The Unread Bookshelf

Nearly a decade ago, I went through my books and put all the ones I hadn’t read on a separate shelf I called The Unread Bookshelf. Or really, The Unread Bookshelf of Doom. There are actually lots of great books on The Unread Bookshelf of Doom, but once a book has ended up there, even if it’s lovely and perfectly innocent, it has a tendency to stay there. The Unread Bookshelf of Doom is kind of like Guantanamo in that way.

Periodically, I go through the shelf and donate a couple of books to the Housing Works bookstore and I do read a few of the books on the shelf every year, but I fear I add as many as I read.

So after the jump I’m listing the poor prisoners of The Unread Bookshelf of Doom and soliciting your comments as to which you’d like to advocate for and think I really should read (in this case, advocating for them means you’re actually sending them back to prison). Some I am definitely keeping, but it occurred to me that for many of these, should I really want to read them one day, I could—gasp—just buy them again. And not have to suffer their cold, hard stares on my back until that day comes. If you want one of these books, leave your selection in the comments and if I decide to get rid of it, I will send it to you. Keep in mind, it may take a while for it to become socialized and some of these books do not speak English. I take no responsibility for books that pee on your carpet or hump you or yell at you in German.

I think it will be easier for me to part with the books on The Unread Bookshelf of Doom if I know the books are going to new homes. Let the cycle of booklife continue!

(Note: I could probably have read half these books in the time it took to compile this list. But this was way more fun. And I realized about a third of these belong to my parents and my mother is going to have a fit when I return them. So that’s fun too.)

99F by Frédéric Beigbeder

Air by Geoff Ryman

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Almayer’s Folly by Joseph Conrad

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Awakenings by Oliver Sacks

Al-Ayam by Taha Hussein: Keeping only because I bought it in Egypt.

Billy Budd and Other Tales by Herman Melville: What the heck? I totally read this. Pardoned. Oh wait, Bartleby is not Billy Budd. Reincarcerated.

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Blindness by Jose Saramago

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault: Keeping, unfortunately, for reasons Ishirō will understand.

Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez: Stay of execution.

Claudius the God by Robert Graves: I am so getting rid of this. The sequel to a book I haven’t read? Please.

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks

The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Country of Men by Hisham Matar

Cross Channel by Julian Barnes: Why do I have five unread books by Julian Barnes? I think it would be enough to not have read one.

The Days by Taha Hussein

La Disparition by Georges Perec

O Doce Veneno do Escorpião by Bruna Surfistinha: This is a raunchy Brazilian prostitute tell-all. I got far enough to learn the word bunda, which means ass.  I am totally finishing this one.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Du côté de chez Swann by Marcel Proust: The print is so tiny the book must have been typeset by the Penguin subsidiary at the North Pole.

Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

England, England by Julian Barnes

A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

For Men with Yen by Alan Rosenberg and W.J. O’Neill: A book about how to buy hookers in Japan. Before I owned this book, I went to Japan twice and never even thought to acquire a hooker. A keeper, obviously.

French Folktales by Henri Pourrat

A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis

God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens: Preaching to the secular choir of Lady Gaga impersonators, in my case. I don’t need to read this, though I bet it’s good. Also, haven’t forgiven Hitchens for his dodo-ish “ladies don’t give me the giggles” article, even if he did get himself waterboarded later.

Harpo Speaks! by Harpo Marx: Keeping. Duh.

Herzog by Saul Bellow: Circa 2000 I read 80 pages of this and hated it. Circa 2001 I read the same 80 pages minus 20 and hated it. Partly because the print is so damn small. Why, Penguin, why? But also I suspect, because I hate the book. But I mean, it’s Herzog. Should I ditch it?

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes

Les Hommes me dégoutent by André Lorulot

How to Read Better and Faster: Oh, Unread Bookshelf of Doom, you think you’re soooo funny. No soup for you.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I Lost It at the Movies by Pauline Kael

I Love Her That’s Why by George Burns (!)

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

I’m with the Band by Pamela Des Barres

Immortality by Milan Kundera

In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh

The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell

Kill Your Darlings by Terence Blacker: Keeping.

Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent

The King’s English by Kingsley Amis

Kubria wa Hawa by Jane Austen: This is a totally crap bilingual (Arabic & English) edition of Pride and Prejudice. I am not going to read it, but I am not getting rid of it either (unless Upyernoz wants it, in which case, let me know).

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt

Letters from London by Julian Barnes

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad: I have been trying to read this bastage of a book my whole life.

Max Perkins, Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg

Mémoires d’Hadrien by Marguerite Yourcenar

Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée by Simone de Beauvoir

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill: <cowers as Baji throws shoes at Gojira>

Moby Dick by Herman Melville: Reading intermittently, not because it isn’t great (it is a delight), but because of the stupid tiny font. GOJIRA HATES TINY FONTS.

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux: Keeping because Theroux inscribed it to me and told me I would like it. I should be ashamed because (1) I still haven’t read it and (2) that wasn’t even the book he was promoting at the signing.

