Five Books I'm Embarrassed Not to Have Read

A lot of unread books sit upon my shelves. Most of the time I am okay with that. After all, the publishers keep cranking books out, yet I remain one woman with a single set of eyes and very limited time. (I can only read so much, publishers!) And yet, some books -- unread, unbought, not even borrowed from the library -- make me hang my head in shame. Herewith, a list of five books I've never read, but wish I had.

1. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
I brought The Brothers Karamazov on my honeymoon. What a disaster! (My choice of reading material, not the honeymoon.) Since then, I've been leery of taking on what I hear is a pretty exciting book.

2. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.
Everyone I know who has read Moby Dick has become an evangelist for it, and normally I enjoy a good sea yarn, but well, it's really, really long. The closest I've come to reading it is listening (at my husband's strenuous insistence) to a heavy metal album inspired by this Great American Novel. (No joke. It's Mastodon's Leviathan (2004). Look for the whale on the album cover.)

3. Anything by Philip K. Dick.
I assign science fiction reviews for Book World, yet I haven't read a single book by Philip K. Dick. Don't know why. Unleash your scorn, sf fans.


4. Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie.
I'm fascinated by India and love books with fantastical elements. Add epic sweep and I'm hooked. I hear "Midnight's Children" has got it all. Why haven't I read it? No idea.

5. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf.
And I call myself a feminist. . . .

True confession time, dear readers: What books have you neglected to read? Extra points if you answer Harry Potter.

-- Rachel Hartigan Shea

By Christian Pelusi |  September 4, 2008; 7:30 AM ET Rachel Hartigan Shea
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Okay, I guess I'll go first. Books I haven't read--all the Harry Potters, Lord of the Rings trilogy (hmm, perhaps a pattern is developing). But the only non-read ones that make me feel guilty? All those Russian classics.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 4, 2008 8:53 AM

War and Peace, and well, any Russian classic. I never had to read them, and never picked them up on my own.

Macbeth and King Lear

Anything by Hemingway

Posted by: md | September 4, 2008 8:55 AM

Also anything by Hemingway. I was assigned one of his books in college but never got around to reading it. My brother keeps telling me I need to start readinig his books.

I am, however, proud to say I've never read "The Da Vinci Code."

Posted by: Kleewrite | September 4, 2008 10:08 AM

Oops, I didn't mean to post anonymously--I'm the one (the only one, I sometimes think) who hasn't read Harry Potter.

Posted by: Judy Merrill Larsen | September 4, 2008 11:50 AM

In my office, three of us have read Moby Dick. I loved it (having learned from Grapes of Wrath how to skim intercalary chapters). One guy HATED it and the other just found it tedious. We're all real and regular readers.

I wish I knew more people who enjoyed it.

Posted by: Em | September 4, 2008 12:06 PM

I haven't been able to make it through anything by Jane Austen.

Posted by: Carla Jean | September 4, 2008 12:17 PM

Never finished 'Last of the Mohicans' Read first 50 pages and realized it was the worst book ever written and never broke the cover again- even tho' it was required reading in my college class.

Emily Dickinson's poems- sigh...

Posted by: tom | September 4, 2008 2:09 PM

I read 'Moby Dick' about 25 years ago while on jury duty in the District of Corruption. Back then jury duty was two whole weeks -- you had to show up and wait around all day to be chosen for a jury. None of the defense attorneys would let me on a jury because I had worked at different times for the FBI, the Metropolitan Police Department, and ATF. In fact I knew many of the police officers who were to testify in court on cases being heard during that 2-week period. Too bad. I read 'Moby Dick' plus a few other books while cooling my heels.

Posted by: NW DC | September 4, 2008 2:28 PM

Ohh so many choices in this topic.

I'd have to say, Les Miserables (working on it now though!), Of Mice and Men, Frankenstein, and 1984 are definitely some of the top selections...

Posted by: Sooz | September 4, 2008 3:14 PM

Okay, I'll bare my soul further. The only John Updike I've read is an odd novel he wrote about Gertrude and Claudius from Hamlet. Also haven't read any Martin Amis. (Anybody notice a pattern developing?)

Posted by: Rachel Shea | September 4, 2008 3:18 PM

"Ulysses" is number one on The Modern Library's "100 Best Novels" list, but it sounds like 700+ pages of "tough read", so I haven't tried it yet.

BTW, I sometimes got lost in the historical part of "Midnight's Children", but the fantastical, and cultural, and symbolic, elements of the book were excellent, not to mention the overall writing style and epic feel of the book.

Posted by: JohnJ | September 4, 2008 3:31 PM

I loved Moby Dick when I really read it, "x" number of years (okay, decades) out of college. Lots of wit, lyricism, character, everything going for it. I read Philip K. Dick's The Man In the High Castle literally by accident in high school and loved it though I'm no sci fi fan. I've read many a Dickens but what is in now? Bleak House, and no, I haven't read it. I've read many a Faulkner and what is in? Absalom, Absalom, and no, haven't read that. Crime and Punishment? No, but that doesn't seem to be an embarrassment anymore. But Ulysses? I hang my head low, really low. I've learned that Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist don't cut it. I just ordered David Lodge's "Changing Places" in which, I've heard, people really get in trouble for what they have not read.

Posted by: Aging lit major | September 4, 2008 9:19 PM

Oh yeah, Harry Potter, too. I do fantasy better on film. Likewise, Tolkien.

