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Books I will never read

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The other day I was talking about books and literature with my friend Warren, and I explained to him my formula and rule for reading these days. The formula is simple:

(# pleasure books read per year) (# years life left) = max reading potential

It’s a fairly morbid formula, given that you have to estimate your lifespan. I’m hoping for 72, and read about eight pleasure books a year, so have around 220 books left before I kick it. If I get bonus years, hooray.

My theory as a librarian and a former literature graduate student is that people have far more books than they have read/can read. Not really hard to prove that theory. For many years, I felt somewhat intimidated by many friends in those circles and their prodigious reading, but as I get older, less so, and I certainly reject nearly all “oh, one must read that book because …” claims. Too few books left to let others decide what I must read.

So, in that spirit, I offer my list of books I will never read. I encourage others to produce their lists, either here in the comments or on their own blogs. Would be fun to compare notes. An asterisk means I tried and gave up before finishing and don’t care to pick it up again. Without further ado:

  • Anna Karenina*
  • War and Peace
  • Doktor Faustus* (T. Mann)
  • Finnegan’s Wake
  • all Jane Austen novels
  • ditto for any text by Arno Schmidt
  • myriad Shakespeare plays: Macbeth, The Tempest, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet (Baz Luhrmann does it for me), etc.
  • all William Faulkner
  • Paradise Lost

There are, of course, thousands of others I will never read, but these are books I have zero desire to touch. Do note that this is in no way a judgment or valuation, so don’t feel obligated to defend them. I’m not afraid of extremely challenging texts, having enjoyed reading Ulysses and Der Zauberberg multiple times, so I’m not just a reading wimp.

UPDATE: Responding to my wife’s taunting in the comments, I am adding to my list:

  • Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) by Grass
  • Dan Brown novels

Written by Dale

April 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Posted in books, life

7 Responses

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  1. Thanks for honestly using allowable grammar. Roughly all sites were absolute gibberish. Fantastic website & writing skills. You my friend have Talent! I just StumbledUpon this. Not bad. I’ll give it a thumbs up.

    Judson Stouer

    April 18, 2011 at 8:08 am

  2. Since I was an English major, I had to read many of those books on your “I’ll never read” list. My asterisk goes with War and Peace. Never could make it through that one – which I tried in H.S. and again after college.


    April 19, 2011 at 7:30 am

  3. I love it when I vibe is obviously in the air. Phil from, as well as another person who was a former student, both shared this link with me today:

    You can’t be well-read, if we take well-read to mean “has read everything worth reading.” So, in the author’s opinion, you have a choice between “culling” (which implies control over the process of leaving things out) or “surrender” (which acknowledges that we know we will be missing a great deal and could, potentially, love some of what we choose to miss.)



    April 19, 2011 at 7:41 pm

  4. I’m stuck on the fact that you’re “hoping” for 72. I’d have thought you’d be aiming for something over the average life expectancy.


    April 22, 2011 at 8:35 am

    • It’s an underpromise/overdeliver thing. If I say 78 (or whatever average is) and die at 71, I’ll be pretty cranky. If I say 72 and live until 96, it’s 24 years of bonus time. Besides, given my family’s medical past, it pays not to get one’s hopes up.


      April 22, 2011 at 11:27 am

  5. I’m with Bill. He occasionally makes comments like this and it weirds me out.


    April 23, 2011 at 8:29 pm

  6. […] to start accumulating Joyce texts. This meant I acquired texts that I have since declared that I have no intention of ever reading, such as Finnegan’s Wake. Over the past ten years or so, I’ve spent a not insignificant […]

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