I have a weakness for listopia and list challenges. I’ve always been a sucker for lists. I really love to see various people’s books-you-should-read sort of lists. I will admit that part of it is vanity. As a life-long bookworm, I have usually read a fair number of the “most important” books on any given list. The BBC believes the average reader has read only six of these books. I’ve read 38. I know, plenty of people have read more, but still I beat the average by a lot. When it comes to my favorite genres, like science fiction and fantasy, I’ve often read the majority. On Listopia I’ve read a solid fifty of the Best Science Fiction books of all time.
But I thought it might be interesting to approach this from the opposite angle. There are books that show up time and time again on “must read” lists that I haven’t read. Some I might get to in time, others probably not. So here is my top ten books I haven’t read and why.
1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
For those that don’t know, Card is a homophobe. Not simply someone who disagrees with homosexuality, nor even some who is quietly uncomfortable with it. He’s an outspoken critic of pretty much any legislation or social movement that might give LGBT people equal protection under the law or say, a chance at life. He’s spent the money he’s made as a writer fighting long political battles against marriage equality. A short essay about his politics can be found here.
True fans will tell you that we should overlook his personal flaws because he is a great writer. Sorry, that’s not going to happen. Partly this is because he’s still alive and I don’t want to put money in his pocket, but there is more.
H. P. Lovecraft was a racist bigot. I’ve come to terms with this. I read his work with this in mind. I look at this with the same morbid fascination of a nurse looking at a pus filled wound. “Wow, that’s a personal flaw deeply revealed.” But I would never suggest a person of color set aside their personal feelings to read Lovecraft. And for the record I agree with The World Fantasy’s decision to drop Lovecraft as the image for their award.
Card might be an incredible writer. His works might have nothing to do with his personal views. But there are hundreds of incredible writers and most of them aren’t trying to squash my civil rights. Personally I prefer to avoid the whole nuanced “he’s a great writer but…” by simply not reading Card.
Note: I won’t attack anyone for being a fan of Card. In return I ask that fans not try to guilt me into overlooking my personal views of him, or “give him a try.” Thanks in advance.
2. Jayne Eyre by Emily Bronte
There are three reoccurring themes throughout this list. Political controversy, the reason I haven’t read Card, is one. The reason I haven’t Jayne Eyre is the second common theme, I’ve read other Bronte works. Or I should say I’ve choked down Wuthering Heights, because that’s how it felt to me. I know, lots of people love both books but there is something about her writing style that I can’t hack. Wuthering Heights left me with no desire to read more Bronte.
True fans will no doubt protest that I just haven’t read the right Bronte, or I didn’t understand it, or whatever. The list of reasons why I should like some great writer is long, but since I’m not a professor of literature I see no reason to agree. I don’t have to read anyone I don’t want.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Let’s jump straight into the third reoccurring theme, availability and/or the greed of publishers. In this case, it’s almost pure greed.
For a long time To Kill a Mockingbird has been on my I-should-get-to-this-someday list. I planned on reading it. Who knows, I still might.
Since the release of Go Set a Watchman and Lee’s passing, her estate has jacked up the price on To Kill a Mockingbird, even killing the mass-market edition to force schools to buy more expensive editions. This pisses me off. The whole agency pricing and traditional publishers jacking up ebook prices to save their print sales, pisses me off. I read a lot. I understand that there are costs to producing a print book and I will pay more for one. But more than ten books for an ebook? I don’t get it.
I know, it’s a dumb reason to not read a book. I know, libraries, used book stores, used books on Amazon, yada yada.
You know what else is dumb? Trying to prop up one sector of an industry at the expense of another. Expecting me to pay premium dollars for your book because it’s got some publisher’s stamp of approval on it when there are literally millions of other books I could easily read. I know so many struggling new writers who are selling ebooks at 2.99 or 3.99. Why should I be willing to give Lee’s attorney three times that to read her client? Screw that.
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
For the record, I do like literature. I just don’t like all literature and I refuse to like something because “everybody” insists someone is a great writer. Like Emily Bronte, I’ve read a smattering of Jane Austen, notably Sense and Sensibility. It was better than Wuthering Heights and that is faint praise indeed. She’s just not the writer for me.
5. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Stephenson is one of my favorite writers of all time. Snow Crash and the Cryptonomicon are two of my all time favorite books. He’s unfortunately fallen into the same trap that many established traditionally published authors have. 17.99 for an ebook? Outrageous.
(It looks like since writing this, the price has dropped to eleven bucks. Still higher than I like for an ebook, but I might pay it for Stephenson.)
6. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
No big controversy here. I haven’t heard terrible thing about Mr. Jordan. His books are mostly under ten dollars in ebook form. I haven’t read anything by him and I don’t have any bias for or against this series.
It’s just long and I’ve read so many long series that I am leery of starting yet another one. In my youth I read the lord of the ring, including the Similarillion. I read fourteen or fifteen of the Xanth books before out growing that series. I read each Harry Potter book as it came out. I’ve read almost every of the twenty some discworld books. I am a veteran of long series.
But it’s a huge commitment. I have limited reading time and I need choose wisely which series I want to start. I held off on the Songs of Fire and Ice for a long time for the same reason. I’ve read that and I may very well read the Wheel of Time eventually.
7. Virgin Suicides By Jeffrey Eugenides
I’ve read Middlesex, or as much of it as I could plow through. Eugenides is a great writer when he’s on. Which is about every other chapter as far as I can tell. The alternate chapters he’s long winded, vague and his editor is on break. Seriously I would read one scene and love it. The next scene I would read three times and still wasn’t sure what he was saying. Maybe his other works are better, but I’m not inclined to find out.
8. Anything by Nicholas Sparks
I read The Bridges of Madison County by Robert Waller, otherwise his name might make this list as well. Jonathan Franzen is another name to put under this list. My issue with these writers has less to do with them then with society as a whole. When women write about romance it’s just that, a romance novel. It’s dismissed as a lesser genre. When men write romance, it’s serious literature. Jodi Picoult has weighed in on this better than I ever could.
I love a good romance now and then. I refuse to give into the conceit that puts these male authors above their female counterparts in the field. For the record I am not saying he isn’t a good writer in his own write, or that I would never read him. I just don’t see why I should put him on the “must read” list when there are so many good female romance writers I have yet to explore.
9. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow gets a double whammy of haven’t read. On it’s own Gravity’s Rainbow gets kicked to the back of my to-be-read pile again because even it’s fans, the people who love the book, describe it with words like daunting, dense and a difficult read. I’ve been known to take a perverse pride in having read long, dense books. But as I grow older I see this more and more as pride rather than accomplishment. So you read Gravity’s Rainbow and got it. Bully for you. I read for enjoyment and you aren’t convincing me that I will enjoy the book.
The second whammy comes from the publisher, who are currently pricing it at 15.99 on Amazon. You want me to blow that much money on a book that even fans admit is a “love it or hate it” book that is hard to read. Got better things to do with my time and money, thank you very much.
10. The Anu-Naki wars by R. J. Eliason
The voices in my head say it’s a really cool book. But I haven’t written it yet, so I don’t know. Which is my quirky way of saying that blogging is fun but writing pays the bills, so I had better get back to writing.
A final note on the greed of publishers: When I first started reading ebooks one of my big problems was the time and technology gap. Older writers, whose works were in the public domain, were easy to find. Newer writers were mostly online and available.
But many of the great classics were not available. Publishers still held rights and they were slow to jump on the ebook bandwagon, especially for older books. I had more than a dozen books I wanted to read but I read almost exclusively on a device these days and certain books just weren’t available.
Recently they’ve started to come around and realize that their backlist is valuable. They’ve released ebooks for most of their backlist now. That’s the good news. They’ve mysteriously decided to publish older works at new, print book prices, often ten to twelve dollars. So you can add about a hundred books to the “I will read someday when I can find a good copy for less than ten bucks” list.
What about you? Are there books that you have been told are great and “must read” that you haven’t read and don’t plan to? Let me know in the comments.