be perceived by others as having reinvented a cliche.

This is why I make a point of always reading one book a year, whether I’m in the mood for it or not.

jeezz!! y’ wanna gerrout more man, an gerra life! :open_mouth:

Well said! Of course, I couldn’t agree more. These musings are coming from a person who swallows a book for week, on weeks when my job doesn’t swallow me. I’m just wondering if a good, mature novel could ever come out of a hermit in the woods abandoned by society. Sadly, I’ve never met one such… If I did, he’d probably turn out to be some sort of criminal on the run from the law, with plenty of past experiences to inform his literary endeavors.

Cheers and applause! Thanks for saying that so I didn’t have to!

I’ve read very little of Azimov’s work. :neutral_face:

It becomes a bit of a hinderance when you come across another lover of spec fix to have so little knowledge of one of the greats from the ‘golden age’, but I simply find myself un-called to his work. I read the initial Foundation novels but after that, the robot fetish the man espoused left me cold.

… and pretty much everything ever written that falls outside the realm of science fiction and its kin genres. I find it to be a bit like red wine. If I have to learn to like it, do I really like it? Or have I just learned not to spit it out on reflex?