The Shelf of Constant Reproach

I was reading this NPR article by Lynn Neary about the best books she’s never read — books that she actually wants to read and intends to read — but still, there they remain on the shelf.  Unread.  Neary’s list includes MOBY-DICK, anything by William Faulkner, and LOLITA.

I read MOBY-DICK and LOLITA in grad school, but I’m not sure I would have read them on my own.  I needed the support group.  I remember I even wrote my big semester paper on MOBY-DICK as a way to make sure I didn’t ‘cheat’ and skip and skim through it.  As for LOLITA, I thankfully had a professor who taught me how to appreciate the genius of Nabokov’s writing.  Faulkner?  I loved THE SOUND AND THE FURY so much I read it twice in a row — as in, I finished the last page and without even putting the book down flipped back to page one and started over.  Sadly, that’s the extent of my Faulker experience.  I should read more.

Neary’s list got me to wondering about my own Shelf of Constant Reproach, so here goes:

1.  Jane Austen.  I have never read a Jane Austen book, though I’ve tried to start PRIDE AND PREJUDICE every summer.  For years!

2.  Charles Dickens.  How have I gotten this old without reading any Dickens?

3.  THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV.  So many writers I admire call this their favorite book.  I’ve tried to start it twice without success.

4.  MIDDLEMARCH.  I desperately want to read this book and I don’t even know why.

What’s on your Shelf of Constant Reproach?


14 thoughts on “The Shelf of Constant Reproach

  1. eliza keating

    Great post…i have read almost all Dickens….made a promise to myself I would….What is the most disapointing book you have ever know that one everyone loved and you just didnt..I think mine is Catcher in the rye..not that it wasnt welll just done nothing for me…Eliza Keating

  2. Les

    I had to read Pride & Prejudice in 12th grade, and let’s just say that at the time I was *way* more into Hemingway, so Austen or didn’t quite do it for me. But I dug the Masterpiece Theater version :).

    I picked up Lolita in high school, too, and was pretty enchanted by the language; I was too young at the time to think about Humbert on a deeper level as a (likely deceitful) narrator, until our class with Prof. Cullen.

    I’m really glad to have been guided through Moby Dick with a group as well. And I did my paper on it, too!

    I took an entire class on Faulkner as an undergrad, having read Light in August in high school. If you like SATF, I think you’d like LIA. And for something completely different give As I Lay Dying a try.

    I thought Brothers Karamazov was a giant soap opera. You might get a kick out of it if you can get going. But I’m a sucker for crazy Russian lit.

    I’ve never read Dickens or George Eliot/Marian Evans…! But I was probably supposed to somewhere back there :).

    The one that is on my and will likely stay there until my last breath is Ulysses. I had the chance to take a Joyce class once but passed on it. Short of getting another grad degree (not!) I think I’d need a very ambitious reading group to get through it. Something about needing to read a book to understand the novel I’m reading kinda puts me off…

    1. Teri Post author

      LOLITA in High School? Wow, I can’t even imagine getting my head around that in HS. I needed our Prof. Cullen class to make my way through that one.

      And I, too, will forever pass on ULYSSES — I know people who’ve tried it and suffered through it and wished they hadn’t wasted their time.

  3. Sandra Bell Kirchman

    Interesting post, Teri. I love insights into others’ reading habits. As for me:

    Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric (this is one I think I should read but always have a better one to dive into. Can we say pro-crastina-tion?)

    I should mention here that one of the books I probably wouldn’t have read but wished I had was Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Great Speeches by Winston Churchill. I was reading on a regular basis to an elderly WWII vet who was nearly blind. That was his choice, and I was glad it was. Sometimes we get maneuvered into reading what we need to read 😛

    Another one is the Last of the Mohicans. I’m not sure why I never got around to it, but it’s still on my Shelf of Constant Reproach.

    1. Teri Post author

      Sandra, I’m looking up the Churchill book for myself and my husband. It sounds great and I’ve never even heard of it! Thanks for sharing.

      I hear you about peeking into others’ reading habits — it’s like looking into someone’s medicine cabinet, only for book addicts.

  4. erikamarks

    Great question, Teri…and thank God, another Austen-less reader. I have never so much as picked up Austen (seeing the upteen movie versions doesn’t count and I don’t pretend it does, I promise).

    My Dickens knowledge is firmly fixed in yearly readings of The Christmas Carol which I find so brilliant, I don’t honestly wish to sully my possibly-misguided fandom with reading others…

    Most of my knowledge of the classics is a result of high school and college, and I am grateful for those required lists, because I doubt on my own I would have taken on authors like Dalton Trumbo or even Mary Shelley.

    Oddly enough, I have never read Moby Dick but am, as you are about Middlemarch, utterly fascinated by the prospect of reading it. Shall we make a pact to see these readings through?

    1. Teri Post author

      Ok first, I should read A Christmas Carol, during the holidays!! And I pinkie-swear to try Middlemarch this summer if you’ll try Moby-Dick … We can provide each other the much needed moral support. Or maybe they are winter reads? We will just have to see how that shakes out.

  5. Downith

    I love this title “The Shelf of Constant Reproach”!

    Ulysses is definitely one for me. I should apply my new 50 page rule to the books on my Shelf of Constant Reproach. That would probably clear some away.

    Re Dickens – my writing prof this term recommended Sketches by Boz last week. These are early short pieces by Dickens – I had never heard of it, but am going to check it out.

  6. Averil Dean

    Where to begin? Let’s see… A Brief History of Time, which has been beckoning since the day it came out. The Corrections. Everything of Poe’s that I haven’t already read. Wodehouse. Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet. (That one’s up next, after I finish The Human Zoo.)

    Oh, and I want to read Shakespeare’s sonnets.

  7. Lyra

    Oh, read Middlemarch!!!! Please, please!!!

    Yes, I am overexcitable, but you must, you must.

    Gravity’s Rainbow, Infinite Jest, Ulysses, The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy (one of my husband’s favorites that he swears is hilarious that I cannot get into), Herzog (one attempt, and halfway through I returned it to the library). There are just so many and not enough time to dedicate to massive works and write. Moby Dick. Where to stop, that’s my question?

    1. Teri Post author

      See Lyra, you screaming Read Middlemarch is exactly why I need to read it. So many people insist that I read this book — without which it wouldn’t even be on the Reproachable Shelf. So yes, you are right, I need to read it.

      And oh dear, Gravity’s Rainbow — or anything by Pynchon — is something I can’t get my head around.

  8. MacDougal Street Baby

    I used to have a large shelf of constant reproach but one day something inside me snapped and I gave every last one of those books away. I do remember, however, Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury being front and center.

    1. Teri Post author

      MSB, you might possibly be the smartest person in the room. Ok, you ARE the smartest. Get rid of them all — what a great suggestion!

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