I know every self-proclaimed literary person has The List. When you want to writhe in self-loathing, you pull this list out, read over it, and call yourself a hack. Then, you go to the fridge and grab a can of whipped cream. You eat it straight from the spray nozzle while watching The Notebook or something equally horrible. Why? Because the books on The List haven’t been read. And those books are, roughly:
The most influential books of all time, and every person on earth has read them, like with awards and everything.
I keep a running mental list of all the important books I’ve never read. You know, the books considered essential, classic, and important. I even have a degree in Book-Things, not just an undergraduate degree – no, no – I am a Book-Things Person, M.Ed, and there are piles of books deemed “important” that I have never read. Important-Book-Things People even took the time to make a separate list from the last hundred years or so to say which books are important. This does nothing but further build my sense of inadequacy as a Book-Things Person, M.Ed. (In reality, most people don’t care one bit. Even the Important-Book-Things People know you can’t read every book ever. It’s hard to convince my brain of this.)
For the record, my list includes: Moby Dick, Catch 22, Invisible Man, Lord of the Flies, The Catcher in the Rye, My Antonia, Brideshead Revisited, Lolita, The Old Man and the Sea, any novel by Henry James, and many more.
So, why do I feel the need to obsess over unread books and measure my credibility based on my not reading these books just because other people think they are important? Well, the thing about the books on The List? You can’t get away from them. I see references to these books everywhere: blog posts, NPR segments, Final Jeopardy, movies, even old episodes of Dawson’s Creek. Seriously. It becomes embarrassing and annoying.
Don’t get me wrong, there are books I have never read, deemed “essential” by those cursed Important-Book-Things People, and yet I don’t really care that much to put them on The List. Like Ulysses by James Joyce. I respect this book and recognize it as an important work, and I know it’s huge in terms of the canon and all, but meh. I just don’t care. I’ve read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners, and I loved them both. Anyway, I feel satisfied with my Joyce quota, enough to feel legit but not too much to seem pretentious.
Still, The List eats away at me and every so often, I get the urge to conquer it. I feel a call to action, and I decide to knock out some books on The List. So, this past week, I picked up On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
All I can tell you so far is that these books were on The List, and I’m checking them off very soon! Victory.
Also, I really miss girls. I took on too much maleness in one fell swoop. My book-reading week could only have been worse had I added the entire collection of Ernest Hemingway, along with attending a gun show or one of those war reenactment things or a spitting contest or something. So, after my list-tackling feelings wane, I need to hear a girl talking again – a girl who isn’t a prop. Don’t get me wrong, I like male writers. I can read war stuff and bomb stuff and sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll stuff. I’m just saying I miss the girls. But I also have to conquer The List.
I might need some sort of book-related therapy.
OK. So I’m curious. What’s on The List for you? Come on. You can tell.