Field of Science

The Most Unread Books

It's been a while since I last bothered with any of the meme things, but I found this one via Stanger Fruit and Evolving Thoughts. Supposedly, this is a list of the 106 top books that people have lying around at home because they think they should read them sometime but have never got around to reading. Needless to say, it's a list that is heavy on the "classics" and other pretentious wank. As John Wilkins did, I've bolded the books that I've read, and italicised the ones that I've started reading but never finished. I don't know how universal the list is, though it's probably largely American - I can't help wondering if a New Zealand list would be much different. Would The Bone People get a look-in, for instance?

There once was a time when I was a very avid reader, and often went through a couple of books in a week. Unfortunately, I rarely find time to read fiction these days, but I may track down a couple of titles from this list I haven't re

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

  • Anna Karenina

  • Crime and Punishment

  • Catch-22 - I've lost count of how many times I've read this book. It's one book that I've found I can pick up any time, anywhere, and still enjoy fully.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude

  • Wuthering Heights - started reading this one, but lost the book about a third of the way through and never picked up another copy.

  • The Silmarillion - I'll admit that it's harder to read, but I actually have a lot more regard for the Silmarillion that for either The Lord of the Rings or the confused mess that is The Hobbit. The Silmarillion (which was never really considered publishable during Tolkein's lifetime) was where Tolkein indulged his own personal enthusiasms for mythology and linguistics, while one can't help the feeling that The Lord of the Rings has been wrapped in a more commercially-acceptable blanket.

  • Life of Pi : a novel

  • The Name of the Rose - I remember running around university trying to find an acquaintance from high school who was studying Latin to confirm what the last sentence actually meant.

  • Don Quixote

  • Moby Dick

  • Ulysses - this barely qualifies to be italicised. The British version of the telly programme Who's Line is it Anyway? used to occassionally have one segment where the competitors had to give an ordinary composition (such as, in the case I'm about to refer to, a chocolate cake recipe) in the style of a famous author. In the chocolate cake example, one of the 'competitors' indicated that he would be constructing his recipe in the style of James Joyce. The host, Clive Anderson, replied, "Well, I'm sure we've all read the first two pages of Joyce". That about sums up my effort. Funnily enough, that's also all I've ever managed of Brian Aldiss.

  • Madame Bovary - the main problem with Madame Bovary is that it is impossible to like a single character. Flaubert obviously didn't think much of people.

  • The Odyssey - The Illiad's better.

  • Pride and Prejudice - I'm rather a fan of Jane Austen, and this was the first of her books I read - I'd say Persuasion was probably my favourite, though I haven't yet read Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park. If I may be allowed a lowbrow moment, though, I was actually glad to have seen the BBC version of this with Colin Firth before I read the book, because I have to admit that some of it would have gone over my head if I hadn't. In my defense, I was about fourteen at the time.

  • Jane Eyre

  • The Tale of Two Cities - I think I managed three pages for this one.

  • The Brothers Karamazov - I rather liked this one. It does drag on in places, but the ironic gems hidden within it rather make up for it. My favourite example: "You see, I once knew a certain young unmarried woman, back in the last 'romantic' generation, who after several years of mysterious love for a certain gentleman, whom, incidentally, she could have taken to the altar at the time of her choosing with a modicum of fuss, ended by inventing insuperable obstacles, and on a stormy night throwing herself from a lofty bank, resembling a cliff, into a rather deep and fast-flowing river and perished in it really for no other reason than her own caprice, solely in order to emulate Shakespeare's Ophelia; and one might even say that had this cliff, so long ago selected and favoured by her, been not so picturesque, and had there been on its site merely a flat, prosaic bank, then her suicide might possibly have never taken place at all."

  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies

  • War and Peace

  • Vanity Fair

  • The Time Traveler’s Wife - never heard of it

  • The Iliad - I've actually read two or three versions of this - it's quite incredible what a difference the translation style makes.

  • Emma - apparently, Jane Austen commented in a letter when writing Emma that she had invented a heroine whom no-one was going to like but Austen herself. I must admit that I found the character of Emma more than a little annoying.

  • The Blind Assassin - don't know this one, either.

  • The Kite Runner - nor this.

  • Mrs. Dalloway - watching that absolutely drear piece of cinema, The Hours, rather put me off the idea of reading this.

  • Great Expectations - If I ever read this one, I'll have to see if I can find the original version. The movie was based on the version with a 'happy' ending, and the happy ending just pissed me off.

  • American Gods - I'm a great fan of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic series, but I must admit that his novels don't enthrall me so much. Ditto his movie efforts.

  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - haven't of this one either. The title rather sets the bar, doesn't it?

  • Atlas Shrugged

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books

  • Memoirs of a Geisha - the movie was a little tame, but anything that manages to get Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li into the same film has a lot going for it.

  • Middlesex

  • Quicksilver - the only Quicksilver I know is the X-Men character

  • Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West

  • The Canterbury tales - I missed this part of high school English

  • The Historian : a novel

  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

  • Love in the Time of Cholera - wash your hands first.

  • Brave New World - Aldous Huxley was brother to Julian Huxley, one of the authors of the modern evolutionary synthesis, and grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, the self-styled "Darwin's bulldog".

  • The Fountainhead - I read this when I was in high school. Even then, Ayn Rand pissed me off. The 1949 movie version's not bad, though.

  • Foucault’s Pendulum

  • Middlemarch

  • Frankenstein - The Modern Prometheus was not what I expected. It's actually something of a tear-jerker.

