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.

George Saunders

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.

Zadie Smith

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.

Dave Eggers

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.

Ann Patchett

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?¬†

Photo by Flickr User Germ√°n Poo-Caama√Īo¬†licensed under¬†Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).


“How Haven’t You Read That Yet?”: College Edition

Infinite Jest openbookWith college graduation season upon us, I thought it would be fun to compile a post of some well-known “classics” and canon favorites that I was not subjected to during my four years at university.

One of my favorite things about being an English major is that you’ve more-than-likely had an entirely unique and different experience from other English majors because so much of the course of study is based on the works you read. Yes, all English majors will learn about Modernism and Romanticism and Structuralism, but you will not learn it through the same exact lens.

Some professors prefer post-World War II literature while others have a particular soft spot for the Puritans. Some professors teach white men and white men only¬†while¬†others tend to focus on women writers and writers of color (though not nearly enough of them). Some professors find poetry in Hemingway’s prose while others would choose Fitzgerald every time. And there will always be the band of purists who believe Shakespeare is (and always will be) the end-all be-all of literature.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that you could sit in a room full of English majors and the chances of them having the exact same course of study is slim-to-none, which is pretty cool if you ask me. However, it does leave room for certain important works and even authors to slip through the cracks of study, which is a shame.

So, without further adieu, here are some of the popular novels I didn’t read during college:

Frankenstein1. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Having taken a Science Fiction course, I would have thought we would have read Mary Shelley, as she is often referred to as the “mother of science fiction.” For a genre that has become a bit of a boy’s club, the title is awe-inspiring as Shelley was only eighteen when she starting writing Frankenstein. The book itself has become a bit of a cultural Frankenstein itself‚ÄĒbastardized bits have made their way into the public psyche, but not many know Shelley’s version…myself included.¬†

Hamlet2. Hamlet, Shakespeare

I know. I know. How is this even possible right? It’s like not reading Romeo and Juliet (I have. Don’t you worry). I just never had a professor who assigned the work (it seems to be more of high school favorite, but I wasn’t assigned it there either). My professors chose instead to focus on the playwright’s sonnets, King Lear, and Much Ado About Nothing. Maybe the fact that I chose 21st-Century Literature over¬†the¬†Shakespeare courses played a part in being denied Hamlet, but I did take a Drama class, so the odds were sort-of, kind-of in my favor.

The Picture of Dorian Gray3. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

Even though I have not read Wilde’s only published novel, I was thankfully not denied his wit while in college‚ÄĒI was assigned The Importance of Being Earnest twice during my time at school (which I loved, loved, loved). This novel isn’t as popular on syllabi¬†as I imagine it once was, but I do know people who were able to find the beautiful horror in Wilde’s timeless protagonist (get it?). Unfortunately, I was not one of them.¬†


4. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

On the Road

Now, I know this isn’t a “classic” per say, but it was a staple on many professor’s syllabli, except for mine that is.¬†I think it is very much a college text in the sense that Kerouac (and the Beat Generation) generally embodies the rebellion and recklessness and existential crises that define people of “typical” university age. I wasn’t completely denied Kerouac’s spontaneous prose though; I read his short story “Home at Christmas,” which I enjoyed quite a bit. If On the Road is anywhere near as tactile and visceral as that prose piece, I can see myself being way more fair to Kerouac in the future.

These may not be the most well-known or most-read texts, but they were big ones that I felt were missing from my English major curriculum. There were some authors who I missed out on completely like William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, and Vladimir Nabokov. But I was lucky enough to have read amazing writers like Edwidge Danticat, bell hooks, and David Foster Wallace.

I guess the only answer is to try to read all the works I missed out on. Better late than never, as they say.

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What “classic” books did you not read during college? What’s the most “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?” book?¬†Have I lost all my credibility as a book blogger? (Don’t answer that last one)