The Lonely Shelf of Unread Books

Lonely Shelf

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly.  It should be thrown with great force.” – Dorothy Parker, of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged


After posting on Monday, I was on flavorwire, my current favourite culture website, and saw How to Fake Like You’re a Parisian which seemed to tie in nicely with my post. Once on flavorwire it’s hard to leave.  The site is full of book lists with offbeat themes and I often get ideas about books I would like to read.

That lead me to think about the ones I probably won’t.  Why do we choose the books we do?  Maybe a friend recommended something, or you just finished reading a list of Greatest Books of All Time.   Maybe you have to read things for work or school.   At the book store I read stuff I might not have chosen otherwise just to stay on top of what my customers were reading.  Sometimes I was pleasantly surprised (She’s Come Undone) and sometimes disappointed (The Kite Runner).

I’d like to claim that my choices always have literary merit, but that’s not true.  Certain things just lack appeal, like waterskiing and skydiving.  We’d all like to be thought open to anything, but it’s rarely the case.  Even skydivers have their limits. Most would rather jump out of a plane than wade through Ulysses.  Although I could be wrong – I worked with someone once who was the best-read bagpipe playing, poet-wrestler I’ve ever met.

Below, a few things I haven’t read and it’s doubtful I ever will.  Maybe one of your favourites is among them (in the case of one or two I’m pretty sure they are).  If so, tell me why I should read it – I might be persuaded.


A La Recherche du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust

This is a very long book.  Sometimes it’s sold in three volumes, but even that is going to weigh a lot because actually the novel is seven.  Marcel Proust took his whole life to write it. It’s really long.  The action moves very slowly in the novel.  I don’t need lots of action in a book necessarily, but I just don’t know if I can stick it for seven volumes.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

This book is so clearly and engagingly written, they say, a layperson can understand the most modern ideas in physics.  Uh huh.   I couldn’t get through it, but I’m not strong on the whole math thing.  If you have an appreciation for philosphy, and other forms of complex abstract reasoning, go ahead.  If not, you’re going to have a tough time with this history of time.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand was one of the things we weren’t supposed to read at home, like Archie comics and Nancy Drew.  If the political views had been redeemed in my mother’s eyes with good writing, she would have grudgingly approved.  A quick look at Atlas Shrugged seemed to confirm her opinion.  I’m not willing to give up my time to a bad novel just so I can argue with a nineteen year old about the relative merits of Objectivism.  There’s a fun article on Ayn Rand and her followers here.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is the most translated book by a living author.  People love it!  They start to tear up when they tell you about it.   The novel tells the story of a shepherd boy who goes on a journey to find a treasure.   On the way he meets people who quote things they read on inspirational posters at the dentist.  The characters aren’t really people, they Stand for Things like in an Ayn Rand novel, only nicer.  The Lesson seems to be, “follow your dream”.  I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’ve taken a stab at this two or three times but can’t seem to make any headway.  This book pops up on everyone’s “Greatest Books of All Time” lists.  I don’t know what it is about the Latin American magical realists that prevents me from staying awake through their books.  Multiple generations?  All those Spanish names?   Looking forward to hearing someone sell me on this one.

Harry Potter, Vols. 2-7 by J.K. Rowling

With over 450 million copies sold, EVERYONE has read these books.  So what’s not to like?  Nothing, just nothing to love either.  I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and liked it, but wasn’t blown away – the writing seemed awkward, the characters a tad mundane.  Rowling’s richly detailed universe is charming.  Fortunately many creative people, along with millions of dollars, have brought that to life on the screen.  I’ve seen all the movies and enjoyed them.  And I’ve still had time to read a book afterward.