Posted by: Aging Lit Major | September 4, 2008 9:24 PM

I would encourage you to read Crime and Punishment, it's wonderful...one of my all time favorites.

As to my own List of Shame:

1. David Copperfield, (I even have a copy on my shelf at home)

2. War and Peace (ditto above excuse)

3. Proust

4. Anything by Thomas Pynchon

5. Middlemarch - I've heard such good things about it, but never got around to it, why?

By the way, I love the idea for this list I'm going to 'borrow' it for my blog (and link to you of course with due credit)

Posted by: Suzanne | September 5, 2008 12:48 AM

Oh, I forgot to mention.....I have not read any of the Harry Potter books.

Posted by: Suzanne | September 5, 2008 1:16 AM

I'm an editor, too, so I join Rachel in professional shame. I haven't read any Proust, Virginia Woolf, or Dickens. And I only read the first Harry Potter book. Sigh...

Posted by: Sappho | September 5, 2008 9:06 AM

I'm a librarian and part of my professional philosophy is that it doesn't matter what you are reading as long as you are reading.

That said, my finally reading The Odyssey ten years ago kicked off a reading hot streak that hasn't ended.

Take a chance on Ulysses, too, go into it knowing you will only grasp roughly a third of what is on any given page and you'll be fine. It is as amazing as they say.

Posted by: basil | September 5, 2008 12:59 PM

All credit for this idea should go to Carlos Lozada, one of the fine editors on the National desk, who saw a video of British authors being quizzed on books they hadn't read. We hope to do the same at the National Book Festival on Sept. 27.

Posted by: Rachel Shea | September 5, 2008 1:42 PM

1. All the Harry Potters
2. Great Expectations
3. Lord of the Flies
4. All the "Highly Effective People" management books.
5. All Virginia Woolf - I tried, I really did, but I kept looking for recognizable sentences.
6. Bright Lights, Big City
7. Dune et. al.
But I can quote Austin, I made it through Moby (but hated it, especially the chapter on the whiteness of the whale). And if it's nonfiction, I'm there!

Posted by: babsy1 | September 5, 2008 2:24 PM

Middlemarch is truly splendid - you won't notice the page count!

Posted by: babsy1 | September 5, 2008 2:26 PM

1. Anything by Faulkner
2. The Odyssey
3. Great Russion novels besides Crime and Punishment, which I loved
4. Love in the Age of Cholera
5. Anything by Henry James

I don't think I'll pick up Love in the Age of Cholera, but the others are definitely on my list for upcoming library visits, assuming the library has them. Thanks for the topic

Posted by: Anonymous | September 5, 2008 4:48 PM

Whoops, my Anonymous at 4:48 wasn't meant to be anonymous.

Posted by: Esleigh | September 5, 2008 4:49 PM

As a young, independent minded black man, I am ashamed to say I have read nothing by James Baldwin. Not a novel, not one essay, or short story, nothing

Posted by: Ira Rigaud | September 6, 2008 1:44 PM

I've also never read "Nicholas Nickleby" or "Les Miserables," even though they've been on my bookshelf for more than 20 years. I finally picked up my 20-year-old copy of "David Copperfield" a couple of years go for the first time. Loved the book, but halfway through, the binding split down the middle, and I had to go buy a new copy.

Also on my bookshelf but haven't read: "Middlemarch" and "War and Peace."

Posted by: KLeewrite | September 8, 2008 12:39 PM

I have never read The Fountainhead. My ex-husband tried and tried to get me to read it and the more he tried, the more I resisted. Then he left me! Maybe not all because of the book though.

Posted by: Beau | September 9, 2008 11:50 AM

1. Any novel by Virginia Woolf.
2. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
3. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.
4. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.
5. The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.

I have To the Lighthouse on my to-be-read bookshelf. Ditto for the others. When guests browse that shelf, it's always a dilemma for me to reveal the truth about it. How long have they been there? How much dust is on them? There's something about being on that shelf for too long that screams out "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!"

Posted by: Terry | September 10, 2008 11:51 AM

War & Peace. Absolutely. I want to have read it, but haven't successfully made myself. The sixth grader in me says it's boring...how embarassing -- and I "love" to read!

Posted by: Gottawrite Girl | September 10, 2008 10:46 PM

have read the first two. eventhough i am indian, have never gotten through an entire rushdie book. never heard of mr. dick. can someone recommend a book by mr. dick? thanks

Posted by: Anonymous | September 11, 2008 8:34 AM

Philip Dick: Man In The High Castle.

Posted by: Aging Lit Major | September 11, 2008 9:35 AM

Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past". I own them and even read the first 50 pages or so of the first book, but alas that is as far as it went.

I read the first 2 Harry Potter books and stopped there, I didn't like them. I thought they were too simply written for an adult (yes, I know many disagree with me). I preferred the movies.

Could not get through Lord of the Rings. Although I often think I should try again, since I was quite young the first time I tried to read them. And I wasn't that wild about the movies, either. All that endless, bloody fighting!

Posted by: CJB | September 11, 2008 12:26 PM

The Bible. And Harry Potter. But not embarrassed about the HP(though not proud).

Also? Milton's Paradise Lost. And I was essentially an English major. Got burned out after reading a couple epics before him- The Iliad, Odyssey, Divine Comedy, Moby Dick. And I drew the line at Milton. "They also serve who only stand and wait," though, eh?

Yes, I am a huge dork for saying that. But it's to point out that his SHORT poetry is much, much better.

Posted by: Matt | September 11, 2008 2:27 PM

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