Humiliation: MetaFilter Edition September 13, 2016 4:55 PM   Subscribe

There's currently a discussion on the blue about not reading. In the article linked, Professor Amy Hungerford references David Lodge's book Changing Places in which a professor invents a literary game called Humiliation in which players confess to embarrassing gaps in their reading. Was wanting to know what some of these gaps might be for my fellow MeFites.
posted by Fizz to MetaFilter-Related at 4:55 PM (364 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Somehow I got through school without ever touching To Kill a Mockingbird, and have never gone back and read it anyway. I took a writing class instead of standard English my senior year of high school, so I missed some stuff there too, but I'm not sure what. Instead I got introduced to Hermann Hesse via Demian, which is not a trade I'm sorry for.
posted by LionIndex at 5:01 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


I too missed reading To Kill a Mockingbird, but not because I was actively trying to avoid it. The year that it was being taught, our English classes were split into two. One class read To Kill a Mockingbird while the other class read A Separate Peace. I'm still angry that I was placed in the class that read A Separate Peace.

Other significant works I've missed reading:

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ulysses by James Joyce
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Anything written by D.H. Lawrence
posted by Fizz at 5:04 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Literally zero Dickens, not even Christmas Carol.

Also Catch-22. I finally tried to heal that gap this year but I couldn't make myself care enough to stick with it. Maybe will try again when the baby's older and I'm feeling more patient. (I did read Moby Dick earlier this year and it is great! But I couldn't get into Catch-22.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 5:06 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I haven't read any of those either, but Beloved and Infinite Jest are sitting on my bookshelf. I did read Song of Solomon, which was really good.

Also, never read a lick of Faulkner.
posted by LionIndex at 5:06 PM on September 13, 2016


What the hell, Fizz.
posted by boo_radley at 5:14 PM on September 13, 2016 [30 favorites]


What makes some of my own reading gaps so egregious is that I have a degree in English Literature. I've read quite a bit of the 'canon' but things still managed to squeak by.
posted by Fizz at 5:15 PM on September 13, 2016 [11 favorites]


Harry Potter.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:16 PM on September 13, 2016 [12 favorites]


What the hell, Fizz.
posted by boo_radley


I'm still angry.

People in the other class were reading about racial inequality and justice while I was reading about some child who was afraid to go swimming on the high dive. Or at least that's what I remember of A Separate Peace. And even that might not be true, for whatever reason I've associated that book with an annoying teenager who hates to dive and swim.
posted by Fizz at 5:17 PM on September 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
posted by duffell at 5:20 PM on September 13, 2016


Flowers for Algernon.

Silent Spring and Jane Jacobs.

The Stand.

The boring parts of Lord of the Flies (I skimmed it).

Paradise Lost.

-signed, proud holder of a B.A. in English.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:25 PM on September 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


The Aeneid
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:28 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Hamlet. I really should just sit down and read Hamlet. I think I may be deliberately not reading Hamlet just because I always win Humiliation with that one.

I read constantly as a kid, but I haven't read a bunch of beloved children's classics because I refused to read anything with talking animals. No Charlotte's Web, no Wind in the Willows, no Watership Down. (I just found out that Watership Down is actually not, as I had always believed, about a submarine filled with bunnies!) I've also never read any Tolkien, although I tried and gave up on the Hobbit.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:30 PM on September 13, 2016 [17 favorites]


I've still never made it through Gravity's Rainbow. The last time my wife managed to finish it since we were reading it together, so now I'm really embarrassed.

I mean, beyond that it's just a litany of stuff sitting on the shelf staring at me angrily. Mervyn Peake to name just one.
posted by selfnoise at 5:34 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wait. The joke might be passing you by since you never read the book. God, this is just a nightmare forme
posted by boo_radley at 5:35 PM on September 13, 2016 [55 favorites]


Mr Ruki graduated from Cornell with an English degree and somehow had never read Of Mice and Men. In his thirties, when he was finally almost done with the book, Final Jeopardy spoiled the ending for him. He still holds a grudge against Alex Trebek.
posted by Ruki at 5:36 PM on September 13, 2016 [18 favorites]


No, I'm familiar enough with the book and its characters. I know who boo_radley is! I know what you symbolize.
posted by Fizz at 5:36 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Invisible Man. I feel really bad about it, but something else always comes up.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:41 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


My new year's resolution was to finally read Middlemarch. I was so dedicated to the task that I swore I would not read another book until I finished it. It's mid-September and I'm about halfway through. I have read literally no other books this year. I have bought over a hundred books this year. I have not read any, just half of Middlemarch. I am a bad person.
posted by mittens at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2016 [32 favorites]


Mittens, that was my resolution last year! I finished on Dec. 17, and it was worth it! Go! Go!
posted by purpleclover at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2016 [11 favorites]


I took a bunch of Irish literature classes but still haven't finished a book by James Joyce. Probably never will. Also, Hamlet.
posted by thetortoise at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2016


(I used Middlemarch as an excuse to not read anything else serious, so I bought and read a lot of trash on my phone, and it was glorious.)
posted by purpleclover at 5:48 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've also missed out on reading Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Though, I have read The Years which was a brilliant family chronicle and something I do recommend for people who are having difficult getting into her works.
posted by Fizz at 5:51 PM on September 13, 2016


confess to embarrassing gaps in their reading.

I'd argue that there's way too much "essential" literature out there to read in any lifetime, so being embarrassed about gaps is a bit much. The more relevant question would be, what have you read (ie: made time for) that you ought to be ashamed of? Stuff before the end of high school doesn't count.
posted by philip-random at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2016 [23 favorites]


People in the other class were reading about racial inequality and justice while I was reading about some child who was afraid to go swimming on the high dive. Or at least that's what I remember of A Separate Peace. And even that might not be true, for whatever reason I've associated that book with an annoying teenager who hates to dive and swim.

Everybody who was disappointed by A Separate Peace needs to read The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell. It's basically the same thing but a much, much better book. I'm on a one-person crusade to get English curricula writers to make the simple switch.
posted by thetortoise at 5:59 PM on September 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


I still chuckle at the line I used to hear in grad school:
"Read it? I haven't even *taught* it!"
posted by uosuaq at 6:06 PM on September 13, 2016 [52 favorites]

The more relevant question would be, what have you read (ie: made time for) that you ought to be ashamed of?
I fundamentally reject the premise. Reading is not something I do to feel worthy. I don't feel ashamed of anything I've read, and I've read some real crap. Sometimes I read something just because it's entertaining, and that's fine. I don't feel the need to prove anything to myself or anyone else.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:07 PM on September 13, 2016 [17 favorites]


For someone with two advanced degrees in theology my bible is completely shabby, also I have not read Calvin.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:14 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


What? That's one of the best comic strips ever!
posted by uosuaq at 6:23 PM on September 13, 2016 [54 favorites]


People in the other class were reading about racial inequality and justice while I was reading about some child who was afraid to go swimming on the high dive.

Oh come on, A Separate Peace is totes gay. It's no The Charioteer, but it does the whole "intense boarding school 'friendship' thing pretty well. That alone should get it on some list or another, eh?

(I've never read any of the Harry Potter books. Yes, it's a wonder I can even parse the internet.)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:30 PM on September 13, 2016


I write and perform Beat poetry, but I've never read On The Road, and despite having many friends involved in transgressive litrature I find Naked Lunch a bit gross.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:32 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm always amazed by anyone who reads anything for leisure. I should be a reading type as a frequently bored & awkward kid and then English major but I don't have the attention span. I guess my contribution to this thread would probably be "a good chance it's whatever book you can think of".
posted by bleep at 6:37 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I did look up the plot summary of A Separate Peace. It was not a diving board, it was a tall tree. Still not a fan.
posted by Fizz at 6:38 PM on September 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


I never could get through either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. I've seen Macbeth performed so it doesn't quite count, and I was assigned it at least twice for classes, but have really never managed to wrap my head around it to the extent it was more than a couple scenes of some interest acting as islands between gibberish.

In a different category, I have not seen a Walt Disney Animation Studios film made since Aladdin.

Like ArbitraryAndCapricious, I refused all talking animal books as a kid, with an exception for Animal Farm, because I knew those were allegorical animals and so were allowable according to my rules.

New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education). For me, it's Startide Rising, by David Brin, in which dolphins (who speak in poems sometimes) and humans take to space exploration together. I'm pretty sure our middle school book discussion group abandoned it half way through.
posted by zachlipton at 6:40 PM on September 13, 2016


I've never read Infinite Jest or really any DFW besides "Consider the Lobster." I think I have started Gravity's Rainbow a half-dozen times but get bored and re-read The Crying of Lot 49 instead. I've also never read On the Road or Catcher in the Rye and at this point in my life I don't really have much desire to though I probably should. Those are the things I can think of off the top of my head, I'm sure there's endless humiliation if I really dig deep.

Least favorite thing to read I was assigned was Bartleby the Scriviner. Probably I would like it more now as an adult but remembering my feelings on it when I was a teenager even as an adult still makes me a little angry.
posted by Tevin at 6:46 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


What? That's one of the best comic strips ever

Too Hobbesian.
posted by scalefree at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2016 [13 favorites]


I've never read Minima Moralia, either. What I know of it comes almost entirely from Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces. So whenever I see Adorno's name dropped I just mentally say to myself "Big Ted says 'No!'"
posted by octobersurprise at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Least favorite thing to read I was assigned was Bartleby the Scriviner.

You preferred not to?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:49 PM on September 13, 2016 [43 favorites]


No Moby-Dick, no Infinite Jest (but I like DFW generally), no Dickens. No Catcher in the Rye. No Austen. Patchy Brontes.

New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)

Although I wrote several papers on The Mayor of Casterbridge, thirty years later I can tell you nothing about it. On the other hand, that was the same class where we covered King Lear, and I can still tell you a shocking amount about it, so it is not merely the passing years.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:54 PM on September 13, 2016


I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey; I am especially ashamed to admit this here on the gray. I should be punished.
posted by TedW at 6:55 PM on September 13, 2016 [19 favorites]


Moby-Dick, The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Infinite Jest, Grapes of Wrath, Gulliver's Travels. I'll probably get to them eventually and even like since of them, perhaps. But I can be awfully stubborn. It's taken me about two years to read perhaps a quarter of Don Quixote. I just donwanna. But I will, damn it.
posted by notquitemaryann at 7:00 PM on September 13, 2016


Honestly, I think I'm more embarrassed by the books I have read and never absorbed. Most recently that would be Naked Lunch and Gravity's Rainbow - I "read" both of them in that my eyes hit all the words on the page, but I couldn't tell you anything about either book.

I've reread some other books I hadn't touched since high school (Dune most notably) and feel like I got a lot more out of them as an adult.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:03 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I read the first Harry Potter book.

And the last. Nothing in-between.
posted by mikurski at 7:08 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read the first Harry Potter book.

And the last. Nothing in-between.


Accio wiki plot summaries!
posted by Fizz at 7:12 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


I haven't read the thread on the blue, the linked article, or any of the comments here.
posted by ODiV at 7:15 PM on September 13, 2016 [26 favorites]


I laugh at all of cortex's muad-dib jokes or whatever even though I've never watched or read Dune.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm always amazed by anyone who reads anything for leisure.

I've rarely, in my entire life, read anything not for leisure. I read a lot. The list of classics I haven't read would fill a book (thank you). This article comes from a different planet.
posted by bongo_x at 7:22 PM on September 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


Least favored assigned book: Journal of the Plague Year, by Defoe. It wasn't awful, but not really like, a novel with a plot either.
Favorite book I was assigned to read, but didn't do it until well after the class was over: Invisible Cities
posted by LionIndex at 7:22 PM on September 13, 2016


I haven't read the thread on the blue, the linked article, or any of the comments here.

That's not humiliating, that's SOP.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:31 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


a submarine filled with bunnies

I would absolutely read this book.

The more relevant question would be, what have you read (ie: made time for) that you ought to be ashamed of?

I have not only read but own a copy of The Turner Diaries which I definitely have mixed feelings about and wouldn't usually admit to in public.

New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)

Anything by Dickens. I hated every page and to this day get irate when I think about being forced to read those dreadful books.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:31 PM on September 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


Least favored assigned book: Journal of the Plague Year

Oh, I didn't realise we were playing that undergrad game. My least favourite assigned reading: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
posted by Fizz at 7:32 PM on September 13, 2016


I laugh at all of cortex's muad-dib jokes or whatever even though I've never watched or read Dune.

“May thy knife chip and shatter.”
posted by Fizz at 7:33 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was talking to someone at the school I work at about my trip to England and how I loved it, particularly the countryside. He was telling me I had to go to (whereveritwas) because oh the BRONTES and all the this and the that and the "Heathcliff!" this and that and I didn't have the heart to tell him I had never read a single book they'd written.

I'm always amazed by anyone who reads anything for leisure.

While I do like reading (as in: getting words into my brain with my eyeballs and not my ear holes) I view reading books as more like medicine and less like leisure. it gets me offline and helps the creative parts of my brain atrophy slightly less slowly and helps me sleep and/or wake up depending when I'm doing it.

I never read the Bible or the majority of the books mentioned so far in this thread. That said there are AskMe threads where people asked for book suggestions where I have read literally every book mentioned (and enjoyed most of them!) notably this one and now this one. I've kept a list of every book I've read since 1997 so I guess I'm like Art Garfunkel now.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 7:35 PM on September 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


Ha, You all should have been slackers in middle and high school like me. I am actually really embarrassed that I've never read:

The Catcher in the Rye
To Kill a Mockingbird
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Flowers for Algernon
(They showed the movie in class so I actually got a passing grade on my report for this one)
Animal Farm
1984
Brave New World
Ender's Game
The Things They Carried
A Wrinkle in Time
Where the Red Fern Grows
The Wind in the Willows
The Hobbit


Today I am not only embarrassed, but very sad that I never read these, because I think they could have shown me a world I never knew about at that age. If nothing else they could have given me an escape. But I was young, I hated being told what to do, and I was dealing with a lot of stuff and couldn't see that far ahead.

The one upside was that I had an English teacher who encouraged me to read Raymond Chandler, and I was hooked immediately. He's the only author whose work I've read in its entirety.

But then I found out that that English teacher used to make fun of me when I wasn't in class, so it's not like a particularly fond memory, either.
posted by teponaztli at 7:35 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


I've never read: ... Ender's Game

Lucky escape there!
posted by octobersurprise at 7:41 PM on September 13, 2016 [11 favorites]


All my friends loved it at the time. But yeah, I don't feel so badly about that one now that I know more about OSC.
posted by teponaztli at 7:45 PM on September 13, 2016


"New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)."

John Fucking Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany. You can tell how it's going to end in the first five pages, and then it's 300 filler pages of Irving's dude-bro obsessions like teachers having slightly transgressive sex and hee hee did we mention sometimes people have sex? it's so dirty that there's sex! Also did I mention I'm two fourteen year old boys posing as a 40-year-old author? Btw here's a sex scene that has nothing to do with the plot. And Irving beating you over the fucking head with his symbolism because even John Irving knows that if you're a dumb enough shit to be reading Irving, you're too stupid to understand symbolism if it isn't served to you on a silver platter. And then it ends EXACTLY the way you could tell it was going to in the first five pages, and you're like, "No serious literary novel can possibly have this stupid and predictable an ending" BUT IT DOES and then you have to write a fucking essay on it and everyone else in your class is like, "WHOA THIS BOOK BLEW MY MIND" and you're like "MAYBE EVERYONE I KNOW IS ACTUALLY STUPID BECAUSE ALL OF THEIR LITERATURE OPINIONS ARE INCORRECT" and then they all go read The World According to Garp and you have to hear about the symbolism of dudes getting their penises bitten off and also your child dying as a punishment for your wife's cheating and BOY YOU'RE SO GREAT JOHN IRVING when great protagonist author-insert man have illicit sex it's because they have profound penis-feelings but when their WIVES return the favor their children must be slaughtered in revenge because WOMEN'S SEXUALITY IS NOT THEIRS TO EXERCISE FREELY and ... yeah Imma stop now but I have a lot more things to say about Irving and women's sexuality and men's penis-feelings but you can probably fill it all in yourself.

Anyway the point is John Irving did not like Vietnam, BUT ALSO worried that his lack of soldieriness emasculated him BUT ALSO has a penis and wants to talk about it at length and really he could have left off the first two parts and just gotten a job writing erotica and his books would be way less irritating.

Also he uses Canada as a symbol for being emasculated, so there's that too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:56 PM on September 13, 2016 [64 favorites]


I've never read Metafilter.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:58 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Canadian so haven't read most the American School staples. But more embarrassing to my nerd cred I've only read the first 1.5 books of the Lord of the Rings. The Two Towers is a perfect cure for insomnia for me.
posted by Mitheral at 8:06 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Terms of Service
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:09 PM on September 13, 2016 [13 favorites]


For people considering diving into Middlemarch and Jane Austen...my "friend" whizzed through these during downtime at work (and maybe not-so-downtime) on Project Gutenberg, which has the full text of these online.

The last three paragraphs of Middlemarch I rank up there with anything I've ever read. Not because there's a sudden twist. Just because it's so goddamn perfect it made me spontaneously burst into tears. I still think about that passage maybe once a week.

More people should read Austen's Persuasion than do. That one'll get you too.

If you haven't read Toni Morrison, start with Sula before going for Beloved.

My gaps: LOTR, Hawthorne, Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, Beowolf, Melville, Henry James, Wodehouse, Rushdie.
posted by sallybrown at 8:09 PM on September 13, 2016 [8 favorites]


(It's great how none of our North American male members have had to confess to humiliation over not reading Louisa May Alcott or LM Montgomery or Zora Neale Hurston or Maya Angelou or Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison or Alice Munro and I 100% choose to believe that's because they have read them extensively and not because they're forgetting that women belong in the canon too!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:11 PM on September 13, 2016 [85 favorites]


I wrote an A+ paper as my high school English senior final paper (in England!) about Ulysses, having never read the book. This was years before Google and I only had one Cliff's Notes book. You want bullshit? I've got A+ bullshit.
posted by bendy at 8:11 PM on September 13, 2016 [11 favorites]


I am one of the few librarians that hasn't read (and loved) Pride and Prejudice. Not too embarrassed about it, even though I get a lot of raised eyebrows from those librarians who do love it & re-read it every year.

New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)

Scarlet Letter was assigned in both high school & college. Barely read it once. Hated it.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 8:11 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Eyebrows, I haven't read any Atwood -- but also no Roth or Irving. Fair trade? :7)

(And I have a couple of Atwood's books on the TBR pile, but nothing from those dudes. I'm getting there, I promise!)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:16 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Not a lit major I'm not especially embarrassed by having missed any one book. But I read a lot and the huge gap of almost all serious fiction from the last 20-30 years--stuff that has "realistic" portrayals of people or families as opposed to jokes and quirks--is like an Achilles heel that stretches on up to my mid back. So zero Annie Proulx or Johnathan Franzen.

I did read Changing Places" for what its worth. Then I read a David Lodge book that was fun but I swear was like a Love Boat plot and it put me off him. I can look up the title if anyone doubts it exists.

