If you’ve ever wanted dirt on me, here’s the place to find it because I’m about to air some seriously dirty laundry — of the literary variety.
If you are a reader, you have felt the crushing feeling of “how haven’t I read that yet?” In Pamela Paul’s book, My Life with Bob, which is essentially a love letter to reading and books, she articulates the idea behind “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?”:
This is every reader’s catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing. There is no way to finish, and perhaps that shouldn’t be the goal.
(Can I just mention how I am absolutely in love with My Life with Bob? I find myself nodding enthusiastically and “mhmmm’ing” nearly every passage. It is the ultimate book for bibliophiles.)
Lately, I’ve been wondering less about unread books than I have about unread authors. Despite studying English in college and reading 30ish books each year, there are some authors that I just have not read yet. I wanted to list the big ones – the ones I see as the biggest blind spots in the literary life – and I came up with four. There are many more, but these feel the biggest, and most “How Haven’t I Read That Yet?” worthy.
I think a big reason why I haven’t read George Saunders yet is that I used to not love short stories. I just never, ever read short story collections thus I never encountered Mr. Saunders. However, my tastes have changed in the past year or so, and I’ve read 3 short story collections in that time. When Lincoln in the Bardo came out earlier this year, I knew I wanted to read it. Not only did it get wonderful reviews, but the synopsis pulled me in immediately. I received a copy of Lincoln in the Bardo in April (thanks, Mom!) so I’m hoping to remove George Saunders from my “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?” list very, very soon.
This one hurts because so many of my absolute favorite authors read, love, and recommend Zadie Smith on a regular basis. She is a beacon in the literary community that I subscribe to so it feels wrong to have not read her yet. I own a copy of White Teeth and tried to read it once, and only got through a couple of pages. It just wasn’t the right time for me to read it, which happens even with the best of books. I know without a doubt that I will eventually get to Smith’s books and I will love them. I’ve read her work on The New Yorker and I adore it — but I still consider having not read her because I’ve never read any of her books. I’m going to try to change that this year by either reading On Beauty, Swing Time, or White Teeth. We shall see which one (or three) make it on my Read list.
I first heard of Dave Eggers in college when my creative non-fiction professor recommended Zeitoun. From then on, I started hearing his name everywhere. And, if you hadn’t before, you will now that his novel, The Circle, is being made into a movie. Eggers is one of those authors that I’ve meaning to read for years but I never remember to buy his books or take them out from the library. In the summer after my college graduation, when I was thick in an existential crisis, I began hoarding books – especially eBooks. I was constantly searching the daily deals for eBooks and trying to find something worth downloading. One day I saw A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius on sale for $2.99 and I snapped it up…but did not read it. My obsession with eBooks was short lived so the book is still sitting on my dead Kindle. One day I’ll fire it up and acquaint myself with Dave Eggers. After all, it’s been a long time in a making.
This one feels especially embarrassing because Ann Patchett is such a prolific and respected writer. I confess, I started and stopped reading Bel Canto a few years ago. It was not because it wasn’t well-written – I was actually enjoying it quite a bit – but I was also juggling quite a few other books at the time and it fell by the wayside. It doesn’t feel right to count her as “read” when I haven’t finished any of her works. As far as some of other works, Truth and Beauty was another recommendation by the same professor and it’s been on my To-Read list ever since, and I spent the past year reading rave reviews of Commonwealth (which I recently bought at a wonderful bookshop). Don’t judge me. I promise to fix my Ann Patchett problem in 2017.
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What is your biggest and most embarrassing “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?” Have you read (or all) of these authors? If so, who?