Friday, April 04, 2008

Library of Shame

I'm randomly renaming this meme from "anti-library," which is what the originators called it here.

I’d like to pose a question to those who read this blog entry: What are three to five books on your shelf that lay unread and what knowledge do you hope to retrieve from them?

The tag came to me via Dave. I'm going to put my own twist on it. I have hundreds of books that I haven't read, but many are for research or because I only want one essay or story or poem in them.

So I'm going to winnow it down to books that I really want to read as whole books. And that shame me when my eye falls on them and I realize I haven't done it. And I'm going to focus on the ones that have been there the longest.

In other words, I'm fitting barbs to this innocent gift to turn into a bibliophile's self-mortification tool.

I looked at the shelves and the list actually was shorter than I thought it was. It seems I've thrown in the towel on many titles, such as "Finnegans Wake," and instead of keeping them unread on the shelves, they went into the bin for the annual library book sale.

But here's a few that jumped out:

  • "Three Black Pennys" by Joseph Hergesheimer. An enormously popular novelist from the early 1920s who faded into obscurity in his own lifetime because his florid style never evolved, while readers' tastes did. [The lovely, if apocryphal, story is that he asked his friend H.L. Mencken why no one wanted to read his novels anymore, and Mencken replied, "Joe, I'll always enjoy watching you swing from tree to tree."] Hergesheimer lived for a long time in a very old house in the town where I grew up, and I crossed paths with his legacy often enough to make me feel obliged to try his prose. I have yet to do so, though it's probably been 20 years since I bought this book, second-hand.

  • "Frankenstein," by Mary Shelley.

  • "The Niebelungenlied"

  • "Five Points," by Tyler Anbinder. A historian who writes well, I got a lot out of his "Nativism and Slavery."

  • "Mason & Dixon" by Pynchon. Again, the subject of the book has a local connection, and it covers some topics I've researched extensively. I enjoyed the couple of Pynchons I read, but for years it's been difficult for me to read fiction.

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