My least favourite assigned reading: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

My rule on "popular" books that are assigned is it's especially bad--it's either things people liked when they were a kid so they assume "kids" will still like it, or things they hear kids like things like "sci-fi" so they find an SF book with "serious" themes but whose only merit is trivially obvious discussion points.

Short stories are an exception. There are some awesome ones that get put on lists.
posted by mark k at 8:16 PM on September 13, 2016


zachlipton: "New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education). "

I thought it was The Chrysalids but on reviewing the wiki entry it's not. Does anyone remember the name of a common school class book (in Canada anyways) that features a post nuclear war world; a young woman/teen who is either a sole survivor or part of a very small community living in a pocket microclime who eventually flees a ?rapist? in the rapist's nuclear fallout protection suit? Might have been some other post apocalyptic world rather than nuclear.

I didn't hate the book but it was nightmare fuel for me for years as a teen during the end of the cold war. I was terrified of nuclear war and this just triggered all my boy scout be prepared fears of the end of the world.
posted by Mitheral at 8:17 PM on September 13, 2016


Still moving at a glacial pace through Finnegan's Wake. It is so based on sound that I recently downloaded an audible.com copy to help.

Also never read Ulysses. I feel it may be easy once I finish Wake, which I am determined to do.

I'm weak on modern authors. I've not read anything except his graduation address by David Foster Wallace. I loved that, though, so I do intend to tackle Infinite Jest. The only book I've finished by Jonathan Franzen was The Corrections, which I did not like much at all. I've only read Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow as I found that a slog, too. Likewise, the only book by Jonathan Safran Foer I've gotten down is Everything is Illuminated, which I fought through. I might try Eating Animals one of these days because I don't do it any more. I haven't read a thing by Mark Helprin, stalled out while reading Snow by Orhan Panuk, haven't ever read anything by Jorge Luis Borges, and the only book by Michael Chabon I've read is Kavalier and Clay, which I did like a lot.

Also, somehow I missed Beverly Cleary in my youth, so I am only now catching up on her. (I learned about her when so many of her readers sorrowed at her recent death.)
posted by bearwife at 8:20 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Does anyone remember the name of a common school class book (in Canada anyways) that features a post nuclear war world; a young woman/teen who is either a sole survivor or part of a very small community living in a pocket microclime who eventually flees a ?rapist? in the rapist's nuclear fallout protection suit?

That has to be Z for Zachariah.
posted by zamboni at 8:21 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


That's it. Thank $Deity, that was driving me crazy.
posted by Mitheral at 8:28 PM on September 13, 2016


That has to be Z for Zachariah.

UGH UGH UGH. We had to read that in 7th grade it's a super-creeper book with bonus apocalyptic themes. Blerg!
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:29 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


I still haven't read Dhalgren, and I love non-realistic/narrative art and New Wave sci-fi.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:34 PM on September 13, 2016


Flowers for Algernon.

Ooh, going back to reread.

Not quite a full admission, but I had never even heard of the book Goodnight Moon until my eldest was born, but now I'm pretty sure I've read it enough to make up for my entire life and then some.

Also, somehow I missed Beverly Cleary in my youth, so I am only now catching up on her.

I get such warm feelings thinking about her books. Henry Huggins was pretty much single handedly responsible for keeping me up at night reading things.

One admission that haunts me a bit is Dickens, and probably especially Great Expectations. We had to read an abridged version of the story in 10th grade, and I asked a question in class during our discussion that made it painfully obvious I hadn't actually read it. I can still see the expression on the teachers face like it was yesterday, and the incident was discussed during parent/teacher conferences. I'm still planning to read it some day, if I can get past the shame.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:36 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Least favorite book assigned: The Scarlet Letter. But probably I was wrong about this, I was 16, what did I know?

Missing books. Here's the thing; why would anybody be embarrassed on MetaFilter about not having read Dostoevsky, or Salinger, or DFWallace? I feel like MetaFilter makes a point about not being into those things. How about books that are MetaFilter-canonical that I haven't read? E.G. I have never read

The Gift of Fear
Starting Strength
Wool
a single word by Terry Pratchett
posted by escabeche at 8:46 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Here's the thing; why would anybody be embarrassed on MetaFilter about not having read Dostoevsky, or Salinger, or DFWallace? I feel like MetaFilter makes a point about not being into those things.

I feel like part of that is cognitive dissonance - a community of self-styled intellectuals who haven't read thsoe books throw shade on them. I need to read DFW and DeLillo... maybe Alan Moore recomending DFW will light a fire under me.

And a self-help and an exercise book are MeFi canonical now? Strange.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:51 PM on September 13, 2016


Least favorite book assigned for me was Pride and Prejudice, especially since it was in the same course that assigned the genius Dante's Inferno. I realize there may be problematic reasons I disliked it, though.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:52 PM on September 13, 2016


I take I am still the only person who’s ever bothered to read Hogwarts, A History?
posted by Hermione Granger at 8:57 PM on September 13, 2016 [54 favorites]


I thought it was The Chrysalids but

Glad you were remembering wrong because I remember The Chrysalids (in Grade Eight) as being a great rarity -- an assigned read that didn't just engage me, it opened me up to a vast literary world that I had no idea existed (ie: sci-fi that had nothing to do with spaceships, space travel, other planets).

As for bland, alienatingly dull assigned reads -- don't get me started.
posted by philip-random at 8:59 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I haven't read Moby Dick, but I'm pretty much over being embarrassed about it. I don't think I've read any Russian literature except for Chekhov, and that feels like a gap. I haven't read Middlemarch and wasn't embarrassed about that until this thread.

Least favorite assigned reading was probably Watership Down. I hate animals getting hurt, and I hate talking animals, so that was pretty bad on all counts for me. I also hated Hemingway when I read him in high school but I've since fixed my opinion; I still think, however, that The Old Man and the Sea is a silly book to assign to 9th graders.
posted by lazuli at 8:59 PM on September 13, 2016


For all the people who haven't read Dickens, my experience is that the relatively short ones typically covered in school (Great Expectations, Oliver Twist) were vastly less entertaining than the longer ones (David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, I even like Martin Chuzzlewhit). Obviously YMMV.

Haven't read Bleak House or Little Doritt, which confession would be in the spirit of this thread.
posted by mark k at 9:02 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


I read basically no children's literature* other than Harry Potter, and as an adult, The Hunger Games. Oh, and Watership Down, because I fell in love with the movie when I was 6. (Yeah, I was a weird kid.)

I've read a decent span of Russian literature because I went through a big Russian literature/Russian history phase, but I never Brothers Karamazov or War and Peace (not particularly inclined to read the latter, would one day like to read the former.).

I've also never read:

Wuthering Heights
Pride and Prejudice
Any Dickens (Okay, I started Great Expectations, but didn't make it that far.)
Ulysses
Moby Dick

Oh, and I also never read Middlemarch, which I guess I should have been embarassed about, but like lazuli, wasn't until this thread.

least favorite book you were assigned to read

I hated "Catcher in the Rye" with a fiery, burning passion that I can't really explain other than I just didn't respond very well to a privileged white guy complaining all the time about his life when it seemed great to me. I was probably just bitter about my horrible, toxic childhood and crippling depression, but seriously, just thinking about it now reignites that fiery hatred.

*Okay, I confess to having read every single book I could get my hands on that was about ponies, but most of those works didn't have any redeeming qualities other than being about ponies. In fact, from the ages of like 6 to 10, I refused to read anything unless it was about ponies or I was forced to by my teachers. Fortunately, I outgrew that phase.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:06 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Incidentally, that whole phase of reading anything about ponies didn't go so well for me when I decided to read Steinbeck's "The Red Pony." Spoiler alert: the pony dies rather early in the book, and it's all pretty gruesome and depressing.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:07 PM on September 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


I still think, however, that The Old Man and the Sea is a silly book to assign to 9th graders.

We were assigned it in the SEVENTH grade. I had no idea wtf was going on.
posted by purpleclover at 9:08 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Actually, the most humiliating thing for me is how long it's been since I read anything that could be considered a great work of literature. I did most of my reading in my spare time growing up, not for school, but I haven't really finished any novels since I graduated from college. I blame the internet, since I watch even less TV now than I did back then.

Oh, and until the last year I hadn't read any Sherlock Holmes but I recently remedied that. But that's seriously one of the only books I've read in the last 5 years. And I'm kind of embarrassed that I only got around to reading that because of BBC's Sherlock.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:13 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Lolita. I regularly list Nabokov in my favorite authors and I've never read Lolita.
posted by naju at 9:13 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


(I've read a bunch of other stuff from him including that iffy posthumous unfinished novel)
posted by naju at 9:19 PM on September 13, 2016


I have three rules on when a book or series of books should not be finished:
1. All the characters are assholes.
2. Court intrigue is the major plot driver. (Some is fine or even welcome)
3. When I can't remember what action took place in a particular book it's time to stop reading the series.

Some examples of books or series that I've never finished:
Game Of Thrones (1,2)
Pride and Prejudice (1)
Lord of the Rings (3)
Clive Cussler novels (3)

I barely finished Harry Potter when I should have quite due to rule three.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:20 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh shit, yeah, I got 4 books into the Harry Potter series and then got distracted, even though I enjoyed it immensely. Nothing quite as humiliating as being unable to finish something an infinity number of kids have ripped through.
posted by naju at 9:24 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I also had The Old Man and the Sea in 6th/7th grade! Who decides these things? I hate them!

Have Never Read:
Their Eyes Were Watching God
1984
Brave New World
Ender's Game
The Things They Carried
Where the Red Fern Grows
Animorphs
Basically anything that's remotely dystopian or has to do with animals in distress unless it was assigned and even then probably not

Pretended to Read:
Everything by Ray Bradbury
Atlas Shrugged
The Metamorphosis
Julius Caesar
The Awakening (but the essay I wrote on it somehow got me through classes in high school, college, AND grad school, with only minor edits needed for each)
Cannery Row (I'm sorry, Mr. Steinbeck, I really tried to like this one)
Watership Down
Lord of the Flies
Catch-22
Hatchet

Least Favorite Assigned Texts:
Everything by Ray Bradbury
Ishmael
Catcher in the Rye
Animal Farm
Atlas Shrugged
The Pearl
Bridge to Terabithia

Favorite Assigned Text:
Lady Chatterly's Lover (It was part of a freshman foundations course called "Banned Books" and when we got to it mid-semester my professor started the class by walking in the door and saying, "TODAY, my dears, you shall read PORN," as loudly as possible. My best friend at the time and I cheered. Best day ever, even if the book is a bit wordy.)

I have a lot of feelings about this particular topic apparently
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:28 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


(It's great how none of our North American male members have had to confess to humiliation over not reading Louisa May Alcott or LM Montgomery or Zora Neale Hurston or Maya Angelou or Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison or Alice Munro and I 100% choose to believe that's because they have read them extensively and not because they're forgetting that women belong in the canon too!)

Margaret Atwood and LM Mongomery are two authors I didn't really read until I was in my undergrad. I had also just recently moved from the United States into Canada and so I felt that it was my duty to familiarize myself with more Canadian authors. They both blew my mind. I do not for one minute regret reading these two wonderfully talented authors. Thank you Canada.
posted by Fizz at 9:33 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Pride and Prejudice (1)

You consider Elizabeth Bennett an asshole? Austen doesn't deserve you.
posted by Diablevert at 9:34 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Least Favorite Assigned Texts:
Everything by Ray Bradbury


Was that just Fahrenheit 451 and that one about a scrap of the Mona Lisa being found in the future? They must turn kids off Bradbury because they reduce his surreal, beautiful, earnest prose into didacticism. I was assigned the same stories as a kid and didn't like them, but devoured all other Bradbury.

These kind of threads turn weirdly anti-intellectual wherever they show up. There's enough places to brag about not reading books in the world.

The problem is with how books were assigned. When I got 1984 I was supposed to read it a chunk at a time but I read it in one night.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:35 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Least Favorite:

Wordsworth. I was doing an English major and in my Romanticism class Wordsworth was praised for elevating the concerns of the 'snail farmers'! In the same class we read lofty Byron and strange ST Coleridge, and I was supposed to care about snail farmers and their petty victories?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:37 PM on September 13, 2016


I have bought, but not read, On the Origin of Species. And The Portrait of Dorian Gray. I bought and only skimmed The Prince.
I asked for Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet for Christmas one year and have still only read about ten pages of it.

The only Dickens I've read is the chapter or so of Great Expectations we did in high school. I think it's supposed to be really funny, but between the teacher approaching it as Great Literature is Serious Business and none of the other students laughing at any of the funny bits, I never followed up on it.

We did The Grapes of Wrath in hs too, but I only read about half of it because I hate trying to read on someone else's schedule.

Horror humiliation: I've never read The Haunting of Hill House, and never finished Carrie.

Sci-fi humiliation: I've never read any Jules Verne, and I've never read Brave New World.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:45 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


No, I was introduced to Bradbury in middle school via "The Long Rain", "The Veldt", and "All Summer in a Day". Then I had to read "The Illustrated Man" and "The Martian Chronicles" my freshman year of high school. By the time Fahrenheit rolled around in college I was staunchly committed to skipping Bradbury's bibliography for the rest of my life.

His books determined what my worst nightmares look like when I have them. I mean that very sincerely.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:45 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I probably have many gaps in reading "classics" because my schools had odd reading lists and I wasn't required to take english in college. As far as reading for fun I could not get into the Ghormenghast books at all despite tons of friends loving it. I have no idea what I've missed more recently - I was only good at keeping up with new things for the couple of years I worked at a bookstore.

Least favorite assigned books would probably Walden 2 and the history of the Peloponnesian War bits of which I was assigned to read at least twice.
posted by oneear at 9:46 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


And I hated The Turn of the Screw. I can't even make good jokes about those long sentences. How is a book that short such a torture to read?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:47 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


His books determined what my worst nightmares look like when I have them. I mean that very sincerely.


"My Best Nightmares' would be a great title for a Ray Bradbury horror collection.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:47 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Pride and Prejudice is great - warm and funny and IMO easy to love.

Skip fucking Wuthering Heights, gah, barf forever. These books should not be in the same conversation.

There are so many classics I haven't read, which is ridiculous because mooost of the ones I have read are indeed great. Maybe Middlemarch is a good one to put next on the list.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:48 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh my god Ghormenghast!!!!!
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:50 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


'1984.'
posted by clavdivs at 10:00 PM on September 13, 2016


Ok as one book I have read the first part of Wuthering Heights is a hilarious black comedy.
posted by bleep at 10:12 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Assigned books I couldn't get through: something by Dickens, maybe A Tale of Two Cities? My mother even tried reading it me, and couldn't stay awake through a full chapter. Skimmed the first and last chapters of Scarlet Letter, put Lord of the Flies down maybe two chapters in, and figured maybe I should reconsider my plan to major in English Lit when I couldn't get through more than a few pages of both A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and A Light in August.

Assigned book I finished but most resented losing precious hours of my life to: Catcher in the Rye.

Classics I read for fun, finished, and didn't get the fuss about: White Noise, Catch-22, Confederacy of Dunes, and Vanity Fair.

I'm not particularly embarrassed about gaps in my reading (other than being several books behind on Atwood at this point) but I do wish I'd started reading James Baldwin earlier - I only started picking up his work a few years ago, and I've been blown away by it.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:12 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are so many things I have not yet read! Middlemarch. Mrs. Dalloway. The Golden Notebook. The Conservationist. The Awakening. The Handmaid's Tale.

If only there were more hours in the day. I'm also a chronic re-reader; I'm re-reading Moo right now instead of picking up something new. Maybe my next read will be off the above list.
posted by sockermom at 10:14 PM on September 13, 2016


Oh, as far as least favorite assigned texts: I threw a copy of Rabbit, Run across the room before I even knew I was a feminist because the misogyny was palpably disgusting, and I could not stand Grapes of Wrath or Catch 22.
posted by sockermom at 10:16 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


i’m ashamed to admit that i haven’t quite finished re-translating the complete works of tolstoy into german
posted by beerperson at 10:17 PM on September 13, 2016 [14 favorites]


(It's great how none of our North American male members have had to confess to humiliation over not reading Louisa May Alcott or LM Montgomery or Zora Neale Hurston or Maya Angelou or Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison or Alice Munro and I 100% choose to believe that's because they have read them extensively and not because they're forgetting that women belong in the canon too!)

Of that list the only author I have never read anything by is Alice Munro, which based on her reputation is indeed embarrassing. (I had to google to check LM Montgomery because I didn't recognize her name, but had of course read the book.)

Of women authors, my biggest embarrassing gap is Judith Butler, who I found unreadable but still cited frequently in graduate school. I felt like a fraud every time.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:21 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lobstermitten:
I have the exact opposite reaction
posted by PinkMoose at 10:25 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh but Judith Butler is so good.

Also I forgot about the Handmaid's Tale - my girlfriend wrote her thesis on that book and has always talked about it on glowing terms, but to be honest I hadn't heard of it until we met.

Fortunately I'm currently working on some classic books - temporarily on hold for the semester. But over the summer I finally started reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Last year I finally got around to reading Alice Munro. Finally got around to reading more Philip K Dick.
posted by teponaztli at 10:29 PM on September 13, 2016


New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)


Klee Wyck. Fuck Emily Carr.
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:29 PM on September 13, 2016


I'm going to invert the least favorite assigned book thing and say that I am still, to this day, so thankful that I had to read Toni Morrison for a college English class.

Least favorite, and it's not fiction, but my least favorite was definitely Garrett Hardin. Fuck that guy.
posted by teponaztli at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2016


The Heart of Darkness was the only classic I wanted to read but just couldn't get passed the first dozen pages. In high school I absolutely hated The Chrysanthemums, he was such an asshole and she was such a sucker, and couldn't believe it came from the same pen as Tortilla Flat. Fortunately A Piece of Steak was next, if it had been A Modest Proposal I probably would have just spent the next two years dodging the Truancy Officer.
posted by ridgerunner at 10:42 PM on September 13, 2016


New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)

Answer: The Scarlet Letter. The only time I ever seriously considered trying to find the movie so I could get out of reading.

Bonus answer: That time everyone in class was assigned something different to read based on skill levels and need, and I was assigned to printing exercises. Because I loved and didn't need encouragement to read, but my handwriting was messy. In 7th grade. In 2000.

I hated that teacher. On the other hand, she made us read "And Then There Were None", which started my summer of reading every Poirot novel I could get my hands on, and other Christies when those ran out.
posted by Night_owl at 10:56 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)

The Awakening
. It was hot out and she took a swim in the ocean, The End. Worst plot ever.
posted by clorox at 11:00 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wish I hadn't read Jonathon Strange and Mr Norell...does that count?
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:09 PM on September 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


ricochet biscuit: "Patchy Brontes"

Oh if only I didn't already have a username!
posted by chavenet at 11:14 PM on September 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, even though everyone I know loves them.

Some books I haven't read but probably should at some point: Wuthering Heights, any Jane Austen book other than Pride and Prejudice (and I loved Pride and Prejudice!), Confederacy of Dunces, and Bonfire of the Vanities, among others.

Least favorite assigned reading: Moby Dick. I could barely get through the first chapter before I gave up and went to the Cliffs Notes instead. The Scarlet Letter is a close second. I thought it was just super boring.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:23 PM on September 13, 2016


I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, even though everyone I know loves them.

