Blah blah blah I've read this book blah blah and that book blah blah blah that book was okay blah that one sucked blah blah.
Here at 50 Books HQ, I'm always going on about books I've read and books I'd like to read. How about books I will probably never -- for various poorly formed reasons -- ever read?
You know what I'm talking about. Not the plethora of mediocre books that are published every year and rapidly scuttle along the literary food chain to the remainder bin. I'm talking about the Important Books you always believed that, as a book lover, you'd get around to, but somehow the fire has died. And you're one hundred percent cool with that.
For Rusty, it's James Joyce's Ulysses. He got a copy back when we were English students, even though it wasn't required reading, and it's been hanging around his neck ever since. He packed it across the country when we moved from Ontario to BC. He even schlepped this huge book all over Thailand and Cambodia in his backpack, thinking that hours of lying in beachside hammocks would finally give him the necessary time to savour and digest Joyce's prose.
I recently asked him what he ended up doing with all those hours.
"Break hammocks," he replied.
(True fact: Rusty wore out three hammocks at one guest house. When he finally packed up to come home, the owner hugged him and said it was like watching a piece of the furniture get up and leave. He still considers this one of the most touching things anyone has ever said to him.)
Rusty finally said goodbye to Ulysses -- with fond memories and no regrets -- during the Great Book Purge of '05. I got rid of some albatrosses of my own. And good riddance, I say. Here are a few.
The Last Temptation of Christ by Niko Kazantakis
I think I only got this book because it came out at a time when, for me, bugging Christians seemed like a fun, anti-establishment activity. I like a revisionist retelling as much as anybody (I've eaten up Not Wanted on the Voyage, Wide Sargasso Sea, and most of Gregory Maguire's novels with a postmodern spoon), but I just never got fired up enough to read it. You might say I wasn't tempted. Ha! Ergh.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Same deal here. And then I heard it wasn't even that great, at least not compared to Rushdie's other work. I feel kind of guilty for not caring enough about a book that caused its author to go into hiding for years... but obviously not guilty enough.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I used to have this super-impressive old hardcover edition of Moby Dick, and I think I started to fear and resent it. It sat there on my shelf, unread and judging me in leather-clad stentorian tones. Well, you know what, Mr. Melville? I've already read The Old Man and the Sea, and I think I've had my fill of "the fish was HOW big?" stories.* At least Hemingway had the decency to make his short.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (or anything else by Thomas Hardy, for that matter)
Dude, I've already ploughed through the unexpurgated edition of Clarissa. And I've read The Mill on the Floss. How many spirited-young-woman-of-virtue-violated-and-wronged classic novels am I expected to read in one lifetime? And why do I suspect that the popularity of same in the canon is someone's attempt to send me a message?
David Copperfield, Bleak House, Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, etc., etc.
I've read my share of Dickens: Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, The Pickwick Papers, and of course A Christmas Carol. And that feels like enough to me. Any more and I'd have to bust out my fake Cockney accent, and nobody wants that.
Dune by Frank Herbert
A few years ago, Rusty insisted that I at least attempt to read Dune. I tried, but there's just some bad writing in there. It's the tragedy of most science fiction: fabulous plots, terrible prose. I know there are some folks out there, and I salute you, who can overlook the latter in appreciation of the former. I am not one of them.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Look, I've seen the movie and have no idea why it was such a smash, so I'm really puzzled by the success of the book. (Depending on whom you ask, it's the second-biggest fiction bestseller of all time... yes, even beating out all the Harry Potter books.) I know you're never supposed to judge a book based on the film, but in this case I'm going to go with my gut.
You laugh, but in my younger days -- like, when I was around ten -- I had a plan to read the Bible in, I believe, under a year. A certain number of chapters per day, books per month, etcetera. It all fell apart when I got to Exodus. I may not have wandered forty years in the desert, but it sure felt like it. All those "begats" and lists upon lists of rules. ("Thou shalt not wear linen with wool"?) They beat me. Since then, I've read some of the books -- Psalms, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, parts of Corinthians 1 and 2, and of course Job and Revelation -- but randomly. Reading the Bible cover to cover? It ain't gonna happen. I don't care how hip they make Jesus.
*Yes, I know that whales are not fish.