Playing “Humiliation”. Or, Books I’ve Never Read

David Lodge, in his novel Changing Places, invents the literary game of ‘Humiliation’; in which academics attempt to out-do one another by naming classic books they have never read and admitting shameful gaps in their literary (and therefore professional) knowledge.

As you might know, I’m an English Literature graduate and I (sometimes) claim to be an aspiring writer. I’m critical, I like to read to analyse and I love editing. You might think therefore that well read. I disagree. I know full well there are a number of books I’ve never even touched, let alone read, but I’m going to shame myself here and list the top ten most humiliating.

  1. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

I’ve tried. Gods know I’ve tried to read this book. Each time I get stuck after the first chapter. Too self-pitying. The thing is, I probably would enjoy the story in the end, but I can’t for the life of me get past that frustration.

2. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

Well, I can’t admit to having tried this one. Gothic fiction just riles me, rather than entices me. And it doesn’t help that either one or both of the above were quoted nauseatingly in the Twilight saga.

3. David Copperfield,  Charles Dickens

This book represents a lot of Dickens’ work that I haven’t read. Also, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Nicholas Nickleby. Not quite sure of the reason for this one, so it is a little shameful. I love Dickens! Perhaps I’m just scared of the size of Bleak House

4. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

I’m sure I should have read this book. And it ought to count for about three books on normal ‘Best Books’ lists, thereby making the reader Very Well Read. However, I still haven’t. As such, I am Not Well Read At All.

5. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

I think some of my old lecturers would kill me for not having read this book. They’re American. And it has the most well-known first line in literary history, no? Even I know that. One day, I’ll read on.

6. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

Another writer of whom I have read shamefully little. I’ve read The Mayor of Casterbridge. I was about 14 at the time, so I barely remember it, but I don’t think I hated it – so the reason I stopped there with Hardy is beyond me. Another I really ought to buy and put on my To-Read pile sooner rather than later.

7. Ulysses, James Joyce

Well, technically this doesn’t need to be on the list, but I’m ashamed. Ulysses was my post-degree summer project. I assumed that I might be clever enough to read it. I’ve read the first chapter three times and then I stopped. I need to finish this book! I know I will like it. But as yet, still shameful 😦

8. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

I don’t even know how I got through secondary school without reading this one, sorry.

9. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This one is ever so slightly less shameful as although I haven’t read it yet, I’m doing something about the situation and starting it now! However, I’m still pretty sure I should have done so already.

10. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

Yeah, yeah, great American novels. Have never had a desire to read this book until I got to university and found out that everyone else had. I was still too busy reading Tolkien or Renaissance poetry, however, to pick it up.

And a bonus shame:

Atonement, Ian McEwan

I have never read this book. Sometimes I think I might be the only one. More to the point, I will never read this book. I can’t bear Ian McEwan.

And on that potential bombshell, I’ll leave you.

What are your literary humiliations? Don’t leave me alone – what else haven’t you read?

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4 thoughts on “Playing “Humiliation”. Or, Books I’ve Never Read

  1. What haven’t I read? Most of these! We read Jane Eyre in high school. I actually liked it! It does start slow though. I tried to read Wuthering Heights in college, but it was a no go. I swear all the characters have the same name. I got frustrated trying to keep them all straight. Moby Dick was another self-assignment in college that I never got through. I probably should have tried to make it through more than the first chapter, but it just wasn’t that interesting.

    I Googled a list of ‘books to read before you die’ to give me suggestions of books I ought to have read. Some notable examples:
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    Everything Mark Twain has ever written (so much shame)
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (which I checked out of the library once and definitely meant to read)
    Dracula by Bram Stoker (I started this in college too)
    Any and all Sherlock Holmes
    Of Mice and Men by Jon Steinbeck (talk about great American novels…)

    And too many more to list here. Most of the classics that I’ve read were school assignments, but I haven’t read much after leaving school. I really should do something about that.

  2. No worries about not reading these books. Except for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’– I feel in love with this book. I have only read one book from this list. I did see Atonement on film. If you don’t have plans to be a literary critic or English professor, I’d say skip it. There are plenty of books out there that need your attention. Good job on the presentation and sharing of this blog post. You’re in graduate school- great excuse for reading curriculum only literature 🙂

  3. Pingback: Top Ten Posts « Post-grad Panopticon

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