I don't.
posted by philip-random at 11:54 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The emotional labor thread
posted by Going To Maine at 12:21 AM on September 14, 2016 [23 favorites]


I wish I hadn't read Jonathon Strange and Mr Norell...does that count?

This book is an example of a real division of opinion. For me it is the cilantro of books. I hate cilantro.
posted by grok sok at 12:26 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I wish I hadn't read Jonathon Strange and Mr Norell...does that count?

I read it twice, and it was a lot better the second time. I didn't like it, but it was a lot better.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:48 AM on September 14, 2016


The gaps in my reading are large and numerous: no Dante, Goethe, Tolstoy, Chaucer, no George Eliot, no Brontës & almost no Dickens; no Thomas Mann; no Balzac or Zola; very little Shakespeare (beyond what I was obliged to read at school). No Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, either.

I couldn’t finish Don Quixote, or La Recherche… (made it to vol. 5) or The Man Without Qualities, nor did I reach the end of Beckett’s The Unnameable. I am inexplicably averse to Nabokov.

My least favourite assigned text was The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. It might even be a book I would enjoy now, in my late forties. but my sixteen-year-old self hated it.
posted by misteraitch at 1:15 AM on September 14, 2016


Over the last ten years or so I've read most of the stuff I was super embarrassed about not having read, with the exception of Foucault and etc who I was supposed to have read in college but found so ludicrously cynical I couldn't bear them.
I never got through the end of Wolf Hall though I found it amaaaaaaazing and gave copies around to everyone for a couple years. (The death of his wife and children kind of, like, fucked me up.)

I have Middlemarch on my shelf but the book is damn square, as in as thick as it is tall and that's daunting.
The Ecology of Commerce Paul Hawken - the first chapter is good and smart but... like...I put it down
John Henry Days Colson Whitehead - but I'll get to it. I will.

I've started not finishing books that I think are dull which I never used to do. I bailed on a couple books that are frequently referred to (here and elsewhere) warmly.
I love books inordinately and I don't think of the race/gender of the writer when reading them. I know I hate Updike ( I can bear Roth, often skipping over pages here and there). Why put up with that fucking weird mysogyny? It's like meeting someone who tells you they slap their kid around. I wouldn't put up with it in 'life' so I'm not going to waste my reading time with it. Nobody's perfect but come on, pull your shit together at least a little.

A lot of the 'required' reading books are great and/or weird or otherwise interesting and totally worth the time - like Moby Dick or Villette (the single most underrated book - one of the best books put out in the late 19th) or The Golden Bowl. or King Lear(the saddest play) I totally pick up the ones I haven't read yet when I come across them (generally the 1$ book bin). There's almost nothing better than finding one of those books you're supposed to have read, and then finding that , in fact it does not suck! In fact, it's even better than people know, because...
posted by From Bklyn at 1:17 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I never read the article. I only read the comments
posted by night_train at 1:27 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Least favourite assigned text: My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, which the teacher thought we might relate to because Franklin was a teenager when she wrote it. But it turns out teenagers don’t always write books so good.

Having ploughed through piles of classic novels as a teenager, I mainly feel I ought to revisit them as an adult. My 16-yo self can’t have been the ideal audience for Anna Karenina.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:58 AM on September 14, 2016


Ooh, a thread about books!

I too have an English degree, but deliberately avoided a lot of the classics in favour of classes that were modern/postmodern, because I felt like by the end of high school I'd read enough Shakespeare to last several lifetimes, and like many of you I do not like Dickens. So in fact I am not particularly ashamed that I've never read Moby Dick, or anything by George Elliot.

That being said, I am embarrassed that I started but could not finish both Infinite Jest and Gormenghast. I guess that's a short list?

My least favourite assigned text would have to be Harriet the Spy (4th grade) a book universally loathed by all of my classmates, including the uber popular soccer star who never got into trouble and who was widely considered to be one of the smartest, kindest kids in our class. I don't remember exactly how it happened but as we had finished the unit and were all returning our books our teacher discovered that someone had written "This book sucks!" on the inside of one of the covers.

Reader, he confessed. He got a scolding in front of everyone and was asked to pay for a replacement copy, which he did, even though it meant telling his parents why he needed to dip into his allowance.

Thanks for taking one for the team, dude.
posted by janepanic at 2:32 AM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've probably read fewer than half the books listed here, almost all for assigned reading. I mostly don't feel bad: I'm just better with nonfiction and poetry. Fiction plots confuse me unless they're relatively simple -- I recall in particular trying to read The Brothers Karamazov and though the prose was lovely I had no clue who was doing what or why.

In terms of frequently referenced MeFi lit:

Lovecraft
David Foster Wallace
most Austen
The Brontes
pretty much anything written in my lifetime

I'm starting to feel worse about this....
posted by tivalasvegas at 3:15 AM on September 14, 2016


I wish I hadn't read Jonathon Strange and Mr Norell.

The footnotes alone are better than many novels. Better footnotes than Infinite Jest. Better (this hurts, but I'm going to say it) ... better footnotes than Pale Fire.
posted by Segundus at 3:16 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Dickens is like long-distance running: when I was young it was easy and no bother and rewarding. Now I am getting older and it takes way longer and kind of hurts, even though I might appreciate the scenery more.

I read a LOT of Dickens in high school and college and shortly thereafter, but not much since. I also tried running again this summer and while I could run a mile under seven minutes, it was boooooring and my knees hurt.

So here's a vote for Dickens, but don't feel bad if you prefer swimming or hiking or cycling.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:19 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


I've never read The Simpsons, by the way - I'm not even sure who it's by (Michael Chabon?)
posted by Segundus at 3:19 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Never read On the Road; tried really hard to read Catcher in the Rye, but gave up about a third of the way in, ditto with Wuthering Heights and Dr. Zhivago.

First read 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited back around, oh, age 10-12, for fun not school assignments --- why yes, I was a weird kid, why do you ask? Enjoyed all, read all several times since. Found Sherlock Holmes around then too, and that led me to a lot of other stuff Conan Doyle wrote, for which I still thank him. Dived into Jane Austen and Dickens in my teens, again for fun not school; I still reread pretty much all of Austen, but really only like Dickens' Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations: the heck with the rest. I never got any of these as school assignments, but that might have been due to being a military brat and moving around a lot: the schools I attended might very well have assigned them, but either before or after I was there.

Just tried to reread Swiss Family Robinson for the first time in years, and wanted to rip the damn book to shreds.

Read Romeo & Juliet for school, and that led me to Macbeth, Hamlet (entertaining, if you skip a lot of the then-current political stuff) and Henry V for fun.
posted by easily confused at 4:54 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I majored in lit, but have never gotten past the first chapter of Moby Dick, never read any Austen, Dostoyevsky (thank you, autocorrect, for helping with that one), no Milton, no Joyce. I don't think I've ever read a full Hemingway novel. I've never read anything by Ursula K Leguin aside from The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas (the Leguin shaped hole in my reading is probably the most embarrassing). No Dickens, no Beloved, no Lady Chatterly (I tried, I really did). No Ralph Ellison. No In Cold Blood.

Wow. That's pretty embarrassing.

Scarlet Letter remains the assigned book (that I actually read) that I loathed the most.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:28 AM on September 14, 2016


I hated "Catcher in the Rye" ... I just didn't respond very well to a privileged white guy complaining all the time about his life when it seemed great to me.

thatsthejoke.gif
posted by octobersurprise at 5:38 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


what have you read (ie: made time for) that you ought to be ashamed of? Stuff before the end of high school doesn't count.

Everything after the end of high school.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:47 AM on September 14, 2016


It's crossed my mind relatively recently (over the last decade or so) that I probably have difficulty reading. Not dyslexia - I mean, not: no character transposition, just confusion - but something like that. If I'm not actually interested in the text I get stuck on one or two paragraphs going over and over. I basically can't reliably mine a text longer than a blog for information. It's probably why I got so heavily in to American comics at such a young age.

The other problem is that when I finally close a book I remember very little about it other than one or two striking images and the sense of whether I enjoyed it or not. If I'm reading for fun, I can jump out of those paragraphs, skip whole pages if I feel like it, what the hell (which means that technically I've read Gravity's Rainbow, Infinite Jest, Gormenghast, Bleak House, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson in the first and second readings and several other ox-stunners and they all come up on the approval list). It also means I can read comedy and detective fiction over and over, and the jokes and culprits come as a surprise each time (no, really, I'm running through the Wimsey novels in my head as a test and... nope, no idea. Not one. Though I do remember that I enjoyed the way Murder Must Advertise was basically a comedy about office life, probably the first, and a very accurate depiction of ad companies even today).

The major drawback, of course, is that even if I've gone through the process of dragging my eyeballs through a book, if it comes up in discussion I might as well be pretending to have read it. So I find it easier to pretend I haven't a lot of the time, as it's considerably less humiliating.

My life panned out so that I was quickly disabused of the notion that not having read anything at all was anything to be ashamed of (or as an English teacher put it, "Anyone who doesn't love Keats has no soul". Fine. I don't, so I don't and I'll just live with that), though it's probably useful to have read something at some point, and invaluable to be able to read. However, as I work mostly for publishers I do have to dance around the fact that I don't really read books much any more, especially fiction. People who were academically successful, went to Oxbridge to read English and became editors seem to take it very personally when people don't read books, though I don't intend it that way.

I did go through a period of reading books on Javascript as I was getting to sleep, though, despite the fact that I couldn't Javascript my way out of a bag, either paper or plastic. I just enjoyed reading about it.
posted by Grangousier at 6:01 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I need to read DFW and DeLillo.

I've had a life-long on-again-off-again love affair with Mr. DeLillo. (I've even spoken to him on the phone and was delighted to discover how DeLillian he sounded.) My recommended entry point wouldn't be White Noise, the book he may be best known for because I think it's a lesser novel and to some degree a self-satire, something that is apparent only if you know everything else he's written to that point. Rather, I'd start with Americana, his first book, End Zone, his second, Great Jones Street, his third, or Running Dog, his sixth. Americana and End Zone are short, mostly humorous, introductions to the Delillian world; Running Dog is short with one of the all time great McGuffins; and Great Jones Street is his classic satire of hippie-dom/the popular music industry. It's one of my favorites. If you read any/all of those and you still want more DeLillo, then you can move on to the big novels like Ratner's Star, The Names, and Underworld without being totally baffled/bored.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:02 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


The author of the Guardian article does a poor job explaining how the game actually works. Each player takes turns naming books they haven't read. When you name a book, everyone else has to say whether they've read it or not. You score a point for each player who has read the book you named. So, in Changing Places, the professor who confesses to having not read Hamlet does so because he's very competitive and knows everyone else in the room (full of English professors) will have read it.

I'm in an English graduate program and have played the game at least three or four times with colleagues, always at parties or dinners where everyone present is an English PhD student. I can't imagine it'd be much of a game if you weren't in a group where everyone could be expected to have read a large number of the same books. The more detailed your assumptions about what others have read, the better. The ideal is to play with people who study the same time period as you.

Ulysses is a popular choice because it is A Big Canonical Book, but it's always a dud because in the times I've played only specialists in modernism have read it. I'm not sure that there are any other novels that have the same discrepancy between stature in our culture mythology vs. actual readership. It is a surefire loser at Humiliation, though I think it gives some people peace to hear aloud the almost universal silent agreement that reading Ulysses sounds like a total chore. Victorian novels, Shakespeare, and Madame Bovary tend to be winning choices, in my experience.

I've never read Bovary, Sense and Sensibility, A Tale of Two Cities, 1984, The Iliad, most Greek drama, and To the Lighthouse. I've never read any Russian novels, but likely the only one you could really score with in Humiliation is Crime and Punishment.

In terms of assigned reading, by far the worst was Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent, though I also loathed David Copperfield. It's generally true that Dickens' longer novels are better - Our Mutual Friend, Dombey and Son, and Bleak House are his best - but Copperfield is a thousand page concentration of all of Dickens' most tiresome qualities. David's marriage to Dora is probably the most unpleasant plot line in Victorian literature.
posted by vathek at 6:03 AM on September 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


I have never read any Jane Austen, James Joyce, or any of the Brontes.
posted by Kitteh at 6:29 AM on September 14, 2016


My least favourite assigned text would have to be Harriet the Spy (4th grade) a book universally loathed by all of my classmates

Of all the books I read as a child, Harriet the Spy was my favorite. And Fitzhugh had a remarkable life. It's another book that if it isn't actually "totes gay" is pretty evocative of a non-traditionally-heterosexually-conforming pre-adolescence. And it's possible that the effect is lost on a reader who wasn't a non-traditionally-heterosexually-conforming pre-adolescent in the 1960s or '70s. But I've always been a little amazed that it ever got written and published at all.

posted by vathek

Now what would be embarrassing is if you had never read Vathek.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:30 AM on September 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


The warning on my mattress.
posted by jonmc at 6:40 AM on September 14, 2016


I always rip those off.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:42 AM on September 14, 2016


New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)

I've been thinking about this and the only thing I remember being assigned in Middle and High School was Shakespeare which I enjoyed until the teacher had the One True Interpretation of it and there was no discussion. There were right and wrong answers about what was meant or how it made us feel. I went to normal public school in the US and I only remember writing in English classes, not reading. At the time I'd hear other people talk about books that should or shouldn't be on the assigned reading list for various schools and it seemed weird to me. Where were these people who even had assigned reading lists? How did that work? Were they encouraged to read those books or somehow required to? (These are rhetorical questions. I know how it works now.) If my English teachers weren't mostly sports coaches it may have been different. We did have teachers who coached, but we mostly had coaches who had to teach a class to be eligible to coach. English was meant for learning proper spelling and structure in my school. Studying novels and such was going to happen in college. I was in the engineering school at college so I never took another English or literature class. It was required but I tested right out because all of the testing was on spelling and grammar which I was well prepared for.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 6:51 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do not care for Shakespeare at all and only read him when forced to (including being dragged to plays). I understand that he's important because he invented some new English words and all that, but it's way too much work for me.
posted by Melismata at 7:18 AM on September 14, 2016


I read constantly as a kid, but I haven't read a bunch of beloved children's classics because I refused to read anything with talking animals.

I was the opposite! I haunted the library stacks, searching for books about talking animals.

I have been reading for leisure and pleasure since I was a tot, and I'm still at it. Part of it, I think, is I give myself permission to read only what interests and pleases me. I read assigned works in college, but I didn't get a lit degree so I never developed a feeling that I was obligated to have read the Great White Canon.

I don't feel embarrassed by the Canon books I haven't read - there's no way to read them all and I'm not interested!

I dropped a book group a year or so ago because the book choices made reading a chore rather than a pleasure and I'm not here for that.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:22 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Many gaps in my repertoire, too many to list. (But I only minored in Lit, so I forgive myself.)

As a could-have-been philosophy major (all but 12 credits; ended up with something else), I think I'm poorer for only having read selections from Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Spinoza's Ethics. (As an atheist with a [reluctantly] religious temperament, my intuition is that Spinoza would totally be my bag, if I could only unlazy myself. I also seem to have acquired an allergy to even the word "God" that I think is a little unreasonable and might get in the way.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:28 AM on September 14, 2016


I'm sure there's a least favorite text I was assigned, some horrible man book probably, like Henderson the Rain King, but some some reason I keep thinking of the time in high school we watched Polanski's Macbeth and I wrote my essay all about how Polanski was a child rapist and I felt the school could make better use of our time.

I was a fun kid.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:32 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


never read any Faulkner, that should do for me
posted by thelonius at 7:35 AM on September 14, 2016


Seeing everyone's answers makes me think this is also a list of books I've pretended at one point in my life to have read even though I had/have not. I used to do the same with movies. I try not to do that anymore. If it's worth lying about, it's worth making the time for.

My personal answer, which is something I just confessed to yesterday, is that I've read no Margaret Atwood other than The Handmaid's Tale (which I didn't read until I was in my thirties); maybe not the most egregious of my literary sins, but certainly the one that surprised the person I told (who knows me very well).
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:41 AM on September 14, 2016


I've not read Sketches by Boz which is odd primarily because I've read every damn novel by Dickens and enjoyed most of them. If you had to read Dickens (probably Great Expectations) in school at some point and hated it - which was exactly my experience - try something else. I'd recommend Bleak House which was the book that changed my mind.

Also not finished Remembrance of Things Past though I have done both of the first two. Didn't finish Against the Day. I long ago gave myself permission to start a book and not finish it.

Did Middlemarch on an extended "hike up to a nice place and camp and wander around" trip in the New Mexico mountains. Quite liked it but never reread it - have read other Eliot and not enjoyed it as much.
posted by Death and Gravity at 8:10 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


(It's great how none of our North American male members have had to confess to humiliation over not reading Louisa May Alcott or LM Montgomery or Zora Neale Hurston or Maya Angelou or Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison or Alice Munro and I 100% choose to believe that's because they have read them extensively and not because they're forgetting that women belong in the canon too!)

With the exception of Their Eyes Were Watching God, I've not read any other books by any of those authors. OTOH, off the top of my head, I'm pretty fond of Ann Radcliffe, Edith Wharton, Colette, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, Anita Loos, Iris Murdoch, Olivia Manning, Rebecca West, Mavis Gallant, Janet Flanner, Dawn Powell, Marguerite Yourcenar, M. F. K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, Caroline Blackwood, Dorothy Baker, Elaine Dundy ... so, yes, it'd be silly to feel I had to confess to anything just because I haven't read the women on your list, Eyebrows.

<Beavis>Huh huh she said "male members"</Beavis>
posted by octobersurprise at 8:15 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I read a lot but I am not rich in the classics. For most of my teens it was romance novels and in my twenties it was travel fiction. My thirties have been mostly YA Fantasy and sci-fi, but not much high fantasy or hard sci-fi. So, no Tolkien and very little Asimov, for example.

I've never read To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men, even though I was assigned to read them in high school. I got at least a B- in both of those classes, too. I only got through A Tale of Two Cities by listening to the librivox version. I tried to read Catcher in the Rye in high school (for fun) and just couldn't finish.
posted by soelo at 8:19 AM on September 14, 2016


For those of you who are missing A Wrinkle in Time, I just finished the graphic novel by Hope Larson and it was great. I've read the book, so I can't tell you for sure if it works without knowing the story already, but I think it does. But also, there is a going to be a movie soon so, if you are the type who needs to read the book first, get going!
posted by soelo at 8:22 AM on September 14, 2016


I made it through a PhD in English, specializing in Modernist lit, and have never finished Joyce's Ulysses. Don't judge me!


posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:45 AM on September 14, 2016


Let he who has actually read Ulysses cast the first stone.
posted by vathek at 8:53 AM on September 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'll DO it this afterNOOOOOON!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:59 AM on September 14, 2016


Let he who has actually read Ulysses cast the first stone.

yes I said yes I did Yes

(No, of course I haven't, but I listened to the song. Isn't that enough?)
posted by Grangousier at 9:04 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I only got about 20 pages in to A Confederacy of Dunces until I threw the book across the room (after muttering under my breath for most of the 20 pages and annoying my husband in the process) and I have never felt sorry for it. And I never will. It's a shit book and I actually recycled it instead of donating it to the library THAT'S HOW BAD IT IS.