  • The Count of Monte Cristo

  • Dracula - I read this in high school. It was a lot more boring than I expected. I read it in an omnibus edition that also included The Lair of the White Worm, the 1988 movie version of which (featuring the unbelievably aptly-named Amanda Donohoe - put the stress on the last syllable) is a must-see for lovers of glorious B-grade trash.

  • A Clockwork Orange - I think it was actually a Nature piece I once saw that referred to a clockwork orange - "to use the phrase coined by Stanley Kubrick". No.

  • Anansi Boys

  • The Once and Future King - very nearly. I never quite read about the last twenty pages.

  • The Grapes of Wrath

  • The Poisonwood Bible : a novel

  • 1984 - I found this book a lot more disturbing when I re-read it a couple of years ago than when I had first read at about age 13.

  • Angels & Demons

  • The Inferno - I've read the entire Divine Comedy, though I must admit I somewhat skimmed Il Paradiso.

  • The Satanic Verses

  • Sense and Sensibility - seriously, all you people with unread Austen on your shelves should get around to it. If Sense and Sensibility has a significant failings, it's that the ending seems a little contrived. Sense and Sensibility is centered a lot less on a specific romance than the other novels, being rather about the relationship between the two sisters who are the main characters, so when Austen marries them off at the end of the book (as she always does), there doesn't seem much reason for it beyond expediency.

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray - in places, it has to be admitted, something of a vehicle for Wilde's one-line witticisms. If you read a lot of Oscar Wilde, you can't help noticing that he also used the same lines in a number of different works. One story holds that after someone (I forget who, unfortunately) once made a clever comment in Wilde's presence, Wilde commented, "I wish I'd said that". The original speaker replied, "You will, Oscar".

  • Mansfield Park

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

  • To the Lighthouse

  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles

  • Oliver Twist

  • Gulliver’s Travels - a very good book, but the obscenely funny Modest Proposal is probably the best of Swift's works.

  • Les Misérables

  • The Corrections

  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

  • Dune - this book impressed me a lot when I was a teenager, but to be honest it's rather palled somewhat as I grown older.

  • The Prince

  • The Sound and the Fury

  • Angela’s Ashes : a memoir

  • The God of Small Things

  • A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present - I don't think there's much reason to expect me to have read this, is there?

  • Cryptonomicon

  • Neverwhere - I actually prefer the telly series.

  • A Confederacy of Dunces

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything - I'm still not quite sure what to make of this one. At least half of the 'information' in here is utter bollocks, but then the value of Bill Bryson's work for making science more popular probably allows for a lot of forgiveness.

  • Dubliners

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being

  • Beloved

  • Slaughterhouse-five - I still think this is a great book. I'm a fan of Vonnegut in general, though Galapagos is probably my favourite (perhaps unsurprisingly).

  • The Scarlet Letter

  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves - yeah, I'm a grammar nazi too.

  • The Mists of Avalon

  • Oryx and Crake : a novel

  • Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed

  • Cloud Atlas

  • The Confusion

  • Lolita

  • Persuasion - as I said, probably my favourite of Austen's works (and is it just my imagination, or has every single one of them except Northanger Abbey appeared on this list?)

  • Northanger Abbey - oh, there it is. We have the complete Austen set!

  • The Catcher in the Rye - does anything actually happen in this book? At all?

  • On the Road

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame - though there are reasons why I should probably read this one in the not-too-distant future.

  • Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values

  • The Aeneid - despite having read a lot of classics, I've never got around to this one.

  • Watership Down - I loved this one as a kid.

  • Gravity’s Rainbow - I actually intend to read this one again. Maybe I'll actually work out what the heck's going on the second time around. Maybe not, though.

  • The Hobbit - I referred to The Hobbit above as a confused mess, and I stand by that statement. Problem is, Tolkein started on The Hobbit as a story for his kids before he realised the possibility of linking it into his "Elven lore" compositions. As a result, The Hobbit doesn't know whether it's supposed to be a light children's story or a serious piece of pseudo-mythology, and there's definite signs of strain.

  • In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences

  • White Teeth

  • Treasure Island - one of the possible names I suggested when we got our dog as a small puppy was Flint, because he kept on climbing up onto our shoulders.

  • David Copperfield - Reader's Digest versions do not count.

  • The Three Musketeers

    1. I managed to shake this off when John Wilkins was sneezing out the virus, but now I've gone and caught it from you.

      My list is at Interlude: Books, read and unread. I notice some similarities; we've both read a lot of Jane Austen, for example.

    2. One thing I noticed going through the list is how many more "classics" I read in youth and adolescence than I do now (and not in school, either). At about 11 or 14 I was a big fan of Dickens; my favorite was either Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, or A Tale of Two Cities. My father actually read this last out loud to us (an unusual family -- another bedtime reading choice was Only Yesterday.) AToTC qualifies as either gripping melodrama or silly melodrama according to taste.

      I also read Les Misérables at about the same age, but unlike with Dickens, I keep on rereading it. It is It helps that I first encountered it at an age when I was really able to immerse myself in an interminably long work; now, with familiarity, I can just dip into it and remember the rest. I loved The Hunchback too, but it has just as many lengthy digressions, so if you're looking for an easier place to start with Hugo, it isn't really.

      I can't believe you've never read The Three Musketeers -- that doesn't count as hard work at all!

      Of everything that I've read on that list, I most strongly recommend Foucault's Pendulum. A powerful and thoughtful book.

    3. For me, Douglas Preston's "Jennie"
      was the most haunting novel I've ever read. Several times I had to put the book down and walk away in tears.

    4. A remarkable number of Margaret Atwood books on the list. All of them very good.


    Markup Key:
    - <b>bold</b> = bold
    - <i>italic</i> = italic
    - <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS