I don’t usually solicit comments on my blogs, but I’m going to this time. Shamelessly. Mostly, I’m asking for response because if I’m the only one who does what I suggest, I’m going to look like a tool. But, no pressure…
What I propose is a little confession. Writers are readers. It’s what we do. It’s where we steal borrow take learn our best techniques. And, well, we enjoy it. If not, we wouldn’t dream of telling other readers about how we wrote the book they love so much. (What, you don’t do that?)
But here’s the rub: we tend to lie about books we’re supposed to have read. Seriously lie, and not just by omission or that nod we give when people ask, “So, have you read (title of unread book goes here)?”
It’s a weird impulse. All these completely unrelated inadequacies jump up your throat when you’re standing with two or three other readers and they’ve all (apparently) read something you haven’t. They know something you don’t. They’re more literarily hip than you. They might not invite you to the next spontaneous book circle because you’re not cool enough. They might stuff you in the next available locker or mock your hair.
Now try that feeling in a Ph.D. program where people throw out books you’ve never heard of and EVERYONE has read them SIX TIMES. So you lie. You nod, dredge up some part of the Sparknotes summary you remember or, failing that, drop some random non-sequitur line from a Mel Brooks movie. Hopefully the conversation moves on and you put the book on your list of books you have to read before promptly forgetting about it until you’re shamed again.
So, I’m going to try and get out in front of this for once (and I think you should too). I figure, if I admit to some of the books on my list of “shouldas” it will hold me accountable to move them over to being “dids.” The following are books I may or may not have led people to believe I read:
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Seriously, I’ve read the first ten pages of this book twelve times and, true to my undiagnosed culturally-induced ADD, I drop it for the latest Chuck Klosterman offering. But, I’m told, if you’re going to read magical realism not penned by Borges, this is where you start.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
While this is really a lit-nerd’s pick (no offense to my friends who are lit nerds), this book is on so many contemporary top ten lists that I sometimes feel like avoiding the New York Times books section as much as the novel itself. I hear it’s quite funny and I am a sucker for footnotes.
Underworld by Don Delillo
While most people I know prefer Delillo’s White Noise (a great book I can attest to directly), I need to read this one if for no other reason than it really suffered for coming out at about the same time as Candace Bushnell’s terrible Sex in the City (a book that is actually worse than the horrible show is spawned). So I need to get over the weird temporal association I’ve made linking the two.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
I actually went to hear Diaz read from his novel a year ago and thought it sounded great. And then I got buried reading for my comprehensive examinations and writing my own book and never got back to it (not that my colleagues who I’ve spoken with about the book would have been able to tell).
Those are some of mine. What are some of yours? The confessional booth of the comments section awaits you below.
Michael Dean Clark holds a PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is an assistant professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. While he has not read the books listed above, he has read many others. He has also (proudly) seen every episode of Walker Texas Ranger.