Wait am I playing the game wrong?
posted by cooker girl at 9:11 AM on September 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Middlemarch has been on my to-read list for two years. I've read the first few chapters a few times now but can't seem to get any further -- reading the extensive footnotes is killing me. I had a similar resolution for Anna Karenina, which failed, but that I don't feel so bad about. Lately I've been staring at the copy of Sons and Lovers on my shelf.

But I am continually surprised -- as someone who has read practically everything that the Bronte sisters wrote -- by my inability to get into Wuthering Heights.

In nonfiction, I've tried many, many times to read Hero with a Thousand Faces. It stares at me from the bookshelf with approbation, lo, these many years.
posted by megancita at 9:16 AM on September 14, 2016


I made it through a PhD in English, specializing in Modernist lit, and have never finished Joyce's Ulysses. Don't judge me!

I took a Modernism class called Proust, Joyce, and Faulkner; the idea was we read all the Joyce fiction prior to Finnegan's Wake, like 4 or 5 Faulkner books, and In Search of Lost Time.

But, of Proust, I only read Swann's Way. And then I kinda.. just.. stopped.

So for all the exams and papers, I focused almost entirely on Joyce and Faulkner, and just used what Proust bits I had heard other people talk about in class. It worked! And in the end, I did great in the class -- But on another level, wasn't I only cheating myself, since I still haven't read ISoLT?

No, I was actually cheating the professor, and the school, and proust himself yeah that's right marcel you heard me come at me you madeleine-sniffing fucker
posted by Greg Nog at 9:17 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


I made it through a PhD in English, specializing in Modernist lit, and have never finished Joyce's Ulysses.

That's ok, you get a Mulligan.

but I listened to the song.

If you can't make it through the Nighttown sequence, you can always listen to Gino Vannelli's Nightwalker. As I've probably remarked here before, Gino was actually born on Bloomsday so that makes it even more special.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:21 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of books I haven't read that I don't feel that bad about not reading (Infinite Jest, Ulysses, etc). I have read a couple of Big, Impressive books and didn't always enjoy them and I'd much rather read something that I enjoy than check an item off a list. Of course, there are a couple of classics that are a lot of fun (Madame Bovary, for example), but you can ever tell.

That said, I do feel that I should get around to reading some Jane Austen someday. I've seen a lot of the adaptations, so I'm part-way there. As as a science fiction nerd, I really need to read Neuromancer.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:22 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


oh man I got this I GOT THIS

I haven't read Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum

BOOOOOM
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:22 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I started reading (and enjoying) Tess of the D'Urbervilles for a book report in middle school, but then I lost the book. Never found it, and never finished it. Read Moby Dick in a day and a half and wrote my report on that instead.

I cannot get more than 3 pages into any Joyce without wanting to throw the book across the room, so that's big gap.
posted by coppermoss at 9:23 AM on September 14, 2016


1984. And I never could finish a single Jane Austen book, although Lord knows I tried.
posted by holborne at 9:26 AM on September 14, 2016


You like Ann Radcliffe, octobersurprise? And here it is only mid-September.

The two volumes of The Mysteries of Udolpho were my least favorite assigned reading, though there was something to it.
posted by jamjam at 9:28 AM on September 14, 2016


I took a Modernism class called Proust, Joyce, and Faulkner; the idea was we read all the Joyce fiction prior to Finnegan's Wake, like 4 or 5 Faulkner books, and In Search of Lost Time.

That's a fuckton of reading, even for a grad class. Was the instructor insane or just cruel? The class I most regret never taking was one devoted solely to Finnegan's Wake. That was it. The entire class was going to be reading the Wake paragraph by paragraph, page by page. It sounded like an adventure. Then I was like, Nah I don't need that much Wake in my life.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:30 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


>>I still think, however, that The Old Man and the Sea is a silly book to assign to 9th graders.

>We were assigned it in the SEVENTH grade. I had no idea wtf was going on.


I remember at one point the old dude (the one with the sea) gets injured and there's a line about how he "tastes copper" or something. I remember the teacher pointing it out and asking us what it meant. The class just stared at her until, frustrated, she yelled "It means he tasted blood!"

I have a distinct memory of thinking, "Lady, we are 12 years old. How could we possibly know that?"
posted by purpleclover at 9:30 AM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


The two volumes of The Mysteries of Udolpho were my least favorite assigned reading

Udolpho is the best 19th century Scooby-Doo episode ever.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:32 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, as a prolific reader who takes reading as a central part of my identify, I'm maybe not so much ashamed by what I haven't read but by how little I remember of what I've read. I can remember that I've read a book, but have zero recollection of the plots of probably 95% of what I've read. Sometimes I wonder what's the friggen point of all this reading if it just passes through my brain and then vanishes. That's my true humiliation.
posted by megancita at 9:35 AM on September 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


The bigger question for me is, which holes are worth filling?

Only recently did I manage Fahrenheit 451, and Mockingbird, and they were much better than you'd think based on their obligatory status. There must be a lot of syllabus-worthy books that also qualify as tasty pop culture, but you can begin and discard a lot of "classics" before you find them.
posted by Flexagon at 9:35 AM on September 14, 2016


Tho a book club called "Wake & Bake" devoted to getting stoned and reading Finnegan's Wake would be awesome.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:35 AM on September 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


i've never even read Queneau's Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes my face is RED
posted by beerperson at 9:44 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


This whole discussion is making me shake my head a little bit. I mean, Hungerford has a specialty within which it can be argued you are remiss for not reading one book or another. I think she's pretty clear about that, and she's writing for an academic audience to begin with.

Outside of such a situation? I've been in two academic programs that featured reading lists. As narrow as those lists were, most people could not or did not want to read everything on them. (One speech by Demosthenes; OK. Six or eight of them? Not for me, in the time allowed.) And the narrowness was painfully felt. I do love David Lodge and was tickled by Humiliation but to me-- and very typical of him-- it's funny because it's possible for so few people to play it meaningfully. It shows you how deformed those people are by their profession.
posted by BibiRose at 9:45 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel no embarrassment at any anything I haven't read. I also have no problem dropping books that I just can't get into (Moby Dick, Infinite Jest, Ulysses .... I'm looking at you). There are too many books in the world that I want to read to waste time and energy on something I don't like. All the pooh-pooers who feel obligated to yammer on about how certain books are Important and Essential and that I should read them because they are Difficult and Challenging can go suck eggs. I have a large enough (and ever growing) pile of things to read on my shelves already.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:48 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yes, I mean, if you haven't read one (or any) of the Russians, or Ulysses, or Dickens, or Infinite Jest (blargh), or The Crying of Lot V, or Faulkner, and you just aren't that interested - you're fine! You've probably already read enough man stories by men in your life anyway!

Go read a book by a woman, or a person of color that seems fun or intriguing if you have time!
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:53 AM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


For some reason one of my best memories of high school was reading "Youth" by Joseph Conrad. I read it all in almost one sitting while traveling home from Vancouver on the ferry. I remember where on the ferry we were sitting while I was reading it. I was one of the only people in class that actually did the required reading (our teacher was far more interested in organizing prayer meetings, and eventually took 3 of my classmates on a snap road trip to New Orleans in the middle of the school year. He teaches at a local dance academy now).
posted by My Dad at 9:54 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


There was that one time when I was a teenager and I picked up a classic English text and I thought "Right, I'll give this one fifty pages to get started" and it was Tristram Shandy so that probably wasn't the best plan.
posted by Grangousier at 10:00 AM on September 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


I never finished The Parable of the Sower or Kindred. I love Octavia Butler, I recommend her to everyone, but they're just so...real, maybe? Like, the Xenogenesis books were incredible but Kindred touches similar topics with actual real world history and human suffering attached and I just noped right out of it.

The Once and Future King stands out in my head as the first book where I told myself, "Yeah, okay, you don't have to finish every book you start." And I was within the last fifty pages, I just...nope. Couldn't. That was the year I graduated high school, and while it does mean I've finished fewer books since then, it also means that feeling of incandescent-forced-to-read-this-shite-hate doesn't pop up very often any more. Except when reading IQ84 because I felt that I owed it to Murakami, having enjoyed every other damn thing he'd written up to that point. Never again. Fuck you "Aomame, yes, like green peas".

Hated Anne of Green Gables too, but that's probably because my mom was trying to make me read it. She learned very quickly to leave books out and not say anything about them and then would come the glorp noise and I'd have finished them.
posted by theweasel at 10:10 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Only recently did I manage Fahrenheit 451, and Mockingbird, and they were much better than you'd think based on their obligatory status. There must be a lot of syllabus-worthy books that also qualify as tasty pop culture, but you can begin and discard a lot of "classics" before you find them.

There are many things I don't read because I don't think they are going to be my thing, but I try and give some a chance because occasionally I am wrong.

For some reason I associated A Confederacy of Dunces with Infinite Jest (and found I'm not the only one) and thought it was going to be a big difficult book. I was shocked to find it was closer to Mel Brooks telling the story of Comic Book Guy.
posted by bongo_x at 10:20 AM on September 14, 2016


I just want you all to know that I've read every book you haven't, I love every book you hate, and every Saturday my extremely cultured friends and I gather to sip martinis and laugh at you philistines.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 10:23 AM on September 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


I haven't read Most of the literature mentioned in this thread, or made it past Tom Bombadill in The Lord of the Rings. But what this thread is making me remember is how much I Love Love Loved so much of the literature we read in school. To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tale of Two Cities (my 8th grade teacher had us all SOBBING when she read the beginning and end to us after that unit), Catch-22, Catcher in the Rye, Siddhartha, My Name is Asher Lev - all SO GREAT, why don't I read more literature? Or at least more books by old favorites like Atwood?
posted by ldthomps at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hmm...I remember Camus "L'Étranger" as my all-time lost battle because, whut

Oddly, I have read Joyce's Ulysses both in the [newer of two, I believe] German translation and English, for as far as that's possible.

Which brings me *harrumph* to the related literary game which could be called confession and is about the odd books you actually did read. Twilight anyone?
posted by Namlit at 10:30 AM on September 14, 2016


Once every year or two I pick up something I either hated or outright skipped in high school, and mostly they've actually turned out to be pretty great. Moby Dick: Actually pretty interesting, if you can just resist the urge to choke on your own tongue laughing at that passage about holding hands in a vat of sperm! Alexandre Dumas: Super super fun! Ulysses: Okay, I still haven't finished it, but I liked what I read!

And yet I think I may go to my deathbed never having read The Great Gatsby. I eye it up every time I think about tackling a classic I skipped, and yet somehow I can never make myself read it.
posted by Stacey at 10:31 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have a distinct memory of thinking, "Lady, we are 12 years old. How could we possibly know that?

This!! Especially before the internet! This describes nearly all of my school career. I have a sneaking suspicion that online searching was invented by people who had seen plenty of ladies like these during their formative years.

I was a literature minor, and as mentioned above don't care for Shakespeare very much. And yet all this perceived shaming (whaddya mean you never read X??) was very, very real growing up in Cambridge, MA, next to all those big universities. We had to read Lord of the Flies in 6th grade and were expected to understand it from an adult's point of view. 8th grade was Little Women, Beneath the Wheel, and The Fixer. And also Summer of My German Solder, which was easier to read but I remember reading it later as adult and thinking "wow, so much of this is lost on younger people." 9th grade was Fahrenheit 451, Watership Down, Shakespeare, and others.

I'd argue that there's way too much "essential" literature out there to read in any lifetime, so being embarrassed about gaps is a bit much.

So true. I remember thinking, ok, you've already given us a TON of homework. I'm not the fastest reader, even though I do love books. And you somehow expect us to magically know the entire history of the Great Depression or whatever so we know exactly how to discuss your favorite novel? The math says it's not going to happen, and therefore you are delusional and I'm going to read what I want (biographies mostly, that aren't too dense. I hate dense). I remember watching the 1980 movie "Fame" and watching the teacher insist that the kid who could barely read "start" with Shakespeare and wanting to throw something at the screen for the teacher being so stupid.

There was also the Italian I professor in college who was furious, furious that we didn't know the entire history of Italy and hadn't heard of Italo Calvino.

/rant

Haven't read any Willa Cather, though I hope to remedy this soon. I've read some Mark Twain, but not all. No Faulkner. No Whitman or Emerson, except for brief excerpts in anthologies. No Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or Dos Passos. No Tolkien at all, only one Ursula Le Guin that was assigned for a class (Left Hand of Darkness). We like what we like, I guess.

Preview: ooh, loved Potok's books about Asher Lev.

Love this thread!
posted by Melismata at 10:33 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


A slightly different take on literary embarrassment:

When I was in my 20s, I used to go on (and on) about how I thought Raymond Carver was just awful. His stories were pointless and boring and I had no fucking idea why he got so much attention.

A few years later I picked up a xeroxed copy of a story, Call If You Need Me, that someone had left behind at the bar/restaurant where I was working. I was blown away—wanted to read more by this author asap, but there was no name on any of the pages. Fortunately, by then I was hanging out with people smarter than me who immediately recognized the title of the story, by Raymond Carver, of course. I've since read most (all?) of his short stories.

And I've learned that I was an idiot when I was in my 20s, which is not to say that I stopped being an idiot as I got older.
posted by she's not there at 10:37 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


For the record, Beverly Cleary, mentioned above, is still alive. She celebrated her 100th birthday this year.
posted by terooot at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm an English professor, but I specialize in nineteenth-century British literature, so my reading becomes a bit random once we get past 1902 or so. Like a lot of people, I've not been able to get through Ulysses, let alone Finnegans Wake (both of which benefit from group reading, though, I think). Most of the books I really should sit down and read wouldn't work too well in Humiliation (The History of Sir Charles Grandison, anyone?).

Victorian literature often resonates more with upper-division students than lower-division, let alone high school kids, so it's no shock to me that people who got assaulted with Dickens in tenth grade couldn't stand him. I couldn't stand Dickens in tenth grade. (Many years ago, I went on the record arguing that nineteenth-c. lit should be kept out of high school/junior high school altogether: the style, cultural references, humor, and often the plots don't work for teens and pre-teens.) I suddenly "got" Dickens when I was a senior in college and reading Bleak House, but I know many people find his grotesques off-putting.

Least favorite assigned reading: probably Eliot's Adam Bede, just because I couldn't escape it. I swear that novel was on the syllabus of at least four courses. (It's not an accident that I've only taught it once...)
posted by thomas j wise at 11:00 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've never read anything by Stephen King.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:01 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I’ve never read Ovid’s Medea, despite it being considered one of his best works. If anyone has a used copy, let me know.
posted by D.C. at 11:01 AM on September 14, 2016


Only recently did I manage Fahrenheit 451, and Mockingbird, and they were much better than you'd think based on their obligatory status.

Interestingly, I recently re-read Fahrenheit 451 and found it didn't hold up as well as I had hoped. What I found fascinating about it is how its vision of the future was a very 1950s vision of the future. You still had heterosexual couples where the man worked and the woman didn't and the suburbs were still recognizable. Montag goes into a bank at night, when all the tellers have gone home, and interacts with a robot teller. It's what people of the past envisioned today might look like.

Obviously it's that. It could hardly be anything else, but I found it more interesting for what it said about the 1950s than anything else. All literature is about the present.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:07 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've never read anything by Stephen King.

Go for the long version of The Stand and worry about anything else later. Sorry Steve.
posted by bongo_x at 11:38 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


But imagine the counterfactual entity, immune to "Humiliation". This omniscient - having read everything ever written - is a fallen soul, having lost the benefit of anticipation. Pity you this hypothetical know-it-all, doomed to mope and paw about the bookshop's shelves, desperate for new literary pleasure - for fresh ignorance to open up unexplored realms of experience! Like an Alexander, who wept when there were no more worlds to conquer, this ultimate bibliophage has devoured all hope of novelty, of intellectual sustenance.

Not so we, my fellow ignorami - we still have, in the universe of unread books, vast landscapes in which to freshly frolic, endless feasts to savour, new oceans in which to bathe. If discovery was ever a pleasure, then ignorance is its gentle and supportive parent, who stands not in the way of its child's becoming. Thus, oh Knowledge, honour thy mother and thy father.

And with similar logic, vote #1 quidnunc kid! - he literally doesn't know a fucking thing about anything. I mean, did you even read this shit he just wrote in this comment? What a stupid asshole! No yeah but vote #1.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:47 AM on September 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


I wouldn't say I'm embarrassed but I am one of those bookworm booksnob types:

no Austen
none of the big Russians
still vainly trying to get through the abridged Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (I will do it!!)

so many books....not nearly enough time!

its funny how many people hated the assigned reading of Mists of Avalon, I did too. but for some reason I re-read it later of my own volition and it was much less bad (its still bad, about twice as long as it should be and just...bad)
posted by supermedusa at 11:49 AM on September 14, 2016


also really bummed I find The Myths of Sisyphus pretty much impossible...
posted by supermedusa at 11:57 AM on September 14, 2016


and oh god I have not been able to get through Mason & Dixon, I am sorry Mr Pynchon!
posted by supermedusa at 12:00 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I started The Magic Mountain and read with enthusiasm for about 200 pages....and then stopped. It was great and then my brain was full.

I have never read War and Peace even though I love Anna Karenina. I have never read White Teeth. The truth is that there's tons of stuff I haven't read. I read a Faulkner in high school but can't remember which one and don't care to figure it out. I do not like Flannery O'Connor or Carson McCullers. I have read two volumes of In Search of Lost Time but only two, and I have no particular preference translation-wise.

I used to find Henry James really fascinating but I picked up The Golden Bowl a couple of months ago and could not make myself care about those fucking people. "Get a job," I wanted to scream. "Earn your own money!"

The truth is, the books I like best are almost inevitably serendipitous finds. I love WG Sebald and Samuel Delany and Charles Dickens and Sofia Samatar and Hilary Mantel; I used to love but now merely enjoy Margaret Drabble, Doris Lessing and Marge Piercy. And those were all writers I discovered on my own, not in school or to fit in with my social milieu.

At this point in my life, I don't care. I will probably never chew through The Man Without Qualities, but whatevs, life is too short.
posted by Frowner at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Some examples of books or series that I've never finished:
Game Of Thrones


Thats OK, even George has this on his list.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:28 PM on September 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


I have an English degree, did my fair share of American Lit, and despite being an alive person in North America, I have never read any Hemingway. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

However, I am excused by having been forced to read Pride and Prejudice five separate times.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:29 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Two more I shirked in school were Huck Finn and Old Man and the Sea. I like Twain well enough but you couldn't pay me to read any Hemingway after those class discussions. I have a fear of sharks and I knew there were some in the book, too. I also tried to read The Brothers Karamazov and failed.

It is really nice having these books sit unread in my ebooks folder rather than having them sit unread on my bookshelves.
posted by soelo at 12:31 PM on September 14, 2016


Actually, I think the real question should be "what socially mandatory novel do you dislike?"

I do not like A Member of the Wedding. I didn't really like Fathers and Sons. I really hate Wuthering Heights and find it incredibly irritating and pointless. I also don't like Thomas Hardy.

