I’m a writer. I write. And writers read. You can’t write without being a skilled reader. Reading like a writer is important to understand structure and pace and tone from the greatest of the great. Reading other writers works is a serious endeavor and should be considered important to the craft.
And this is a big but.
What if you haven’t read some of the books you and everyone else think you should have? I’m talking about the books that are considered essential, books one believes every writer worth his weight should have read—the best of all time, the greatest of a generation, modern classics, or just…classics, period.
Here is a list of books I have not read, or at least never finished after trying to get through them. This, I’ll admit, is a confession in many ways. But like a lot of confessions, it is cathartic.
, James Joyce. Started. Bounced around it. Never finished.
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. Started. Never finished.
The Brothers Karamazov
, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Never read.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. Started. Never finished. Lost interest.
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. Never started.
, Gustave Flaubert. Started. Never finished.
Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens. Started twice. Never finished.
Nearly all of these books are on a shelf in my house or office or writing shed. Maybe someday I’ll read at least one. Someday.
There are many reasons for reading great works of literature, the modern classics. They are cannons of the art; they are models of literary brilliance. Knowing them, at least reading them once, helps to understand the world of literature and the world itself. Many say the first great American novel was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
. Every American novel afterward comes from what Twain started. So, reading a classic gives us insight and perspective into the history of literature and the authors who have contributed the most.
A classic is a book that people most always say they are “re-reading” not “reading.” But in reality, many of us are not being truthful when we say this. It just sounds better, more appropriate, more well-read if we say we are “re-reading” Great Expectations than saying we are reading it for the first time.
I’m a big Hemingway fan, especially his short stories and his nonfiction. But I have never read For Whom the Bell Tolls. So, a month ago I bought a used copy of it. I’ve read the first ten pages. Since then, nothing. I plan to get to it; I really do. And maybe someday I can say I’m “re-reading” For Whom the Bell Tolls and consider myself a well-read man.
What classic have you not read? I’m sure you can add to the list…if you dare to admit.