Monday, December 12, 2011

The Unread

In the last few weeks, newspapers and magazines have been unrolling their "best of the year" book lists, and I am once again realizing that I have only managed to read a handful of them. Certainly I've read about many of the books, and I've read some of them, but every trip to a bookstore reminds me of all the books I've been wanting to read and have not yet gotten to. For new releases, I don't feel too bad, but when I spot a book on a shelf (such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot) that I've been meaning to read since before this time last year, I start to feel a pang of guilt. Were there books I read this year that I should have put aside in favour of these other books I've been looking forward to? (The answer is definitely yes, but when reading is part of your job, you sometimes read books you otherwise would not.)

I've saved 1Q84, Haruki Murakami's latest, for the holidays, but it's so big (and the holidays so inevitably full of non-reading activities) that I probably won't get through the other books I had planned to read. 

Over at the National Post, this trouble of The Unread has become an on-going series, started by books editor Mark Medley coming clean about some of the classics (traditional and modern) that he has not yet read. Certainly, I've read many classics. I've read The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, all the Anne of Green Gables books, 1984 and Animal Farm, The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises, among many others. But, like Mark, I have not read Moby-Dick or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series (despite having all three volumes on my shelf and having read Stieg Larsson's widow's book). I also bought the first Hunger Games book in the spring and have yet to crack the cover. Until last year, I hadn't read any of Margaret Atwood's novels (I've since read three); I still haven't read Watership Down or Brave New World, and I managed to get an English degree without reading any T.S. Eliot, Jane Austen, or myriad other big and influential authors. Despite having bought a book of Chekov short stories almost eight months ago now, I still have not read any of the Russians. And, although these are all books and authors I'd like to get to, there are a bunch of recent releases I'd also like to read.

For some reason, it seems easier to put off reading classics. Likely, it has something to do with the sense that they've always been around, so it won't hurt to wait a little, whereas new releases sometimes feel so of the moment, waiting seems impossible. Partly too, many of the classic stories are so classic I feel I know them already. Of course, knowing the story of Wuthering Heights isn't the same as immersing yourself in the language and drama of the novel, but nonetheless, there is less urgency there.

 Miraculously, I managed to read all five of the books I set out to read this year, so perhaps next year I'll  as a classic to the list and see if that helps. In the meantime, what are the unread books that weigh most heavily on you? Will you try to read one over the holidays?

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