The truth is, I like novels that have at least an equivocal view of humans, and I like novels in which people are, to a degree, able to know themselves. Or else novels where they baffle the author. The flat grey tone of novels where the characters are exposed in all their failings and Freudiannesses by the author and remain totally opaque to themselves is, to me, phony high-browitude.
posted by Frowner at 12:34 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


bongo_x: "Go for the long version of The Stand and worry about anything else later. "

What??? Original version or GTFO.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:45 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was a Jewish Studies major in college. I write a blog on the Yiddish language.

I have never read one single book by a Yiddish author. Not even Sholem Aleichem. I've read Yiddish plays, but no literature.

Boy, do I need to address that fact.
posted by maxsparber at 12:46 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Actually, I think the real question should be "what socially mandatory novel do you dislike?"

But as this thread demonstrates, the phrase "socially mandatory" is practically meaningless except within very narrowly defined parameters. Everyone thinks that some particular work has been pressed on them and everyone delights in not having read it. It's the same old push-and-pull of cultural capital: some people think it accrues by doing something, while others think it accrues by virtue of not doing that same thing.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:56 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have never read one single book by a Yiddish author.

You lucky bastard! You get to read Isaac Bashevis Singer for the first time!

Some New Yorker stories.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:01 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


1. I believe it's a crime to (force someone to) read Shakespeare. I had no appreciation for him until I watched him being performed. Any play of his I was forced to read in school is forever tainted by the experience. So I am not embarrassed at all to admit to not having read some of the major plays. But, when I get the chance to see them, I take it. Missed a recent chance to see Hamlet but it is going to happen someday. Really want to see that. Have heard good things. (Also plenty of spoilers, but it's hard to avoid those.)

2. I really want to read Margaret Atwood, but also, I'm scared. (I read a few pages of 1984 and that was quite sufficient for me).

Would kind of like to read A Tale of Two Cities someday.

There's a lot of canonical sci-fi I really should read some day eventually.

3. There's actually a lot of books I'm content to have read only a few pages of. Crime and Punishment is one. I may someday come back to it, but I may not, and I'm okay with that. It seemed like a good book but it was very dense and grey.

(and of course there are the books I dropped like hot potatoes, but that's a totally separate issue)
posted by Cozybee at 1:11 PM on September 14, 2016


The "read something besides straight white men" thing is odd to me too, because who doesn't? But I am the world's worst author fan, I just don't pay that much attention to who wrote something. I couldn't tell you who wrote 90% of the things I've read. Mostly just the really good and the really bad.
posted by bongo_x at 1:17 PM on September 14, 2016


2. I really want to read Margaret Atwood, but also, I'm scared. (I read a few pages of 1984 and that was quite sufficient for me).

Oif. I only ever read The Handmaid's Tale, and, well, I haven't read any other Atwood. Too scary.
posted by quaking fajita at 1:27 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Shakespeare.

(I also know little to nothing about the timing/lineage/progression of names in the monarchy of England throughout history.)

I am frustrated that these specific things seem to get, in my opinion, disproportionate love/attention in various trivia mediums. I'm referencing Jepoardy for sure, some crosswords, and,to a lesser degree from what I can tell since I'm new to this rundle (thanks jessamyn!), LearnedLeague.

/nerdrant
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:29 PM on September 14, 2016


I've never read anything by Stephen King.

You're not missing much.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:29 PM on September 14, 2016


I've read about 30 Stephen King novels. It was called The Stand.
posted by maxsparber at 1:31 PM on September 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


I can't imagine how lengthy the list of classics-blindspots would be if I wrote it, but mostly I feel fine with it. Life is short and the choices are huge. The few that i feel sort of bad about are...

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. I love HST in small doses but this book, man... I can barely start it. I would like to be Spider Jerusalem so this feels like betraying myself.

I actually did finally read my wife's favorite book, The Great Gatsby, some time shortly before the DiCaprio movie came out. Which was still something like five years after we'd gotten married. And I didn't really care for it.

Never read Catcher in the Rye, which mostly I don't feel bad about except that I found time to read Shoeless Joe so to not make sure I read it afterwards felt kinda dumb.

I've never read anything by Stephen King.
You're not missing much.


How dare you.
posted by phearlez at 1:32 PM on September 14, 2016


His books can be very long.
posted by maxsparber at 1:32 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hard to know where to start with my list of shame, partly because I went through a fatuous armchair-contrarian phase of deliberately reading "the wrong novel" by whichever authors I'd not yet tried. Missing most Dickens, all the Brontes, any Austen other than Northanger Abbey, everything Jack Nicholson ever starred in except The Shining, King Lear, On The Road, Kavalier And Clay, Infinite Jest, The Golden Notebook, all the Hemmingway and somehow Pere Goriot during my Balzac phase.
posted by comealongpole at 1:33 PM on September 14, 2016


Biggest miss: Moby Dick
Assigned book I liked the least: The Red Badge of Courage

But I read a lot more nonfiction than fiction these days, so maybe I should consider that:
Biggest nonfiction miss (recent): The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Biggest nonfiction miss ("classic"): In Cold Blood
Assigned nonfiction book I liked the least: .... wait, I was hardly ever assigned book-length nonfiction in literature/English classes. I can't say I hated any of the very very few I recall being assigned (The Diary of a Young Girl, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), but that now seems like a shocking oversight in my literary education. Is everyone else's experience of formal education as deficient as mine? Is book-length literary nonfiction really so rarely assigned?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:47 PM on September 14, 2016


There are entire genres I only know through reading short stories. (And watching TV and movies.) I've never read a pure mystery novel, and the only horror novel I've ever read is Stephen Kings Gunslinger, which is more of a fantasy anyway.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:49 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


bongo_x: "Go for the long version of The Stand and worry about anything else later. "

And then just read the first half because all the woo-woo in the second half is bullshit.

Oif. I only ever read The Handmaid's Tale, and, well, I haven't read any other Atwood. Too scary.

They're not all like that. I have fond memories of Cat's Eye for being a book about women, and girls' friendships, that I could relate to.

Some books that should shut up from another book group I was in: The Sportswriter by Richard Ford, and The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:52 PM on September 14, 2016


Assigned book I liked the least: The Red Badge of Courage

Junior high, Junior Great Books and oh my god, I hated that book.

Doodled dancing acrobats in the corners of the pages and had a nice flip book by the end of the discussion period.
posted by she's not there at 1:53 PM on September 14, 2016


I've never read anything by Stephen King.
You're not missing much.

How dare you.

posted by phearlez

Look closer.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:57 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


D'oh! Forgot The Handmaid's Tale.
I didn't get assigned many works in school for various reasons, but actually enjoyed all of them, even the plays. Yeah, I was that kid. Looking back they were all fairly progressive/socially aware. Kes, Our Day Out, An Inspector Calls, err Merchant Of Venice.
posted by comealongpole at 2:21 PM on September 14, 2016


The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

I am a middle aged mopey white guy and hated that book.
posted by bongo_x at 2:21 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


(dating myself here!)
posted by comealongpole at 2:22 PM on September 14, 2016


oh dear please don't notice the funny typo in my last comment, please don't notice...
posted by Melismata at 2:28 PM on September 14, 2016


Oh! Also, I tried and failed to listen to any of Hamilton.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:32 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


authors i haven't read but feel like i should:
- DFW
- stephen king
- proust
- lovecraft

authors/books i wish i could un-read:
- jack kerouac
- where the red fern grows (so many sob-inducing nightmares from this as a kid)
- far from the madding crowd
- the scarlet letter
- william faulkner
- the few pages i've read of JSF
- charles dickens
posted by burgerrr at 2:40 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


To clarify my earlier comment, I'm not against the idea of mystery and horror. I've read lots of short stories in those genres that were really good, but at novel length I just can't sustain enough interest to finish them. It's weird, if a mystery novel shades just enough into pulp adventure (like Dan Simmons's Hardcase) or Science Fiction (Caves of Steel), I'll devour it like chocolate. But too much mystery and not enough something else and it's "eh."
posted by Kevin Street at 2:46 PM on September 14, 2016


Tevin, I totally understand but I speak from experience when I say that you have to have to haaaave to give "Bartleby" another shot. It's wrong for America the first time you read it because they always make you read it when you're too young to know what's going on. You have to have worked a while in jobs, have to have been bossed (and ideally have been or tried to be a boss) in order to get past the irritation of "why the fuck doesn't he just fire him?" and access the agony and the anguish. I like to force people to read "Bartleby" and Hamlet at the same time, just so they can get maximum exposure to frustratingly do-nothing main characters. (Yeah, I know you think they're not reading them but surprise, I really mean that I make 'em! Out loud! In class! Haaaaahahaaaaa! Yay for roundrobinreading! Makes even fun stuff feel like swallowing hot nails! Sure, for some of them this will backfire and they will hate both "Bartleby" and Hamlet--and me, it pretty much goes without saying--forever and ever, but some of them will be like I was and will only hate them for ten years or so before trying again and falling in lasting and sustaining love.) (Geez... I guess I never thought about how much of a sadist you have to be to be an English teacher. Huh... Welp! Probably will change nothing as a result of this realization!)
posted by Don Pepino at 2:50 PM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]



"New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education)."

John Fucking Irving,


Eyebrows, I stopped reading Irving long ago but a friend who eagerly read anything I recommended to her suggested that I read Until I Find You. I waffled, but given her willingness to read literally ANYTHING I recommended, I thought I should at least read one book that she loved.

I hated it so much SO MUCH SO MUCH that I wrote a review of it on amazon that was deleted (or not posted, this was 2006/7 and I don't remember what the policy was back then). I was able to re-create it for LibraryThing, where it lives today, to wit:

This book is utterly awful.

1. Irving writes like he's paid by the word. I don't need MORE words, I need BETTER words. Doesn't this man have an editor?

2. Irving uses real places (restaurants, hotels, streets, cities) in order to set moods that a better writer could and would do with descriptors. Doesn't this man have an editor?

3. Irving tries really fuckin hard to enter into a subculture he doesn't understand but he hasn't done sufficient research on any of it. "Eyelid" piercing? come on. People do it, sure. But they do it about as often as they get their clit pierced. What he means is "eyeBROW" piercing. (and women should not get their clits pierced. Clitoral hood, yes. Triangle piercing, yes. Clit, no. We need our clits.) And his charming and eccentric tattoo artist subculture does not ring true. Doesn't this man have an editor?

4. And while we're on the subject, how can you write an 800 page novel that includes as a major plot point a tattoo incorporating women's genitalia and yet call it "vagina"? This man needs an editor. That's not the only place he says "Vagina" when he means "vulva," but it's the most prominent. Imagine what went through my head when the protagonist is said to have seen two vaginas in one day. I of course pictured him carrying a speculum in one hand and a flashlight in the other. No one who considers themselves literate should make this mistake and certainly not someone who writes for a living. Doesn't this man have an editor?

5. And while there is, as always, a ton of sex in the novel, Irving, as usual, manages to make it the LEAST erotic sex I think I have ever read. Worse than Kinsey.

The only reason I read the book was because it was offered to me by a woman who had read a book on my recommendation, so I felt like I owed her, you know?

I should have been warned, because she's a serious Irving fan and even she said that it falls off after the first 400 pages or so. I read the first half of the book and wondered how the hell writing this bad could FALL OFF? I quit at 700 pages.

I am also kind of disgusted at Irving (1) for having the woman with whom the protagonist is most closely emotionally bound suffer from vaginismus (I just think this and other women-related issues in the book reek of misogyny) and then having the gall (2) to dedicate the book to his infant or toddler son. That's sick.
posted by janey47 at 3:05 PM on September 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


PS: Supposedly embarrassing stuff I've read: The alphabet mysteries by Sue Grafton. I love them! Lots of John Saul and VC Andrews. So bad, and so, so awesome.

Actually embarrassing stuff I've read: All the Stephen King horror novels up to It, including the stupid Bachman books, knowing how bad it was the entire time but unable to stop, but I want to point out that with the Bachman books it wasn't my fault, I was living in a room in St. Paul and they were already on the shelf right in front of me where I couldn't miss them and I was snowed in and I didn't know anybody and there was a nice cat named Sizzler who would sit on your stomach while you read and peer over your book and stare at your forehead. And she would also do this while you lay asleep so that when you awoke, there was her little face, an inch from your nose, staring intently. Ah, Sizzler! Ah, felinity! I except Stephen King's short fiction from the embarrassing category. The long stuff he has no discipline and can't keep from barfing a bunch of bio about every tiny minor ayupping motherfucker who needs to wander up and induce a plot point. Plus none of them has any bowel or bladder control. In the shorter stuff, he cuts out the references to every bodily emission by every rando, and as a result they're much tighter.

Gaps: Macbeth, Oliver Twist and Tale of Two Cities (really must try again because Dickens is amazingly good; Bleak House is like... mmmmwah!) Nothing by VA Woolf except A Room of One's Own. Tons of others I can't remember. Oh, I have to try again with Hemmingway. I hated his ass and barely skimmed. Ditto DH Lawrence.

Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre shouldn't be lumped together, in my opinion. The former is spectacular.

George Eliot is great. I hate John Irving! Also, who's that guy that wrote The Magus? I can't stand him, either.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:16 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


To the Jane Eyre and Bronte Humilationists, in addition to project gutenberg, there's a great Jane Eyre available free on libivox. I can't recommend the Elizabeth Klett recording enough (Jane Eyre Version 2) thouth the URL says version 2 for some reason. LibriVox recordings can be uneven in quality, especially when multiple people read the same book. But Elizabeth Klett is awesome to the point where I went and listened to her other recordings just because I knew they'd be well done. Lady Audley's Secret is not canon, but was still a fun read/listen.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:21 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


THE LAWS
posted by 8603 at 3:45 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bendy, I hadn't read Paradise Lost or The Inferno, which was fortunate because it allowed me to write an essay comparing Cliff's notes' Paradise Lost Satan to Monarch notes' Inferno Satan that got an A+ from my 12th grade English teacher. I had read Huck Finn, which was unfortunate because the essay I wrote about that book got an F from the same English teacher. I hated her for many years, but now I love her because, among other things, she made us read Huck Finn.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:49 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read Jane Eyre because I was an art student and I ran across this amazing illustrated version in the campus library and checked it out to worship the engravings and then read it too, for kicks. I made so many copies for mix tape covers and cut-up collages. Look at these beauties!

My sister was a Tom Robbins fan for a while and I kept trying his stuff and my reaction was always, "ugh supergross." What is he even? I don't know. I feel better since I stopped trying.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:52 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I have not read many of the US high school lit standards. I was reading way above grade level and bored as hell by reading assignments by middle school, and went to the library to read science fiction instead.

Bonus: my parents taught HS english lit.
posted by zippy at 4:13 PM on September 14, 2016


(It's great how none of our North American male members have had to confess to humiliation over not reading Louisa May Alcott or LM Montgomery or Zora Neale Hurston or Maya Angelou or Margaret Atwood or Toni Morrison or Alice Munro and I 100% choose to believe that's because they have read them extensively and not because they're forgetting that women belong in the canon too!)

What the hell did you do, go through everyone's profile and cross-reference location+gender with listed books? That's kind of obsessive and creepy.

When this was posted I had the idea that the goal of "Humiliation" is to gain status, not lose it (few people would willingly look ignorant in front of their peers). Basically, regardless of the game's actual point structure, you'd gain by citing obscure classics that few others have read, showing that you know of them in the first place. I should have expected that Metafilter would also turn the game into a weird referendum on men.
posted by Rangi at 4:16 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Chaucer. Lord knows I tried.

More books by women (i'm a dude). Not Joking, my worldview was really male and white.

I like how this thread dances on books you wish you never read, because i am angry at some books too.
posted by vrakatar at 4:21 PM on September 14, 2016


You're just going to have to trust me that this was my list before I read Eyebrow McGee's comment, but the specific omissions that have been on my mind recently are Ursula Le Guin and Alice Sheldon, and now that I'm thinking about it I like Doris Lessing a lot but I've yet to make it through The Golden Notebook.

Books I bitterly wish I could scrub from my mind: The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll, The Lemon Table by Julian Barnes (although my mom convinced me to read his The Sense of an Ending and that was a much better experience).
posted by invitapriore at 4:47 PM on September 14, 2016


It occurs to me now that many of the people on this thread are the selfsame jerks responsible for forcing people to read some of this stuff in the first place.

Which is to say, if any of you happen to be the ninth grade english teacher who made me read Siddartha and Great Expectations and Romeo and Juliet: you're still wrong, and I hate you.

Also, if any of you are the 11th grade history teacher who had us read Tarzan to learn about cultural Darwinism and let me do a research paper about 1920s comic strips: You, sir, are a legend.
posted by theweasel at 5:19 PM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Basically, regardless of the game's actual point structure, you'd gain by citing obscure classics that few others have read, showing that you know of them in the first place. "

I thought the idea was to confess that some examples or types of literature just don't do it for some people, like authors they don't like. But I agree with you that it's kind of silly (imo) to take the game at face value and actually be humiliated by ignorance. There are so many books, one can never read them all! For instance, I've never read Margaret Atwood and don't ever plan to, because from what I've read in interviews and the like, she doesn't sound like an author that would interest me.

Phew! Confession is good for the soul.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:26 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Flannery O'Conner, couldn't grok that either.
posted by vrakatar at 5:30 PM on September 14, 2016


what have you read (ie: made time for) that you ought to be ashamed of?

Not just one Rob Lowe autobiography -- but two.
posted by sallybrown at 5:37 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


War and Peace. I just couldn't keep up with the nicknames.

This one especially because Mr. Chapps challenged me to read it when I mocked his Robert Fisk book, the Great War For Civilization, for being as long as War and Peace.

He finished the Fisk. And then my colleague burned through War and Peace for fun on vacation.

In my defence I've pretty much read all the Hamish MacBeth books, in addition to Shakespeare's MacBeth... so that must count for something, right?
posted by chapps at 5:51 PM on September 14, 2016


I don't feel bad about not reading this, but A Passage to India is the only assigned book I can think of that I never read in high school—and as it turned out, about 80 percent of all of us in that small AP Lit class didn't read it or do the assignment on it. We all got busy with various things and basically mutinied when it came to that book, and there were so few of us that it was forgiven. I got a 5 on the test, so whatev.
posted by limeonaire at 5:54 PM on September 14, 2016


Books I bitterly wish I could scrub from my mind:
I asked for The Wind Up Bird Chronicle for Christmas one year. I wish Santa did takebacks.
posted by janepanic at 6:13 PM on September 14, 2016


All these 'I wish I could unread this' comments sound like a way to take potshots at books while making it rude to defend them and derail the thread. It's pretty unpleasent. For example, the Murakami above - in certain mindsets he's easy to hate, and in certain mindsets he's essential. I'm of the mindset that great things and classics are assigned that status for a reason, and if somebody doesn't understand them they should at least approach them with an open mind and understand why people love them.

Basically, regardless of the game's actual point structure, you'd gain by citing obscure classics that few others have read, showing that you know of them in the first place.

I thought this was the purpose of all cultural discussion.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:18 PM on September 14, 2016


Books I bitterly wish I could scrub from my mind:
I don't think there are any "classic lit"-type books I genuinely wish I hadn't read, but I wholly regret ever picking up The Man Who Would Be Queen and Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies. And when reading Waugh I should've just skipped Black Mischief and his travel writings.
posted by thetortoise at 6:27 PM on September 14, 2016


Basically, regardless of the game's actual point structure, you'd gain by citing obscure classics that few others have read, showing that you know of them in the first place.

No, you would look like an absolute twit and poor sport if you did this. People wouldn't even know how to react.
posted by vathek at 6:33 PM on September 14, 2016


No, you would look like an absolute twit and poor sport if you did this. People wouldn't even know how to react.


By either being ashamed of their ignorance or by looking them up on GoodReads and adding them to their reading list because they sound interesting, thus teaching them about something new?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:34 PM on September 14, 2016


Never read Woolf or Joyce. Otherwise I'm pretty strong on UK and Irish writers. Relatively weak on Americans - never read To Kill a Mockingbird (my sister gave me Go Set a Watchman for my birthday, so I'm considering being the only person on the planet to have read that but not Mockingbird).

I'm mostly embarrassed about the gaps in my New Zealand reading - none of Frame's novels even though I loved her autobiography; no Bone People, started Catton but never finished it, no Grace or Ihimaera, only a few Gees and Steads.
posted by Pink Frost at 6:38 PM on September 14, 2016


34 years ago today, I walked into my high school English teacher's classroom and she was profoundly upset. She'd intervened on my behalf and got help for me and walking in on her free period after getting the hell beat out of me in the cafeteria at one of the USA's top ten high schools was supposed to be my escape for the day.

I walked into a memorial for John Gardner. "So like him," teacher said. She'd gotten news of his death directly.

So I read everything, in chronological sequence. I wasn't ready and had to do it again and I was just getting through Mickelsson's Ghosts when I started college in my late twenties.

I could only take classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and trying to cram everything in was hopeless, but I did land a spot in a fiction workshop with Alan Cheuse. It's full, come see me. Last 3 books you read. You are reading WHAT? He was a friend of mine. Nobody reads him. I didn't know that and I'm not making this up. You're in.

Class starts and it is not a surprise that I am surrounded by women. They buy and read most of the books. Cheuse is telling us to read a writer in sequence and that the books will have more relevance if you are somewhere near the writer's age and I'm getting all kinds of great feedback as I generate a fully formed turd.

You have to read to write and writing is important. It is communication.

The giant hole in my reading was the Bible. Much English Lit assumes you are familiar and you'd better be, cuz a whole lot of people think they know.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:54 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Worse thing I had to read in school: Ethan Frome.
Please tell me they don't make kids read that anymore!
posted by SyraCarol at 7:00 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I like to force people to read "Bartleby" and Hamlet at the same time, just so they can get maximum exposure to frustratingly do-nothing main characters

You should put Oblomov and Des Esseintes on the same list and make it, well, not a party, obvs ... And tho, he might be a bit chattier, you could probably put Hans Castorp on the same bill. (Gosh, I had so much fun when I was much younger, stumbling around New Orleans, sitting in coffee shops, doing nothing but reading those books.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:19 PM on September 14, 2016


Moby Dick (I have a copy given to us when we graduated with Honors from college), Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, Beloved (though I did read and like Their Eyes Were Watching God), Infinite Jest , The Color Purple (finally saw the movie last week, now need the book), To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, Flowers for Algernon, The Stand, Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, Lord of the Rings (I've tried three times), Of Mice and Men, Middlemarch, On The Road, Catcher in the Rye, The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Dune, 1984, Little Women, The Scarlet Letter, Great Expectations, The Gift of Fear, Dante's Inferno, The Old Man and the Sea, Lolita, The Heart of Darkness, Don Quixote, and War and Peace.

New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education).

I wish I haven't read Lord of the Flies; as a Simon identifier, it was torture and just thinking about the vindictive horror gives me chills. I wish I hadn't chosen to read Ring World because the sexism still makes me feel grubby, though I got more out of the realization of that book in the context of sexism and "Hard" science fiction.

Weirdly, I independently read the Aenid and The Idiot, the former because we were assigned the Odyssey and I was curious and the latter because I ended up weirdly liking the style of Crime and Punishment even though I didn't like the content. I re-read Austen regularly, and adore the two most common Brontes (and found Wuthering Heights was greatly improved by being taught; once you understand the unreliable narrator of the first half which disguises the mirror nature of the novel itself, it becomes a fascinating meditation on differing perspectives). The Austen I recommend the most to people is Northanger Abbey because it's one of her more overtly sarcastic books and it's a lot of fun; I've read Pride and Prejudice more, but not by much. Once you can pick up Austen sarcasm it's a delight; before then the books can be rather interminable.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:21 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


My nerd card revocation: I've never managed to get through all of Lord of the Rings. I tried, but meh. There, I said it. (Somehow, I feel freer now.)

My worst memories from school reading assignments both already got mentions:

Worse thing I had to read in school: Ethan Frome.
Please tell me they don't make kids read that anymore!

One year in high school - 1993, IIRC - we had to read this. I despised it, and I wanted to know why in bloody hell we were required to read Edith Wharton. Rather than asking, I just read the unassigned stories by her in our textbook, and loved all of the rest. My conclusion: whoever wrote the curriculum either had terrible taste, or wanted us all to suffer as they had suffered. We should've read Xingu.

I wish I haven't read Lord of the Flies

Me too. I read that closer to... 1991? I finished it in an afternoon, but it was the topic of discussion for the entire quarter. I couldn't bring myself to touch it again, so I slowly began to miss more and more questions on the daily quizzes the teacher had to make sure we were following along, although I was still able to participate in all discussions. Dreadful book, no matter how much I understand why he wanted to tell that story.
posted by mordax at 7:34 PM on September 14, 2016


Mockingbird so well worth reading. Then I could not make myself care about Wallace Stegner, I just could not read Angle of Repose. I got around to reading all of Hemingway a couple of summers ago. Hamlet is remarkable for the quotes, especially a father's farewell speech to his son with every hopeful bit of advice ever, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." But there are a lot of things I haven't read, what is remarkable is what I have read, because we were overseas bibliophiles with no TV so we checked out 7 books every other week. I am not embarrassed for not liking certain things well enough to finish. Proust, this is like going to a hoarders home, who has great taste, but is nevertheless a hoarder. I finished with the description of the steeple of the church and the roof, and the windows, and the pigeons, and I thought what the hell is with this self loving, auto recording son of a gun? Yeah. So. I love some though, the Russians who first dabbled in the Novel, Carlos Castaneda, hey, Pearl Buck, whoa Tennessee Williams, I read everything he had written by the time I was 15. This didn't do much for my mental health. I hated reading the dark Victorians, Wuthering Heights. I had to read some of the Harry Potter books at my list daughter's insistence, what wretched writing. I have enough of a classics backlog that I have missed the new stuff. I think I don't care.
posted by Oyéah at 8:23 PM on September 14, 2016


Not just one Rob Lowe autobiography -- but two.

Omg, I only read the first one! Buying the second one now.
posted by purpleclover at 10:31 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


...
posted by Broseph at 1:00 AM on September 15, 2016


Rob Lowe... autobiography? Two?

*A chasm opens*
posted by From Bklyn at 2:58 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: It occurs to me now that many of the people on this thread are the selfsame jerks responsible for forcing people to read some of this stuff in the first place.
posted by Segundus at 4:23 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


All these 'I wish I could unread this' comments sound like a way to take potshots at books while making it rude to defend them and derail the thread.

Plenty of books that I loved have been named here, but I don't see any problem. I loved and have reread Lord of the Flies; I think I read it for the first time in about third grade but without really understanding very much. Obviously, from the comments above, many people found the book regrettable, for a variety of reasons.

That diversity in reactions is simply interesting, not an attack on the book or on the reader. I have disliked and avoided plenty of writers that other people love, and that also is no insult to anyone (though it is certainly possible to indicate one's preferences in a more or a less polite fashion). I'd place Neil Gaiman's books in my top ten list of most regretted reading experiences, but my doing so is not a disparagement of the millions of people who love his books, nor something that calls for a defense of the books.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:06 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education).

The Education of Little Tree, in 9th grade. I hated that fucking book and its smug faux-folksiness. And if that weren't enough, the author of this supposed autobiography chronicling a Cherokee boy's youth was revealed to be a fucking white supremacist and klan leader, in a New York Times expose printed ten years before my class was assigned the book.
posted by duffell at 5:42 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Plenty of books that I loved have been named here, but I don't see any problem ... That diversity in reactions is simply interesting, not an attack on the book or on the reader.

Yes, I don't take anyone's deprecation of a work I like as an insult. My cultural tastes diverge from the metafilter consensus on several axes, a condition for which I can only thank my good fortune. Now whether it's interesting to know that someone dislikes something is another question. I mostly don't care, myself, unless the objection is accompanied by some degree of self-reflection. Criticism can be enlightening; simple statements of esteem or scorn aren't any more compelling than bowel movement announcements.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:22 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


and what about statements of pomposity?
posted by soelo at 7:16 AM on September 15, 2016


That diversity in reactions is simply interesting, not an attack on the book or on the reader. I have disliked and avoided plenty of writers that other people love, and that also is no insult to anyone [...] nor something that calls for a defense of the books.

*digs hole*
*whispers into hole*
"I love The Catcher in the Rye."
*fills hole back up*
posted by Rock Steady at 7:20 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Catcher in the Rye is ok. Though dated, I can see a lot of teens relating to the "phoniness." The best thing about it was that I read it after school was over, and did not have teachers yelling in my ear every other sentence about how I was doing it wrong. (Even reading it later gave me a mild case of PTSD, and I had to tell the voices to shut up and I was going to ENJOY this book just fine and not keep saying over and over again, "I don't know, I don't know...")
posted by Melismata at 7:37 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, crappity, Oblomov! That's a perfect example. I read half, then lost it in the couch. And then I moved and now I don't know where it is. It's my friend's book, too. I think that I also perpetrated terminal violence to the cover--which was hanging half off when he gave it to me, to be fair. I have to find him and catch up, I really liked that Oblomov. I did the same thing with Celine--got halfway through, lost it. Which makes no sense, because it was cracking me up reliably, nearly every paragraph. But that friend demanded her book, increasingly loudly and sustainedly, and finally I was forced to dig it out and give it back. It was terribly unfair because she's never going to read it again, whereas I might have. Eventually. I will have to go back to the beginning with both of them, now. Which I'm sorry to say leaves me little time for this... Des Esseintes...? I dunno. He sorta sounds like a whiny dick. But of course we hate most in others what we recognize in ourselves. Said somebody probably famous I definitely never read.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:37 AM on September 15, 2016


My mom is a writer who has written several works of fiction that I have not read and try to avoid getting in conversations with her about because a) I was thoroughly "meh" at best on her first novel and b) she really loves John Irving.

it is the ultimate reader's guilt, I should probably seek therapy for this
posted by deludingmyself at 7:38 AM on September 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


The warning label on this medicine.....

*dies*
posted by jonmc at 7:53 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am a total winner at this humiliating game. My degree is not in English and I know a lot of writers and so I always tend to get really quiet when we talk classics. Also, of the books I read in school, I remember very few of them. In my adult life, I read a lot of non-fiction for both work and leisure. It's not that I haven't read any of the classics, I just don't have a conscious recollection of most of them and I certainly can't recite passages from memory.

They are much more like a place I rode through on my way somewhere than places I lived.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:18 AM on September 15, 2016


I never read The Diary of Anne Frank. When I was in 6th grade, reading assignments for our class were split up with the girls reading Anne Frank and the boys reading Kon-Tiki. In retrospect, it seems pretty baffling, condescending, and sexist among other things. And this was in 1993-- not exactly the dark ages with regards to gender equity and stuff like that.
posted by mcmile at 9:18 AM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


The thing that I hated in school was being taught to read poetry like I was a seabird trying to crack the poem open on a rock to get at the "meaning" inside.
posted by thelonius at 10:17 AM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Your teachers did a kickass job on simile though.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:39 AM on September 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


They taught you similes like seabirds teach poems not to like rocks.
posted by maxsparber at 10:42 AM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Real men use metaphor.
posted by Segundus at 10:50 AM on September 15, 2016


Real men are metaphor.
posted by maxsparber at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I never read The Diary of Anne Frank. When I was in 6th grade, reading assignments for our class were split up with the girls reading Anne Frank and the boys reading Kon-Tiki.

That's pretty much the worst thing I've ever heard.
posted by holborne at 11:37 AM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also an English major. Never read:
Macbeth
Wuthering Heights
The Scarlet Letter
Beloved (although I did read The Bluest Eye and I remember it being both harrowing and fantastic)
Anna Karenina
War and Peace

It was kinda self-assigned for my thesis project on Philip Larkin, but I wish I could un-read Lucky Jim. Fuck that misogynist noise.
posted by torridly at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read a lot of Zane Gray, but no Cormac McCarthy. Did not read Anne Frank, did read Exodus. Did read Mrs. Dolloway, almost as dense as Proust, but a different flavor. Woolf is surrendering your entire operating system to absorb her intellect and emotion, Proust is like surrendering your entire operating system, to take inventory. I read both Lady Chatterly's Lover, and The Sporting Club, ohhh and The Sotweed Factor. Autumn of the Dictator was the most difficult read.
posted by Oyéah at 11:57 AM on September 15, 2016


Never read any Dickens but for some unfathomable reason I subjected myself to the interminable slog that is The Quincunx and made it to the end. Last time I checked the mid-market conversion rates were somewhere like 1 quincunx = 2.3 dickens, so I guess that was an okay trade.
posted by komara at 1:00 PM on September 15, 2016


MetaPhor: Real men use it
posted by Going To Maine at 1:05 PM on September 15, 2016


I’ve figured out the name of the dating subsite
posted by Going To Maine at 1:07 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I've never read the comments down here.
posted by uosuaq at 2:19 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Lord of the Flies was Golding's first novel, and his later books are better, I think, though not so syllabus-friendly. Pincher Martin suffers from having its central conceit stolen for a cop-out ending by a well-known television series (though I don't think it was a cop out when he wrote it); The Inheritors is monstrously sad; the one I remember most kindly is The Spire. They are, respectively, about a man cast away on a barren rock in the middle of the Atlantic, the last tribe of Neanderthal and an ambitious medieval archbishop. Golding got around, subject-matter-wise. Though I suspect they'd all be an acquired taste for a modern readership whose notion of morality (I think all his books are essentially about morality) is different from his. Even Lord of the Flies seems to be regarded more simplistically than (I think) it is, though I confess it's the fortieth anniversary of my having read it (at school), so bah.
posted by Grangousier at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Even Lord of the Flies seems to be regarded more simplistically than (I think) it is, though I confess it's the fortieth anniversary of my having read it (at school), so bah.

For what it's worth, I think I would've liked that book a lot more outside of high school, where in addition to having a negative initial impression of it, we spent weeks looking at pointless minutiae in it instead of spending a reasonable quantity of time on what it meant and what we made of that, and then just moving on. I guess I will amend my earlier statement to: I wish I'd just read it on my own.

It made for a truly great episode of The Simpsons.
posted by mordax at 3:01 PM on September 15, 2016


I've never read Beloved. This is significant because I wrote a 20 page research paper on a novel that I half-heartedly skimmed less than half of in order to mine a usable thesis that wouldn't require any actual close reading. I had previously been traumatized by The Bluest Eye and just couldn't force myself to read anything else by Morrison. Like, ever again.
posted by xyzzy at 3:23 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


think I would've liked that book a lot more outside of high school, where in addition to having a negative initial impression of it, we spent weeks looking at pointless minutiae in it instead of spending a reasonable quantity of time on what it meant and what we made of that, and then just moving on.

Such a common problem.

I teach high schoolers, and a bunch of them--10th graders--spend two months at school on Romeo and Juliet. Ridiculous.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:45 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm an English teacher - 10 years in high school, mostly teaching literature-intensive courses, and the last three years in middle school, avoiding literature as much as possible.

But my luck has run out and I have to teach literature again.

It turns out that although I've taught dozens of books mentioned in this thread and plenty more that aren't (Scarlett Letter, Huck Finn, Grapes of Wrath, Crucible, Indian Country, Fences, Death of a Salesman, 1984, Wise Blood, Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, The Pearl, Oedipus, Freedom Writers, Our America, House on Mango Street, Cry the Beloved Country, Things Fall Apart, The Chosen, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Crown of Dust, Wednesday Wars, Little Women, Wizard of Oz, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Alice in Wonderland, Night, Anne Frank, Kite Runner, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Odyssey, The Ramayana, Gilgamesh, The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Slaughterhouse Five, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Beloved, Heart of Darkness, The Things They Carried, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, The Alchemist, As I Lay Dying, Child Called It). I know I'm missing some, but that's 55 books. I've also taught significant portions of the Bible, so I guess that's 56. I also always use a portion of Virginia Woolf's The Waves with my students to teach them to find patterns and build meaning from those patterns. So 56 1/2. And I actually have read almost all of them...

I regret teaching all but a few of them. I know that I assigned books (and I'm ashamed to admit, assigned reading as homework) that didn't connect with my students. They hated the book, or pretended to read it, or read Sparknotes enough to bullshit their way through class.

For every student who found a love of reading in my classroom, I turned off at least two students to reading. And worst of all, I felt like making them read these books was Important Work. That there were things they Just Needed To Know To Be An Educated Person.

So I apologise for all the English teachers who forced you to read terrible books. I mean, teaching Lord of the Flies in SIXTH FUCKING GRADE?! That is INSANE. I taught 6th grade for two years. They thought kissing was gross, and still squealed in delight when I told them we were going to do some research. Teaching LOTF feels to me like torture. I have a friend who taught Things Fall Apart to 7th graders. The kids called it Things Fall Asleep, and they really didn't get much out of it. I taught TFA to 10th graders and they still didn't really get it and some still found the breasts-flopping-as-she-is-running-thing gross.

I was supposed to teach Confederacy of Dunces, but I'm pleased to report that I noped out on that shit pretty quick. Still proud of that.

All that to say that I'm sorry, and I am so interested in your lists and this conversation.

My "haven't read" list includes Moby Dick, The Stranger, Swann's Way, any John Irving, any Joyce Carol Oats or Jonathan Safran Foer or David Foster Wallace.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:01 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh, and I'm also thinking about adopting a Pokemon Go approach to teaching literature. We spend a week on each book - no more than 90 minutes on any book. We go through a basic plot summary and some of the cultural touchpoints.

Then we move on. The kids keep cards, similar to Pokemon cards, and the point is to "catch them all" by the end of the year.

It may be a terrible idea, but it also might inspire some students to dig more deeply and read one of the books on his or her own, then great. And if not, they can access the cultural knowledge we profess to care so much about that we force children to read books they did not choose.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:04 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Some of the books mentioned here (Sun Also Rises, A Passage to India, The Loved One, Return of the Native) I found in the library and read on my own in high school and enjoyed them much than I would've if they'd been assigned, I'm sure.

I appreciated my 10th grade English teach who let us pick our own novels to read for a module - I read A Clockwork Orange.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:25 PM on September 15, 2016


Typo/point of clarity:
*We spend a week on a book, but no more than 90 minutes of class time over that week.

