Anyway. I was chatting with my friend K8T about books, and she asked me if I've ever read The Englishman's Boy, which she's currently reading. I told her I have, but it was several years ago and I couldn't remember much. She described the plot to me, which lead to the following exchange:
"So that's up to where I'm at."I'm not exaggerating. I literally remember nothing of this book. By virtue of the title, I'm able to extrapolate something about a boy, and I suspect a gentleman of the English persuasion may be involved, but that's about it. Oh, and based on the cover design, something about cowboys.
"Wow. That sounds like a really good book."
"Is any of it coming back to you?"
"Not a bit."
So I started wondering how many other novels I've read whose plots and characters have completely, and no doubt permanently, escaped me. It turns out, after a quick scan of my shelves, quite a few!
The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
This is where titles are helpful. I may not remember anything about this book, but I can still bask in that wintry, discontented vibe when I look at it.
The Long Valley by John Steinbeck
Don't get the impression that I can't remember anything by Steinbeck. I have many chunks of East of Eden and Travels with Charley committed to memory. But The Long Valley? I dunno, dude. Has anyone other than me even read this? Care to refresh my memory?
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
I'm not even one hundred percent sure I read this book. I think I did, because I had to for school. But maybe I didn't. I don't know what to believe any more, man.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway
I like a lot of Hemingway a lot. This book? Not so much.
The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
You know how it is when you read a couple of great books by a writer and then you go on a bender and read everything else you can get your hands on, including the lesser books? And then you may as well not have bothered because later you can only remember the first two books anyway? Yeah.
Put out More Flags and Officers and Gentlemen by Evelyn Waugh
The Longest Journey by E.M. Forster
Er. See above.
The Ghost Writer, Letting Go, Zuckerman Unbound, Deception, Our Gang, and Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
Philip Roth, it seems, is incapable of writing a single memorable word. Wait, that's not quite true. I can absolutely recall the scene in Portnoy's Complaint when the main character describes a moment in his adolescence when he ejaculates into his own eye (by accident, HE CLAIMS) while masturbating. It's easy to see how that scene could stick (so to speak).
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
This is a rarity. Generally, Vonnegut creates images that are permanently branded onto, uh, whatever part of my brain remembers these sorts of things. But hey, everyone's entitled to an off day, right?
The Fourth Hand by John Irving
For all I know, this story is about a group of eccentric bridge players. Tell you the truth, knowing Irving, I wouldn't even find it that surprising.
Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler
OR WAS HE?
Man. And that's just a sampling from books I still have lying around the house. I couldn't even begin to speculate on how many have been lost to the ages because I purged them or returned them to the library. Lost. All lost. And don't even try to calculate how many lost reading hours this amounts to. (Answer: A lot.)
Question is: I've still got all these books. Do I re-read them, assuming that, if I haven't purged them, there must be SOMETHING I liked enough to want to keep them around? Or do I assume that, if I can't remember a blamed thing about them, they obviously suck -- or at the very least are tragically mediocre -- and should be tossed to make room for more memorable books?