Blogs > Cliopatria > My Reading Shame

Mar 23, 2005 11:47 pm

My Reading Shame

OK, Rebunkers – it’s time to get it back in full swing. Sort of. I want to try an interactive post, so this will require your participation. All of us are readers. Were we not, we would not be part of this little sub-community. I feel as if I spend most of my waking hours reading. I am always in the middle of ten books, I have more magazines than I know what to do with, and every nook and cranny is filled with newspapers, journal articles, and various printouts from websites. Yet I am sure I am not alone when I say that I have shameful gaps in my reading.

So here is the question on the table: Name three books that you are embarrassed to admit that you have NOT read. This is not one of those interview questions where you are asked your worst flaw and you respond with the self-serving “I am a perfectionist who cannot rest unless the job is done right.” So don’t come along and express your remorse at not having read the Bible in Hebrew as if you have read everything else of any merit whatsoever and you are self-flagellating for our edification.

Here is my list:

1) Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I know, I know, so much of my work is in southern history, and this may be the most important novel in American history, so how can I not have read it. I can refer to it in conversation. I can talk about its plot. But this is all received wisdom. I have not sat down and read it myself.

2) The Education of Henry Adams. Widely considered by those who know to be the greatest American memoir-cum-autobiography, during the education of Derek Catsam I simply have never taken on this one. Please don’t tell anyone.

3) Moby Dick. It’s about a whale, right? Call me a moron, Ishmael.

So that’s my list. I narrowed it down to ten initially. If the conversation goes anywhere, I’ll give a few others. Feel free to talk about whether canons matter, whether there should be a canon, or whether the whole idea is obsolete given the sheer number of great books that a hundred people would put together as canonical. In the meantime, what is your list?

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/1/2005

Long ago I read a theatrical version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. I think all the basic elements were there. Good whites made helpless by the system; Simon L. rampaging, Little Eva, etc. Given that many Americans in the 1850s saw staged versions, reading the play probably communicated to me the impact of "Uncle Tom" on the country as well as the novel would have.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/30/2005

David --
I do not feel guilty for not reading any more Foucault than has been foisted upon me. I've read enough Marx to get the point, as I had a field in 20th century Europe at OU.
As I told Steve, there is so much stuff even in our own disciplines that we of necessity graze, plunder and steal what we need. I do want to read the Education, but there is lots of stuff I want to read.
I think this last point is important, and because I am a giant nerd, exciting. it is not as if I don't read a ton. I just have books I'd much rather erad than some of the classics I have not yet hit. Should i read Moby Dick? Sure. Will I put it in place of the 50 or 100 other books that I have ahead of it that I also want to, indeed should, read? Probably not. Is that bad? No. I will never read everything. We all have to make choices.
That was part of the exercise -- to acknowledge our reading limitations, and maybe to get us thinking about that sort of prioritization. If it pushes me to read one of those three books, great. If not? I think I'll live.


David Lion Salmanson - 3/29/2005

Skip Moby Dick. I haven't read it either, but my friend the Melville scholar says read The Confidence Man and Bartleby the Scrivener (he said, as if he read them). Keeping just to the History and Theory side of things.

Focoult, Discipline and Punish (I read other stuff by him and did not, repeat, did not like it)
Marx, Capital (shorter stuff, yes)

American History
Henry Adams (ain't we all guilty of this one if we are under 40?)
Manliness and Civilization (and I work on masculinity for crying out loud)

St. Augustine Confessions (shameful, I know)
The Sundiata (and I pretend to teach African History!)
The Analects (sigh, I am never going to start much less get through those)
The collected works of Jonathan Spence (I've read one, the guy wrote something like a book every other year).
The Great Divergence by Kenneth Pomerantz. I thought this was going to be a breeze after reading The World That Trade Created but it is the first book in a long time I've had to put down because it was too hard to follow. I'll take another crack at it this summer.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/28/2005

The Education isone I plan to read soon. Uncle Tom's I can probably read in a short period of time, but I do not see it happening in the next month or two. Moby Dick is pretty daunting at this point with so many other priorities.

mark safranski - 3/26/2005

Uncle Tom's're not missing much. A book of its time.

Education of Henry are missing something here.

Didn't read Moby Dick either. Clare Spark could tell you what you are missing.

Bridget Edwards - 3/25/2005

Oops! It looks like I responded to Mr. Catsam's post and not mr. Bruscino's post as I had intended. I hope this doesn't create havoc and chaos at Rebunk, and that Mr. Bruscino will see and respond to my inquiry. Mea culpa.

Bridget Edwards - 3/25/2005

Could you perhaps expound on the 'craziness' of the Zinn book? I'm not a historian myself, more of a history enthusiast, so maybe there are scholarly grounds that are obvious that I just don't see. I've only just started reading it (It's been on my list for years)and though he certainly has a point of view, I don't see that it's crazy. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

As for my list, the first two I own and have been on my bookshelf for more than a year (she said, head hanging low):

Plato's Republic

Noam Chomsky's Manufaturing Consent

And I've also never read any of Tom Paine's writings

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/24/2005

The Simpsons -- is there anything they don't know?