Sigh.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:40 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The biggest issue I had with how books were taught were that we broke them into little pieces. Going back to Wuthering Heights - I was the only one who spotted the unreliable narrator in the first half because our teacher asked who it could be before we started the second half. I suck at reading only a chapter, so had read ahead and so spotted what happened when the unreliable narrator went away. Otherwise, by definition, an unreliable narrator is damnably difficult to spot! I loved my English Prof, but I still think that was a BS trick to pull on a class.

The second issue is when there were One Right Answers we needed to find. One of my bigger crises in that class was when we read The Invisible Man and I had no context to understand Southern Food. No one explained why sweet potatoes had a meaning - most of them picked it up in some way I missed - so I felt like a moron when I was baffled by why they were asking about the meaning of the food. Even the "their Southern of course, so that represents him being black" baffled me until I got a broader context on the role of food within Black Southern culture and the effects of Restoration era travel.

There's an assumption of a shared cultural heritage within literature which really does a disservice to all students; I wish my Lit classes had been more like Genius Annotations, where you're told the associations and then you have all the information to make your own judgements about the meaning.
posted by Deoridhe at 8:21 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


"I teach high schoolers, and a bunch of them--10th graders--spend two months at school on Romeo and Juliet. Ridiculous."

My friend and I were excited that in our senior year we were going to read Beowulf. We got our copies on the first day of class and both went home that night and each read the whole thing. I mean that's not hard, it's not a long book [epic poem, whatever]. The next day in class we were practically vibrating in our seats.

... and then we spent the next six weeks with some of the thickest idiots around while the teacher slowly and painstakingly what a thane was, and in what time period this was set, and how English then wasn't English now, and on and on and on.

We were two D&D nerds that probably should have already ended up reading Beowulf on our own, but we hadn't yet, and this class should have been AWESOME but instead it was one of the single-most disappointing parts of my public high school curriculum. It just sucked every last bit of fun out of it.
posted by komara at 8:25 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


being around other grad students made me decide real quick to stop feeling embarrassed if i hadn't read something
like
CHRIST, it's tedious

i also decided to stop saying i was into yoga and cooking for the same reason
posted by listen, lady at 9:01 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Aw, man, you guys are making me sad, I had awesome high school lit classes and the books I hated I hated on their own merits or lack thereof. (Prayer for Owen Meany, Farewell to Arms, Billy Budd.) I even mostly enjoyed Scarlet Letter because the discussion was great and it was well-contextualized within the historical and literary context.

My literature classes ran concurrently with my social studies classes, which I guess is a bit unusual for American high schools? But was GREAT, especially the years we did American history/American lit and European history/European lit. The first two years were World History/World Lit and were a bit more discursive but they worked hard to make them fit. The one downside of this curriculum was I missed out on Lear and MacBeth since we read Shakespeare when it was curricularly appropriate rather than "one each year" as was more common in the non-honors track. Anyway, I've gathered that Scarlet Letter is more interesting when studied in the context of the Puritan settlements in Massachusetts and the sermons of Cotton Mather and the Salem Witch Trials.

We read about 16 novels a year, though, combined with a textbook with short stories, excerpts, and poetry, which is about a novel every two weeks, plus textbook readings, which I gather is rather demanding for high school. But I liked it!
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:03 PM on September 15, 2016


Oh, and I'm also thinking about adopting a Pokemon Go approach to teaching literature. We spend a week on each book - no more than 90 minutes on any book. We go through a basic plot summary and some of the cultural touchpoints.

Then we move on. The kids keep cards, similar to Pokemon cards, and the point is to "catch them all" by the end of the year.


Honestly? That sounds brilliant to me. One of the best experiences I ever had with an English class was at community college, so long ago. I took a class devoted to Shakespeare because I had a free elective, and I liked the professor in an earlier course. We read an act before each class, spent our time talking it over, and we moved on. Act after act after act, discuss and dissect, move on. No bullshit quizzes to make sure we'd read it - it was pretty obvious who could talk about it and who couldn't.

That's a bit much for high school, but the basic premise was wonderful, and your proposal sounds like a good version for younger students. Good luck. :)

(I, for one, would love to hear how it goes.)

Aw, man, you guys are making me sad, I had awesome high school lit classes and the books I hated I hated on their own merits or lack thereof.

Mine were about 50/50, if that's any consolation. The ones that were bad were mostly bad for taking much, much too long on a single work. (I once read a friend's copy of Mere Christianity over a single lunch period, and we passed notes back and forth in threaded debate about it for *weeks* when we were supposed to be doing chemistry. They really needed to speed stuff up for some of us: more books, maybe more choice about what we even cared about.)
posted by mordax at 10:23 PM on September 15, 2016


In response to guster4lovers above, I just wanted to say that I LOVED english class in school. I was always on a math and science track, so the English and arts classes were an incredible oasis, full of wonder and the joy of learning. They were, in short, what I wished all my other classes could be but never were. I took way too many arts options in university, but those are the classes I look back on with the most nostalgia. Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Passage To India, Ulysses, and all the poetry and plays... In my science fiction bunker mentality I never would have sought these works out on my own, but English and lit teachers made me read them and fall in love. So thank you for what you do! And don't regret anything. The students you reach will be forever enriched.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:46 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah - if you're really reaching one of every three students in middle and high school English, it sounds to me like you're doing a pretty great job. I wouldn't despair at those numbers.
posted by naju at 3:28 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't read books, especially not ones teachers asked me to read. So all of them? I have a college degree from a very literature and writing focused school and I don't know if I read a book cover to cover while there, in highschool or middleschool.

I've skimmed a lot of cliff notes and once the internet was a thing read a lot of plot summaries. I read a lot on the internet. But I find reading a "great" book just about the most boring/frustrating thing in the world.
posted by French Fry at 6:59 AM on September 16, 2016


When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. In learning to write, the pupil goes over with his pen what the teacher has outlined in pencil: so in reading; the greater part of the work of thought is already done for us. This is why it relieves us to take up a book after being occupied with our own thoughts. And in reading, the mind is, in fact, only the playground of another’s thoughts. So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, and by way of relaxation devotes the intervals to some thoughtless pastime, he gradually loses the capacity for thinking; just as the man who always rides, at last forgets how to walk. This is the case with many learned persons: they have read themselves stupid.

Arthur Schopenhauer
posted by bukvich at 8:41 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love Schopenhauer but I don't think people actually forget how to walk if they ride all the time
posted by thelonius at 8:59 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


While I really didn't like too many of the books we read in HS English (still don't like Thomas Hardy, Romeo and Juliet is my least favorite Shakespeare, Carson McCullers gives me panic attacks), what ruined everything was the anti-intellectualism. Even in honors classes, no one really liked to read as far as I could tell - hardly anyone ever had a book with them (and this was in the nineties so it's not as though they were reading on their phones) or seemed to have read much of anything for fun, ever.

I got fairly into most of the books just because they were, after all, well-written and substantial, but class was just a hideous slog. Sometimes it was because the teaching was bad, but even in the well-taught classes people were willfully ignorant. I put this down to growing up in an extremely conservative provincial town in the eighties, as friends who grew up elsewhere seem at least sometimes to have encountered classmates who liked books and had some interest in talking about them.

Of course, in my part of Illinois, every bright kid whose parents would let them go to boarding school left for the Illinois Math and Science Academy, so after 8th grade all the smartest, nerdiest kids (except me - parents wouldn't even let me apply, and I often wonder what life would have been like if I'd been able to go) were suddenly gone.
posted by Frowner at 9:22 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

"When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process."
Bukvich is repeating Schopenhauer who was merely repeating Plato who was himself (allegedly) repeating Socrates on the importance of not letting another's words speak for you. There's a joke in that but you'd have to read a book to get it.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:02 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


James Joyce bores me. I liked his early short stories, but Ulysses is too tedious to go more than a few chapters, and Finnegans Wake is a pile of pants.

The Sound and the Fury and pretty much all other Faulkner can go Faulk itself.

Those long-winded recent American David Jonathan Wallaby Whatsit sort of guys also bore me. I start any of them and am overcome with the mehs.

I did read all of Beloved, so it's not strictly a gap, but I was not super impressed considering it's supposed to be one of great American novels.

I've read and enjoyed about half of Dickens, read some of them more than once, but I'm completely missing the other half.

It's the same with Shakespeare. I've read some Shakespeare multiple times, all for the pure pleasure of the act (or acts), but can I finish Coriolanus or Twelfth Night? Ha!

And the Canterbury Tales, too, come to think of it. I've read certain tales multiple times because they are good reads, but barely sniffed at the titles of others.

Middlemarch and Emma are maybe the novels I'm ashamed not to have read yet. I own them, I've started them a couple times each, I'm sure I'd enjoy them if I gave them a chance, but I haven't reached the point of no return with them. I have read and enjoyed Pride and Prejudice a couple of times, so I have no excuse for failing on Emma. And I have read and enjoyed Moby-Dick and Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights and Portrait of a Lady and so on, so Middlemarch should be no big deal, but so far I have failed it.

My eyesight is pretty fuzzy and floatery these days, and my Middlemarch and Emma are small-type mass market editions, so maybe I need to buy better editions with larger type and fancier annotations? Convince myself that I'm serious this time. Or maybe get me one of them e-lectric multi-books to read out by the ce-ment pond.
posted by pracowity at 11:38 AM on September 16, 2016


I don't read books, especially not ones teachers asked me to read. So all of them? I have a college degree from a very literature and writing focused school and I don't know if I read a book cover to cover while there, in highschool or middleschool.

Just think of your sense of accomplishment if you had never learned to read. I'll bet you're regretting that now.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:39 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Though I never read Lady Chatterly's Cheesy Potatoes, I just saw the video.
posted by Oyéah at 6:01 PM on September 16, 2016


I always hated English classes, (please don't say, "And it shows,"), as a young person I did not understand why you had to take classes in the language you spoke. I did my reading however, but very quickly. It took a while to take on allowing the text to have importance in its own right, rather than just try to second guess the plot. It takes a while to have enough living context of one's own to envision the scenes, give face to the characters, or even voice. He still said, "Rope soled shoes," one too many times in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Pynchon gave a nod to this in Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by Oyéah at 6:08 PM on September 16, 2016


I've never read anything by DFW.

Ok, now that I'm in the thread, I have some advice for all you kids. James Joyce. The key to James Joyce is to read Ulysses aloud with the person you are wooing. Particularly when the relationship is between 4 and 12 weeks old. Everyone should have the experience of being naked in the sunshine with your new lover reading Ulysses aloud. I think this is what Joyce had in mind when he wrote it. Did I mention I've read this aloud like three times?

For real, reading it as an assignment by yourself as an awkward teenager in the library sucks. Reading it aloud in your 20s with wine and cigarettes and another beautiful person in the nude is one of the most sublime sensual things a human can experience.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:11 PM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


The thing that I hated in school was being taught to read poetry like I was a seabird trying to crack the poem open on a rock to get at the "meaning" inside.
posted by thelonius


Are you sure you aren't thinking about Jonathon Livingston Seagull, because THAT was truly awful.
posted by she's not there at 8:45 PM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


oh God that book....I was a 70s child, of course we were force-fed it
posted by thelonius at 2:58 AM on September 17, 2016


I'm actually much more embarrassed about the books I haven't written.
posted by Namlit at 3:41 AM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Are you sure you aren't thinking about Jonathon Livingston Seagull, because THAT was truly awful.

oh God that book....I was a 70s child, of course we were force-fed it


Right along with The Prophet, I bet. In a room with a Desiderata poster on the wall.
posted by TedW at 7:24 AM on September 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


The adults also seemed to think it was very important for us to dig the short movie of "The Red Balloon"
posted by thelonius at 7:33 AM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the spirit of this thread, in my house we had the book!
posted by TedW at 7:49 AM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The adults also seemed to think it was very important for us to dig the short movie of "The Red Balloon"

Ditto the vomitous "The Giving Tree."
posted by holborne at 8:22 AM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


On the subject of kiddie lit, how did Goodnight Moon become such a classic?
posted by she's not there at 10:25 AM on September 17, 2016


How Goodnight Moon became such a classic!

I know, I know, teacher pick me!

Because Good Night Moon has a lot of repetitions and when read in just the right, rhythmic, calm voice, it puts little kids to sleep. It is an easily hand held little book, the illustrations were created with care, and the sameness, calm, beauty and rhythm helps little ones go night.
posted by Oyéah at 11:08 AM on September 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


See some info on the history of Goodnight Moon here.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:07 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I might have read a Hemingway book when I was a teenager- not sure. The only thing pre 1920 or so that has held my interest has been Melville & Heart of Darkness, so no Dickens, no DH Lawrence, no Austen, no F Scott Fitzgerald. Tried Ulysses & failed at about page 40. I think the last sci fi I read was the Dune trilogy, when I was 12, except I re-read Stranger in a Strange Land a few years ago.

I tend to go on non-fiction tangents, which right now has me in the middle of a pile of early Christian church history (I have not read the Bible cover to cover, ever) & another pile on the Eastern Front during WWII.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:38 AM on September 18, 2016


Because Good Night Moon has a lot of repetitions and when read in just the right, rhythmic, calm voice, it puts little kids to sleep. It is an easily hand held little book, the illustrations were created with care, and the sameness, calm, beauty and rhythm helps little ones go night.
posted by Oyéah

I get the part about tone, but you can use that soft voice with more interesting words, e.g., favorite poems or other children's books that include repetition, iirc, In the Night Kitchen serves here.

My kids are in their 20s now, but I can still recall that sinking feeling I got when either of them choose that book at bedtime. Fortunately, neither of them considered it a favorite.

(Also, our copy wasn't the easily hand-held version.)
posted by she's not there at 1:19 PM on September 18, 2016


Well, the idea is that it is not interesting, or stimulating, but soothing, soporific, calming, predictable, zzzzzzz.....
posted by Oyéah at 1:21 PM on September 18, 2016


Right along with The Prophet, I bet.

Not to be confused with Kehlog Albran’s The Profit
posted by Going To Maine at 2:13 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I'm also thinking about adopting a Pokemon Go approach to teaching literature. We spend a week on each book - no more than 90 minutes on any book. We go through a basic plot summary and some of the cultural touchpoints.

Then we move on. The kids keep cards, similar to Pokemon cards, and the point is to "catch them all" by the end of the year.

It may be a terrible idea, but it also might inspire some students to dig more deeply and read one of the books on his or her own, then great. And if not, they can access the cultural knowledge we profess to care so much about that we force children to read books they did not choose.


I've played enough Skyrim to know that reading a boring book isn't more fun because it's in a videogame.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:45 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


But does Skyrim give you cheevos for reading the books?
posted by Going To Maine at 12:59 AM on September 19, 2016


Is Skyrim one of those things selfish couples do to hog the bathroom on long haul flights?
posted by Grangousier at 2:06 AM on September 19, 2016


Only on the 4:50 to Kvatch.
posted by clavdivs at 3:27 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ulysses is my white whale.
posted by Lyme Drop at 6:31 PM on September 19, 2016


Ulysses is my white whale.

Moby Dick is my attempt to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscious of the Irish race.

There's a Green Shadows, White Whale joke there somewhere (Bradbury's account of his writing the script for Moby Dick) but I can't find it.

If you're curious about Ulysses, just flip to a random page. There's an amazing sentence on each one. Or go to a Bloomsday reading/party.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:46 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Capital
posted by thug unicorn at 9:24 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


You all officially have permission not to read Ulysses.

I mean, if you want to read it, cool, go for it -- it's pretty great! And if you try reading it and find there's a bunch of stuff you don't get, that's okay too; nobody gets everything in Ulysses, not even the professors who have made careers off of writing about it (that's why there's so much for them to write about). You certainly don't have to read the whole thing from beginning to end; you could dip into it at random, like Marilyn Monroe did, or skip the parts that don't work for you (even Borges didn't read the whole thing).

But you can also not read it. That's okay, too! There are perfectly good reasons not to read a book simply because the market happens to have drawn your readerly attention to it. But more importantly, there is no reward for reading Ulysses beyond the experience of reading it. It probably won't make you a better person, and anybody who thinks less of you for not reading it is someone whose opinions aren't worth caring about. So if it's just going to feel like a chore, why bother? Becoming a monument of literary difficulty and a litmus test for readerly accomplishment is the worst thing that ever happened to Ulysses (worse than being banned and even burned by the authorities). It may be difficult, but it should also be fun.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 11:37 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


You all officially have permission not to read Ulysses.

Way ahead of you.
posted by bongo_x at 11:47 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


You all officially have permission not to read Ulysses.

You're not my supervisor!
posted by phearlez at 6:28 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


New bonus question: least favorite book you were assigned to read (at any level of education).

Oh, The Catcher in the Rye wins by miles. Utterly repulsed by that book.

As for "books I haven't read", well, it's a pretty broad category, I feel like it'd be easier to break it into subcategories:

Books I Haven't Read That I Was Officially Assigned To Read At Some Point:
Crime and Punishment. But really, you assign a book like that to be read during finals, while telling us in advance that it won't be on the final, what do you expect?
I think that might be the only one. Dear American Literature professor of mine from 13 years ago, if you're reading this, I did eventually finish Melville's Pierre, and I still think it's awful, self-indulgent drivel.

Books I Haven't Read That "Society" Tells Me I Should Read, But I Have No Desire to Read:
Anymore Faulkner, barely made it through As I Lay Dying.
Anymore Melville, sorry but Pierre was really that bad and Moby Dick was..honestly, just "okay".
Anything David Foster Wallace
Middlemarch

Books I Haven't Read That I Actually Do Feel Like I Ought To Read, But Somehow Never Get Around To Because There's Always Something Else I'd Rather Read First:
The Handmaid's Tale
Ulysses and/or Finnegan's Wake
the 90% of H.P. Lovecraft's stuff that I haven't read
the 98% of Stephen King's stuff that I haven't read

And lastly, this topic reminds me of that time in 7th or 8th grade when I discovered Ray Bradbury via some collections of his short stories, fell in love with it all, devoured literally everything he ever wrote, and then in 9th grade we were assigned Fahrenheit 451. Which I'd already read and liked just a year or two earlier. One the one hand: My poor beleaguered English Teacher was so overjoyed to have one single person in the class that actually had read and enjoyed the book, and at the same time, between the social pressure from "your peers have all decided this book is Not Cool" and the actual joy-draining experience of picking it apart it in class, it quickly became my least favorite Bradbury work and has remained so ever since. So yeah I do believe there is something fundamentally broken about the way we teach literature to kids.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:45 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


About teaching literature to kids: How easily do most kids read and how does this correlate with enjoyment of literature classes? I read quickly and easily - so automatically that unless I'm reading something with numbers or dense theory, I'm barely conscious of it as reading at all because it's more like the words just appear in my brain. (Not saying that I interpret that well or that easily, though.)

So naturally, the mere work of reading anything simpler than, say, Dhalgren is easy for me. I get to the plot, the characterization, the wordplay, etc, after very little work. But if I didn't, reading would be just as much of a chore as sitting down and doing a bunch of calculus. With the added disadvantage that really, almost no one is socially expected to do calculus for fun as an adult.

How well do kids read? If reading is a chore rather than virtually automatic, they're never going to like books any more than calculus, no matter how cleverly we teach.

Consider that at this point, I'm happy to sit down and think about theme, characterization and the usual sort of "how do we understand this novel" questions for fun, but I really hated it in seventh grade - because it was hard. Once I'd mastered the plot, it still difficult to put all the pieces together in my head to think more complexly about the book. If I hadn't kept reading and gained skill as a reader, I sure wouldn't find that fun at all.

