Every now and again, and again and again and again, you come across a list of so-and-so’s Top 100 books of All Time or 100 Books everyone should read before they are 30, 40, or dead.
Many lists allow you to tick off lots and lots of the suggested books. This allows you to luxuriate in your own superiority. They say something like: Top 2/3/4% of xxxx xxxx xxxx people who have completed this list. (Incidentally, in a fantasy league online sports game I recently made the global top 200%!)
After doing a few of these lists, you notice a few books pop up in many of them. In no particular order, Lord of the Rings, 1984, To Kill a mockingbird, and The Grapes of Wrath are generally found in these kinds of lists, to mention but a few.
I have read them all. I remember how impressed I was that the LOTR movies were able to accurately capture the pervading sense of imminent doom. I remember, with awe, how Orwell used his so-called Newspeak to make his people believe in the party, while at the same time he stripped away their vocabulary to disagree.
However, there are lots of Great Books that I haven’t read. And just like with those I have read, it is quite often the same grouping of books.
This brought me to the question: Why haven’t I read ……? For the record, once while living in an isolated village in Madagascar, I read one of Oxford’s Wordfinder dictionaries as I had nothing else to read! To say that I am a voracious reader is accurate, so why is it that some books just do not seem to get ticked off on my “I Have Read” list?
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Why is it a great book?
Reader beware! I am probably going to offend you!
A book about two guys called Sal (Jack in disguise) and Dean driving around in the USA. They often drive fast. Sex, jazz and fast driving and some bad music are featured.
Somewhere in the book Dean is accused, “You have absolutely no regard for anybody but yourself and your kicks.”
Sal realizes that this is true, but Dean is envied by all for exactly this reason.
He is generational success personified.
Some other things happen, like dysentery, divorce and disappointment.
The final sentence poignantly captures the loss, disappointment, disenfranchisement and “da” rest of the feelings so many people feel when they weigh their lives and find it wanting.
“… I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
Why haven’t I read it?
I actually own this book. It is somewhere on my shelf between many other books. I remember struggling through the sentences. It was like swimming in molasses. I got stuck over and over. I would carefully extract myself and dive in again, but to no avail.
Somehow, the greatness of this book passed me by and I just could not get going.
For sale: One slightly read copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
Why is he great?
Yes, I know Shakespeare is not a book, but I am sure you get my meaning! Some consider him to be the greatest man ever produced by England. Others are a bit more modest and only call him “the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist.”
It is great, absolutely great, touching on those themes that make us human. And so forth.
Why haven’t I read it?
Macbeth and Miss Limmington. The first you know. The second was my English teacher in High School.
Boys and girls, let me tell you that I struggled through this. Double, double. Toil and Trouble.
I tried and tried, but could not get the feeling of the story. And Miss Limmington ( Was this a teacher I saw before me?) did not help.
Oh, she loved it and absolutely knew her stuff. But I, for the reasons logical to a sixteen year old, did not like her. And that is why I shy away from the “Bard of Avon.” Sorry!
(I did, however, see the 1993 version of the drama Much Ado about nothing that featured Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson. I loved her and I loved it.)
Murphy by Samuel Beckett
Why is it great?
In reading about Murphy you that this book is great because of who wrote it, but you also see that it would have been great on its own.
It opens with “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new” and then, apparently, it gets better. (Oh how I wish I could write a sentence like that!)
Murphy is a “seedy solipsist.” (Solipsism is a philosophical position that holds one can not be sure of the existence of anything outside one’s own mind.)
Rocking naked in a rocking chair is apparently one of Murphy’s methods of extracting himself from that pesky little thing called reality!
Murphy is a man of non-action whose desire is to not act at all. That is why, I guess, he rocks naked, and ends up working in an asylum. The insane, it seems, conformed more to his image of reality than reality itself.
Why haven’t I read it?
You won’t believe me, but it is because Samuel Beckett scares me. (Just like Athol Fugard.) Why does he scare me?
Now that, my friends, I do not want to tell you.
Shakespeare does not scare me. But then again no one is expected to live up to him. He is the epitome of perfection. It is generally accepted that no one will ever be as good as Shakespeare, ever again.
Beckett is not perfect, but he is good enough to be number two, according to some. And here I find my answer. It seems that outside of my mind, my greatness is not recognized!
Somehow, Mr. Beckett reminds me of my failings and shortcomings and the only way I can get back at him is by pretending I do not know about him. Outside of my mind, that is.
This was supposed to be a fun article. I mean, with a title like “Great Books I Haven’t Read,” how can it be anything but fun?
But reality intruded on my efforts at solipsism. On The Road is a story about failure. Shakespeare and Beckett are measuring points for my failure.
The reason I haven’t read these books is because they remind me too much of how I see my achievements.
Which Great Book have you avoided reading and why?