Rob Simler - 3/24/2005

I read the Odyssey and I saw the Simpsons episode where they did with Homer as Odysseus and Marge as Penelope. Man, that was funny--probably better than the original work.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/24/2005

Here is probably as good a time as any to update Bleeding red's status; Rob is right, of course -- it has not been published. I got all sorts of good responses from publishers at first, but most said the same thing -- with King's and Onan's diary out in November, and with lots of books on the way, mine would be a tough sell. I'd say it won't be happening at this point, but who knows? A lot of you have let me know that you liked it, and the response to the October stuff was overwhelming, so I'd at least like to get that in print. I'm a bit busy publishing academic stuff now, but I have toyed with the idea of self publishing for friends and everyone who kept abreast of the Sox Diaries via Ephblog or Rebunk. Problem is, I have no idea how to do that either.

Any readers with suggestions?


Derek Charles Catsam - 3/24/2005

That was the point!
I'm pretty weak on the epics as well. But I saw "Troy" and "O' Brother Where Art Thou," which counts, right?


Rob Simler - 3/24/2005

1. The Bible--I've read snippets

2. Dick and Jane--I've missed out on a classic American comedy

3. Bleeding Red: A Red Sox Fan's Diary--oh wait, that never got published...(ZING)

Tom Bruscino - 3/24/2005

When he was in high school, Joe Paterno read The Aenied in Latin. I haven't read it in English.

Nor The Iliad.

Nor the Odyssey.

At least I have the excuse that I am not a classicist, but then again I haven't read The Caine Mutiny, Catch-22, From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line, The Naked and the Dead, or The Young Lions. I have started A Walk in the Sun, so I got that going for me, which is nice.

Dammit Derek, I'm starting to get depressed.

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/24/2005

This is one of the things that I hopes would happen -- almost all of us acknowledge blind spots, almost all of us have read something on everyone else's list.
One of the problems, of course, is that we all kinow these are books we should read -- that is why there is some embarrassment or even guilt attendant. But I bet we all have piles, multiple piles, of books we plan to read, and while we all want to read these books that are on or list, we obviously have never seen fit to put them ahead of all of those other worthy books that we want to read. Notto mention those dozens we need to read to stay on top of new literature, and for the articles and books we are writing, and woe unto you if you are like me and have a stack of books to review that are due. Plus the books we assign in class . . . plus the ones set to arrive from Amazon or Alibris . . . plus . . .


Stephen Tootle - 3/24/2005

I haven't read the Guns of August either, but I don't feel all that guilty about it. I just finished John S. D. Eisenhower's _Yanks_ a few days ago. I have two other books on WWI on my list before I even think about Guns of August. Catcher in the Rye was my favorite book when I was a young teen, along with _How Green Was My Valley_, that is. I have also started Grant's memoirs. Uncle Tom's Cabin is no problem-- you can breeze through it in a day, and it is worth it.

Tom Bruscino - 3/23/2005

I listened to Uncle Tom's Cabin on tape, which counts, and I've read The Da Vinci Code. Both are easily digested (feel free to regurgitate The Da Vinci Code). The Guns of August is worth your time, Zinn really isn't (if you must use that book, use it as a reference for craziness).

Off the top of my head, my list of three (of thousands) are:

The Great Gatsby
The Catcher in the Rye
Grant's Memoirs (I'm about halfway through, still).

Derek Charles Catsam - 3/23/2005

Steve --
I generally avoided work-related stuff, because there is so much that we actually have to cherrypick at least a littlle bit. That's a rationalization, to be sure, but even though maybe it ought to be the opposite, I feel a lot less guilty about having only taken in bits and pieces of John Reader's _Africa: Biography of a Continent_ or Litwack's _Trouble in Mind_ than I do about the fact that I've never even tried to read War and Peace (I guess that's a fourth for me -- which brings up the great Woody Allen joke -- I took a speed reading class and read War and Peace. It's about Russia. rim shot.)


Stephen Tootle - 3/23/2005

My list is longer. I am including books that are particularly shameful given my research interests. Most of these books fall into the "read the first few pages and then went to the index to read the important/interesting parts" category.
1) Reagan and Ford's memoirs. What kind of political historian am I?
2) Galbraith's _The Affluent Society_.
3) Schlesinger's _The Vital Center_.
4) Margaret Leech's _In the Days of McKinley_.
5) The first three books in Pogue's multi-volume biography of George Marshall
6) Caro's _Master of the Senate_. Has anybody actually read the whole thing?
7) Menand's _The Metaphysical Club_.
8) Any full length book on the Spanish Civil War.

Steven Heise - 3/23/2005

Two of my books have been taken so far, really, I'm not being lazy and copying the rest of Rebunk.

1) Uncle Tom's Cabin: For someone who intends on studying race relations this is a somewhat embarassing omission. My only consolation is I don't plan on focusing on the US, but rather Britain, so its slightly excusable.

2) A People's History of the United States: Now, I've read the first few chapters of this book, and never really finished it. I found it to be a little too extreme in its views, but otherwise a solid book.

3) The Guns of August: I have heard so many good things about this book that it is reprehensible of me not to have read it yet. Supposedly the difinitive source concerning the outbreak of World War I, and I can't say that I've ever opened its cover.

Rich Holmes - 3/23/2005

1) Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Not only am I embarassed I have not read this book, but moreso because I started it in October and still haven't finished it. That's like a word a week.

2) A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Matt Damon's Character in "Good Will Hunting" spoke highly of the book and I've heard great things about it. Really I'm just throwing this in here to get all the history buffs' panties in a bunch. You big burly historians you.

3) The Da Vinci Code. I'm really not embarassed that I haven't read this book, but I think I might be the only person in the country who hasn't read it yet. What's the big deal?

History News Network