You have to wonder whether maybe we simply need a lot more reading for the sake of reading, maybe up through high school. Probably more time devoted to English generally, too, since you wouldn't want to neglect writing. Maybe many kids need reading for fluency more than they need reading-for-classics well into their teens.
posted by Frowner at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Judging by this thread, about the only major gap I can think of is Morrison, but that may be my east coast Canadian background - we certainly got enough Atwood and Margaret Laurence in school instead (and Lucy Maud's a given here). Although oddly enough not a lot of Canadian male authors like Robertson Davies, Farley Mowatt or Mordecai Richler.

I keep going back to books I wasn't ready for the first time, and finding there's often a right time to read them. I'm still gamely trying to find a Dickens I like, but I just don't think there is one.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:23 PM on September 20, 2016


In highschool we were supposed to read The Red Badge of Courage. I got bored 10 pages in and stopped reading. I was very good at gleaning the jist of a particular chapter from the class discussion. I even participated after a bit of gleaning. Ultimately we had a test on the entire book. I got something like an A- on it. I shouldn't think of this with pride... but I do. I was a sharp kid.
posted by Splunge at 4:59 PM on September 20, 2016


How well do kids read? If reading is a chore rather than virtually automatic, they're never going to like books any more than calculus, no matter how cleverly we teach.

I really agree with this. Picking apart books in high school English is one of the reasons I love reading, and analyzing The Great Gatsby in 11th grade is exactly what convinced me to continue studying English lit (and I still consider it one of the greatest novels I've read, though there's other Fitzgeralad that I like better now). My teacher that year was awesome, but even the stuff I read in high school with horrible teachers didn't necessarily ruin it for me -- Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet come to mind -- and some of the stuff I read taught by that awesome teacher still didn't do it for me -- Catcher in the Rye, A Farewell to Arms. I'm absolutely willing to believe I'm an outlier, given how much I've always loved reading, but I've always hated the idea that analyzing literature (or other art) "ruins it." For a lot of us, it makes me more interesting (plates of beans and all that...)
posted by lazuli at 5:24 PM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I've always loved reading. But god I hated high school English class. In part because I hated many of the book choices (Margaret Laurance....seriously, you're having 15 years old try to put themselves in the place of a dying deluded old woman?, Fifth Business, Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby...didn't like any of those. I tolerated Lord of the Flies ok, and I liked To Kill a Mockingbird...). But apart from the book choices, I hated

A) The constant reading and explaining of the book. I did the reading. It didn't take much time. To come to class. IN HIGH SCHOOL and have to sit through reading parts of it out loud, each-person-read-a-paragraph style like we're in grade 3 was just torture. And then even when we weren't reading it (or after we'd read it), having the teacher basically go through and explain what happened or ask questions to get us to explain it..."So there was a rabid dog out on the street....rabid dogs are dangerous so they had to shoot it." etc. etc. Shoot ME!

B) And then once they were done explaining the plot like we were idiots (which apparently some people in the class may have been because there always seemed to be one or two people who actually DIDN'T get what had happened, though more likely they just never read it...come to think of it, the teacher was probably explaining in part to deal with the people who hadn't read it)...Then they would start on the picking it apart...

Well here's the thing, I was a reader. I loved reading and I had no trouble at all with my reading comprehension, but I was not ready to pull books apart. If Hagar said this was her good son and the other son was her bad son, who the hell was I to question? Spotting a self-deluded narrator was just beyond my life experience and developmental stage. And it was like that for pretty much everything we read. I was a teenager with no real experience of anything, I wasn't yet ready to understand literature on any deeper level and any attempt to get me to do that just felt like bullshit.

I think a lot of teenagers just aren't at a life/developmental stage where they're ready for anything approaching serious literature, and attempting to make them do it anyway, just turns people off. Since I was already a reader anyway, I came out hating English class, but not having generalized that to a dislike of reading, but for people who weren't already readers, I can see their being turned off books or at least serious books forever, and that's a shame.

Oh, and as much as I hated Stone Angel, because I just wasn't ready for it, it was another Margaret Laurence book, the Diviners, when I first remember having a sense of a character. I remember reading a scene and knowing how the character would react to what happened, and it was a huge lightbulb moment for me that maybe all that stuff they'd been saying wasn't total crap. If only they had waited to teach it to me when I was ready to learn it. I would love to take an English class now.

Finally: Foucault's Pendulum, which I've started 3 times. The fist time I didn't get into it. The second two I was into it enough but life stuff came up and I never got back to it. Also, Don Quixote, which I've gotten only a little ways into. I've never read any Dickens, but I'm mostly ok with that.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:52 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's just annoying when everyone here acts like literary fiction is ruined by high school, and science-fiction and fantasy are the only untainted genres. This thread has been wonderful because of so many MeFites talking about reading literary fiction. I have nothing against science fiction or fantasy, but a lot of threads here treat them as the totality of acceptable literature.
posted by lazuli at 7:09 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read literary fiction. But I do it in spite of my High School English classes, not because of them. I think you were ready in high school to think more deeply than just following the plot. I wasn't. I think a lot of people aren't. I don't know what the solution is, since we don't really have school systems that are flexible enough to bend the curriculum around people's developmental stages. But until a solution IS found, HS English is going to turn lots of people off any serious reading.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:13 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


OK, but what could your teachers have done differently -- in a concrete way -- not to turn you off literature? And would those same techniques have worked for your classmates? (I'm not trying to do a gotcha -- I'm one of those people for whom the standard instructional techniques were designed, as they're how I learn best, and I don't always understand why they don't serve other students.)
posted by lazuli at 7:23 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


What exactly does one mean by "literary fiction"? It's always seemed to be code for "relatively realistic stories about middle class white people or maybe exoticized working class people" but I assume that people mean something else here. It's a weird phrase, though, like it's very important to establish that some fiction isn't literary.

You probably wouldn't call Moby Dick literary fiction; Booker nominees would probably be literary fiction a lot of the time, but not always. So what exactly is "literary fiction?

Literary and genre fiction are marketing categories with social histories. Which is why we stick the absolutely godawful, rapey novel about the aliens and the Catholics into literary fiction instead of science fiction (to be fair, we do the same thing with Angela Carter and fantasy) but would never, ever stick Dhalgren or Lud In The Mist in the lit fic section.
posted by Frowner at 7:25 PM on September 20, 2016


I totally agree there's overlap. As someone who majored in English and who reads multiple novels each week, though, I've often felt ostrascized from MeFi's reading culture, because it seems so based on science fiction. I don't at all believe there's a bright-line divide (especially as Atwood is one of my favorite authors!), but I think there is a site-wide bias against non-genre fiction.
posted by lazuli at 7:30 PM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, I've read the entire Christie output, and I reread it over and over again. I'm not against genre fiction. I do think there's a quality differential between works that are good in comparison to their genre and works that are good in comparison to everything, even while understanding that most of the people doing the comparisons are unfairly putting their thumbs on the scale -- but that still doesn't mean there's not a difference sometimes.
posted by lazuli at 7:33 PM on September 20, 2016


I would call Moby Dick literary fiction. And I think there is definitely some sci-fi and fantasy that I would place in this category, too. Margaret Atwood is a good example. Maybe the Mists of Avalon, though the sequels a little less so. An Instance of the Fingerpost is a mystery I'd classify as literary, along with several Sarah Waters books.

In terms of what my teachers could have done differently, they could have waited til I was 20 or better yet, 25. I mean obviously they couldn't, but that's what I mean when I say there's no real solution. Understanding characters requires understanding people. Understanding deeply what's happening means understanding life. Until you develop those things, it's hard to deeply understand a good book, beyond "this happened then this person said that and then that happened."

I remember in my OAC English class (basically Grade 13), there was a passage, maybe in a short story, or maybe in death of a salesman? In which a character was going on and on about the wonderful progress he'd seen while driving across the country: billboards and hotdog stands. And isn't it becoming an amazing world etc. etc. And I ( and I think the whole class) were like "Ok, this guy is happy about progress and optimistic about the future" and thought that's what we were supposed to take from it (since that's pretty much what he said and all). And then the teacher explaining to us (and I remember reading him as frustrated that we couldn't see this as obvious), that the author was trying to show that the guy was a tacky blowhard. What kind of idiot thinks billboards on the highway and hot dog stands are some marvelous progress when they're obviously tacky? Well, whatever (I felt like). Everyone has their definition of progress. I like hot dog stands; maybe this guy does too. So what? How do you know the author is trying to making him look dumb? Maybe the author likes hot dog stands, too.

I remember in the same class we read Death of a Salesman and again he expects us to see that Willy Loman is deluded and kind of dumb and depressed, and I think the climax of our teachers' despair was when no one "got" the ending. We were all like "He killed himself so his family would get the life insurance." and the teacher was like "Yes, but..." and we all kind of stared blankly. And he was like "well what do you think happens after the play ends?" and we thought "his family is sad?" And he keeps trying to drag us to the irony and tragedy of the whole thing: You don't get life insurance if you commit suicide. The dumb-dumb not only killed himself, he killed himself for nothing. It's supposed to be this punch-in-the-gut-tragedy, but WTF? You expect a bunch of teenagers to know how life insurance works?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:45 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


See, this is where the genre/literary bit gets old to me - different kinds of fiction do different things, for one thing; for another, people tend not to distinguish among genres when SF is probably the most elastic with maybe detective fiction as the least and each genre does different things; for a third, people tend to give way too much credit to boring garbage literary fiction (the many middlebrow bestsellers of the last sixty years, mostly forgotten now); people tend (particularly with fantasy and science fiction) not to have read very deeply in the genre, so they see that Terry Pratchett is pretty lightweight and call it a day; and people tend to disregard the matters of class, audience and market that contour the genres, up to and including the genre of literary fiction.

For instance: I will commit heresy and say that I think that many of Margaret Atwood's late novels are overrated - The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace in particular seem really trite to me. I'm not saying that no one can be moved by them, or that they don't have some nice language, etc, but they just seem to be...I dunno, typically sad-woman stories with typically "innovative" ambiguity and typical sexual-abuse-as-terrible-secret plot hooks. They're...literary fiction in that they go down sweet and reassure you about what sensitive middle class people ought to feel about the world. They're better written than NK Jemisin's Fifth Season, for example, but they do far less to shake you up.

To my mind, it's no better, intellectually speaking, to read a bien-pensant, well-mannered and basically unchallenging piece of literary fiction than to read a banal piece of genre fiction - in either case, your understanding of the world isn't challenged in any meaningful way.

Realistic fiction either about middle class people or written by middle class people about working class people doesn't really interest me. I like the semi-fiction of WG Sebald, I like Hillary Mantel when she's in the mood for ghosts and devils; I like Pat Barker's working class novels; basically, I like novels that entrance and unsettle and don't purport to be about epiphanies or the usual midcentury psychoanalytic stuff.

And actually, there's one area in which I strongly prefer fantasy - history. If you read "Applied Cenotaphics In The Long, Long Latitudes", you'll notice that it's doing some allusive stuff with history and time. This is a characteristic move for fantasy, although unusually well-executed here. I infinitely prefer the fantasy's allusive-didactic approach to fiction about history when compared to the typical historical novel, because the reader has to work harder. (You need to work a bit to get things out of "Applied Cenotaphics".)

I mean, we all like what we like, but I think the privileging of literary fiction is built on the idea that what literary fiction does is the most valuable and important thing for fiction to do.
posted by Frowner at 8:02 PM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Or Margaret Drabble's nineties novels! Those are great examples of overrated literary fiction! Perfectly engaging social novels, don't really do that much. Or a few of Doris Lessing's last novels - The Sweetest Dream is like the dregs of a real Lessing novel.
posted by Frowner at 8:06 PM on September 20, 2016


Frowner, I agree with everything you're saying, so I'm confused as to why you seem to be arguing with me. Or maybe you're not? There's a ton of shittily written literary fiction. There's a ton of shittily written genre fiction. What bugs me often on MeFi is the lack of serious assessment of literary quality, regardless of genre, in the sense that the assessor had a solid grounding in lots of genres from which to assess. This thread was mostly the exception, until the end, when we seemed to be moving back into the "mainstream lit sucks."
posted by lazuli at 8:20 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I mean, I read a novel the other day that blew my mind off, so I sought out all the author's other works, and they were... ok. I'm totally on board with the idea that sometimes an author writes one or two awesome works and the rest are... meh.
posted by lazuli at 8:21 PM on September 20, 2016


It's this odd form of reverse snobbery, especially odd since Mefites consider themselves pretty smart. So if they don't like or understand a book, it's not that they don't understand it - it's that there's something wrong with the literature itself, and the things they like have all sorts of superior justifications for their existence. It's ironic, since if anyone should be an audience for literary fiction it's Metafilter. I love genre fiction and literary fiction and especially the intersection of the two (the New Wave of the 70s), but I'm not going to pretend that Stephen King is on the same level as James Joyce.

Something Awful has a great thread entitled 'quit being a child and read some real literature', which was spawned when people noticed their book board was mostly discussion of Warhammer novels.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:25 PM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Literature for the literature god? Novels with critical acclaim for his throne?
posted by Ghidorah at 8:54 AM on September 21, 2016


I thought Scooter Libby's book was great. I got it at a library booksale or something like that on the basis of the cover and what I thought about it was, "wow, cool snow scenes, and woah, that bearboning thing is kinda hot and prolly metaphorical or something." Nothing bad happened and I went on with my life. But then a few years later everybody began hooting that Scooter Libby wrote a risible book. I laughed along with everybody else until I heard the part about the bearboning. I examined my bookshelf...

and there it was...
posted by Don Pepino at 12:56 PM on September 21, 2016


I also like JCO's potboilers. Bellefleur! I guess what it boils down to is that I like books with sex scenes.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:01 PM on September 21, 2016


Gosh. It appears there really is someone called Scooter Libby (am filthy foreigner, so don't know these things). Assumed it was a children's book about a small girl named Elizabeth. Who has a scooter.
posted by Grangousier at 1:04 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wish Lit classes were more about analyzing and thinking critically about writing and less about learning the "right" meaning without being given context. Like, The Invisible Man's use of food as a metaphor for his home would have been a lot richer with a discussion of culture through the lens of food, and divergences between Northern and Southern cultures, and the food racism of slavery and how that played out when black people came north and brought their culture with them for racist northerners to then associate with black people, and the racist tropes begin in slavery. Now I know those things, but it took me decades to get the knowledge about Black culture to inform my reading of that book, and I wish it hadn't been taught as if sweet potatoes a priori mean Southern Black. Looking back, I wonder how the Black kids felt during that book. I don't remember any of them speaking up much about it, but it wasn't their job to bring up the broader context.

I think having read that book made me more sensitive to the idea that places outside of the South were racist in different ways, but if I hadn't kept reading racial discussions by people far more educated than me I would still be painfully ignorant while thinking well of myself for being liberal and well-meaning - and that class was by far the best lit class I took.

I think that school in general behaved as if what we were learning was disconnected from the world, and I hunk that does us a disservice. I have always gotten more out of any topic when I was able to link it up to my lived experiences.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:20 PM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Deoridhe! God, I want to take your food in The Invisible Man class so much. You could bring in related texts, and you could cook and eat. It would be glorious.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:49 PM on September 21, 2016


I'm proud to say that I never got all the way through Gravity's Rainbow. That is because Thomas Pynchon can eat shit, and because some of his characters literally do, when they're not having twincestuous shipboard romps or idk reveries about the history of aerospace. This was twenty years ago.

I do feel bad that I haven't read Americanah yet.

I'm actually embarrassed about the books that I'm embarrassed about not having read, because they're mostly wonky books about lean product design but I just...can't.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:26 PM on September 21, 2016


It must have been about 20 years ago that I started to read Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion. I was enjoying the story and had about a fourth of the book to go when it fell off the back of the bookcase headboard of my bed. My furniture was configured in such a way that retrieving it would have taken hours of work.

I did retrieve the book when I moved a few years later, but the sense of "what happens next" had worn off by then, and, uh, well, I've just had a lot going on for the past 18 years or so and haven't gotten around to it.

Plus I don't know where the book is now. Perhaps if I move my bed, I'll find it there.
posted by yohko at 7:07 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I read. A lot. Always have, and was a Lit major for a short time in a short season. Probably the biggest reading gap in the Western Lit majors for me is Proust. Not even sure why -- perhaps saving a treasure for later? Books are on my shelf from my uncle's library.

Forced reading that still haunts me to this day is Steinbeck's The Red Pony. Do not do that to kids (or anyone, really), teachers. I WILL HAUNT YOU.
posted by vers at 7:18 PM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


There is only one fiction book I feel bad about not having read, it's a terrible novel about vampires or something that a friend lent me because they thought I would really like it. I'm not liking it, but I still have it because I'm feeling like I should read it. What I need to do is just admit to my friend that the book wasn't to my taste and give it back.

I don't relate to this idea of being embarrassed about not having read fiction because it's a "classic" at all -- whatever book it is, there are many, many people who haven't read it and don't really care at all if anyone else has read it or not.

Ulysses is a popular choice because it is A Big Canonical Book, but it's always a dud because in the times I've played only specialists in modernism have read it.


The last person I came across who was reading Ulysses was a jewelry shop owner, catching up on reading while waiting for customers. Some of the jewelry had a modernist look, so in one sense she was a specialist in modernism. But probably a different sense than you meant, vathek.
posted by yohko at 7:18 PM on September 22, 2016


Should You Lie about Having Read That Book?, Dave Eggers
How could anyone possibly know you hadn't? You are on your way to the marina, where you will board a sailboat owned by a friend of a friend, and on this boat, among nine sailing-people total, will be a person who has written a book that everyone has read, and that you should have read, but which you have not read.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:45 PM on September 22, 2016


My big one isn't a book, but a game series: I've never been more than 5 minutes into any Metal Gear Solid game before dying (besides Revengence), despite it being a big Postmodern Videogame that guys like Tim Rogers and Ian Bogost have Deep Thoughts about. I just don't have the patience.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:40 PM on September 22, 2016


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Found these near the Lunar lander.
posted by clavdivs at 3:55 PM on September 23, 2016


Thank goodness they aren't books you haven't read, even I have read these.
posted by Oyéah at 6:43 PM on September 24, 2016


I just went to a piano recital with Marc André Hamelin and I sure as hell wished he'd read my book because he played all the trills wrong in the first movement of Beethoven's Appassionata, so yeah, well.
(Beautiful recital otherwise so here's me sucking it up. Books about music, what's the use?)
posted by Namlit at 2:41 PM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you're curious about Ulysses, just flip to a random page. There's an amazing sentence on each one. Or go to a Bloomsday reading/party.

I should be clearer: I've probably read a third of Ulysses using your technique over the years, and have listened to Bloomsday readings on the radio. It's just that I'm finally accepting I have priorities other than finishing that book. Will I finish that book? No I said no I will not No
posted by Lyme Drop at 9:26 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, vers, thank you very much for bringing up that terrible memory. I remember writing a book report on that entirely in red ink. Took me years to pick up another Steinbeck book after that.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:29 PM on September 26, 2016


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