I’m a slow reader. And as much as reading speed is just a matter of personal style, it’s also starting to limit the amount of books I can read in any year. Tough choices have to be made: books have to be left to lie bleeding, like triage on a battlefield.

It helps to have at least a vague set of criteria already in mind. Super popular books are last on the list, just for fear of looking like a trend-follower. Older books take precedence over newer ones. Strict genre titles always take a back seat to “real” literature, and so on. But these are only guidelines, ways to speed up the process of choosing. Choices still have to be made. And sometimes those choices are difficult to justify later. Sometimes the reasons I put off reading things are almost embarrassing. Here are what I think are my greatest hits of literary procrastination. Please remember, I’m not necessarily proud of these confessions. And confessions are what they are: sins of literary consumption, waiting for the absolving balm of your tender gaze.

1. Anything by Emily Bronte or Jane Austen

Please, forgive me. Seriously. I was never required to read them in school, and I’ve never been inclined to read them on my own. Also, they’ve always come recommended to me by people who are virgins. Or pseudo-virgins. Sexually active people recommended Dickinson to me in high school, and I’ve loved her ever since.

2. For Whom The Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway

My thinking was always, “What’s the point of a long Hemingway work?”

3. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

This is actually the one I’ve taken the most abuse for. I’ve read every other fiction work he’s written (except for Strong Motion), and I don’t hate him as much as other people seem to, so there’s really no excuse for this whole not having read the greatest work of America’s most reviled/respected author.

4. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

The plot always sounded banal to me, in that sort of quasi-tawdry way that always seems to scandalize the same people over and over. But I know I should read it.

5. The Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin

It’s an obscure work, so there’s no shame in not having read it, but my motives are questionable. I have such high hopes for this trilogy, that I’ll be heartbroken if I’m let down. And so the book sits, usually somewhere near my bed, as if at any moment I could pick it up and begin what I hope (I hope, I hope, I hope) will be one of the most fantastic literary journeys of my life.

6. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

I’m not embarrassed to have not read this book, but to have not read it because it has a stupid cover. It’s come highly recommended by people I respect, so I’ll probably eventually read it. (As soon as I get over that stupid cartoon cover that makes it look like a playfully cheeky YA novel.)

7. Anything by Tolstoy

I want to go into the bathroom and cut my inner thigh every time I think about not having read Tolstoy yet.

8. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

I consider this a profound failure, as it was my paternal grandmother’s favorite novel, and I was given her personal copy after she died. Sorry, no jokes here.

9. The Tunnel by William Gass

I love Gass. I love this book. I just, um . . . I never finished it. I’m so lame.

10. Anything by George R.R. Martin

The creeping suspicion that my friends are only reading this because it’s popular (they aren’t really fans of fantasy as a genre, this book being an anomaly in their usual reading) has made me naturally want to buck the social pressure to join in on the phenomenon. Maybe I’ll give the series a try in ten years or so.


 

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  • Scott!  I’m always such a fan of your blog posts, and your list just slays me, but what exactly do you mean by “strict genre titles always take a back seat to ‘real’ literature”!?*  Them’s fightin’ words. 😉  

    *Does anyone know if the ampersand belongs outside the quotes?

    -Catie Disabato

  • Charlotte

    let me just recommend (as a russian speaker/avid reader of russian lit) that if you read tolstoy, ABSOLUTELY 100% go for the richard pevear and larissa volonkhonsky translations.  they are a phenomenal team, and they have brought russian lit to life like no one else!