is doing lists
them so deeply. Knock yourselves out, fellas. (On the other hand, Jenny
stunned me, because its beginning was so similar to what I would have
written -- my teenage years were shaped by Orwell, Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Paul
Fussell, Robert Graves and Anthony Burgess, though only Orwell really has stuck
in my current reading.)
Anyway, here's a different sort of list: 11 books that
haven't made me the wonderful person I am, because I've never been able to
finish them. These are not necessarily books I disliked. I actually would like
to read through almost all of these, except probably the Brontes and that
wanker Henry Adams.
Charlotte Bronte, Wuthering
Heights. Or anything else by the Bronte sisters. I think I just missed the
right age for these. I shoulda been 19.
Charterhouse of Parma. I even tried it again after I read that Al Gore guy
named it as his favorite novel (where do the
Dems get these presidential candidates?). I brought a copy to Iraq. Brought it
back home. Nowadays sits on my nightstand underneath the alarm, alongside a
couple of books on littoral navigation. Never got past first coupla pages. I'd
much rather spend time in France than in Russia, but I love Russian literature
while the French generally leave me cold.
Stendahl, The Red
and the Black. Great title, Stennie. That's all I can tell you about it.
Kinda reminds me of an interview Bill Maher did with me about my book Fiasco, when it quickly became clear
that he hadn't read the book, the briefing notes, or anything else, and so
interviewed me about the cover. After the interview I strolled outside the
studio and looked at his big fat black SUV.
De Tocqueville, Democracy
in America. Another great title but about 50 pages into it I just wandered
away. I've never understood what the big deal was about this book. I do think
it would make a good title
for a Graham Parker album -- think of all the songs he has done about this
country -- not just "Blue Highways," but "Disney's America" and "I Discovered
America." If you can see him live, do. Justin Townes Earle, too. And of course
Paul Johnson, Modern
Times. Another one I hauled out to Iraq and back, unread. Over the last 10 years
I've read the first 30 pages of this book about four times, and each time they
strike me as very good. Dunno why I haven't finished it. In some ways, it felt
too rich, like too big a slice of frosted double chocolate cake.
James Joyce, Ulysses.
This is one I actually feel guilty about, as I majored in English lit. I'd read
it if I knew I actually would get something out of it. I am inclined to put
this in the John Coltrane/Bessie Smith category: If I don't get it, that's my
fault. But I still don't get it.
one too. I actually read part of a modern translation. There is some sort of
monster, I know that. But I know enough monsters, you know?
The Education of
Henry Adams. God knows I have tried. I just don't like the guy, and I don't
care what he learned. I just found this book almost as bad as Sandra
Bullock's taste in men.
Virginia Woolf, To
the Lighthouse. I actually can't remember if I finished it, but no matter -- I
know I was bored by what I did read. I do love her name, though. And as a
teenager I liked Orlando, even
without knowing it was a lesbian love letter.
Anything by Faulkner. Zero zip nada. I actually finished
a few of the short stories, and didn't particularly like them, and I've never
finished any of his greatest hits -- Sound
and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, or Absalom, Absalom. Mario Vargas Llosa once told me that he considers
Faulkner a Latin American author. OK by me, all yours.
Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in
American Politics. I know, this seems like a very good time to dig this one
out. I bet I will read this it sometime this year -- unlike anything else on this
list. (After writing this, over dinner,
I read the
article on which it is based. Good stuff, but no shocker. Made me think
most of the books on this list probably are similarly overrated.)