Mr. Maugham Himself by W. Somerset Maugham

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

My Idea of Fun by Will Self

My Life by Bill Clinton: His Life is really long.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: I’m gonna read it, Baji, I am.

El Naranjo by Carlos Fuentes

Nawadir Abi al-Ayna by Akram Matar

Nothing but Wodehouse by P.G. Wodehouse

The Octopus by Frank Norris: Keeping, unfortunately, for reasons Ishirō will understand. Put it in my coffin when I go to The Great Unread Bookshelf in the Sky Hell.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

On Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Pale Fire by Vladimir “You’re damn well going to read this” Nabokov

Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

Poetry, September 1951 issue: Keeping.

Poplorica by Martin Smith and Patrick Kiger

Possession by A.S. Byatt

The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self

Queen of the Wits by Norma Clarke

Rayuela by Julio Cortázar

Reading Lolita in Teheran by Azar Nafisi

Rio Piedra by Paulo Coelho

The Russian Girl by Kingsley Amis

Se questo è un uomo/La tregua by Primo Levi: I’ve read part of it and it’s super depressing, but I’m not ditching out on Levi.

Selected Stories by Nadine Gordimer

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

Al-Shafaq by Stephenie Meyer: No way am I getting rid of this and I am totally finishing it in the near future. The only problem is that I can’t find it. How does one lose a very large, very ridiculous volume of Twilight in Arabic that came direct from Lebanon accompanied only by a note certifying that no Israelis were involved in its production?

Shakespeare’s Bawdy by Eric Partridge: Yes, Ishirō, keeping it.

Shame by Salman Rushdie

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: Ugh. Have tried to read this multiple times. Hate. But as with Herzog, I’m loath to give up.

Taxi by Khaled Al Khamissi: I just borrowed this one from the Roving Gastronome to test my theory that I would read books in Arabic if only they were written in dialect. The outcome so far is: No, I won’t. This follows previous Arabic-related theories: I will read Jane Austen in Arabic (I won’t); I will read books in Arabic that I’ve first read in English (difficult to prove or disprove as I so far haven’t read the English versions either; see above: The Days and Al-Ayam); I will read Twilight in Arabic (well, half).

Therapy by David Lodge

To End a War by Richard Holbrooke

A Treasury of Great Mysteries

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph O’Neill

Trailerpark by Russell Banks

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Der Vorleser by Bernard Schlink

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

What in the Word? by Charles Harrington Elster

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins


9 responses to “The Unread Bookshelf

  1. OH MY GOD! i was just going to write up a post about how i really need to reduce the number of borrowed books on my nightstand (which is bowing under the weight of no less than TWENTY books, two deodorants, four lotions, an ipap and an ipop, a digiclock and a box of mystery) and i wanted to take a poll on whether i should read The Help (by LB) or Angels and Demons (also by LB).

    to me: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

    I’d add The Corrections but I am barely a fraction of the way through Jonathan Strange and I fear tomes now.

    I’d also add Lucky Jim by Amis (as we’ve discussed) but you seem to have misspelled it as The King’s English.

    in the FMK game, Reading Lolita in Teheranby Azar Nafisi would get a big K in my book or blog or whatev.

    Minotaur is not for everyone but i enjoyed its quirkiness b/c it was unlike anything i had read before.

    Namesake was only good for about the first 2/3rds. Unaccustomed Earth was much better and served in bite sized portions for easy digestion.

  2. you should read:

    The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    Blindness by Jose Saramago
    The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
    The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill

    “Shame” is the worst book from rushdie’s good period (he’s in a bad period now, IMHO). but when i was in my rushdie phase i read it and thought it was sorta okay.

    mrs. noz is a pretty big russell banks fan and would insist i recommend you read “cloudsplitter”, but in fact i haven’t read it either.

    definitely don’t bother reading: “Reading Lolita in Teheran”. or just read the first chapter then you’ve effectively read the entire book. all that happens after that is pretty repetitive and sucks any possible memory of goodness you might have gotten out of the first part of the book before it got repetitive and dull.

    Air by Geoff Ryman is the only thing on your unread bookshelf that is also on mine.

    and yes, i would love to have Kubria wa Hawa by Jane Austen. i’m working on a new arabic-only unread book shelf. so far all i got on it is “chicago” by alaa al aswany and “iqtisadna” by muhammad baqir al-sadr.

  3. Oh yeah, recommendations:
    Malcolm X, Bleak House, and Blindness even though they are also on my unread shelf; does seeing the movies have any worth?

    I have read Dracula and Ender’s Game and enjoyed both.

    Re: Lolita– I heart you, Up.

  4. We’re making progress, people! Thank you for the recommendations. I’ll keep those. Baji gets The Illustrated Man and Upyernoz gets Kubria (I’ll get your address from Baji).

    In a lot of these cases I’ve read other books by the author (Russell Banks, Oliver Sacks, Kingsley Amis…) and loved them, so it’s hard to part with ones I haven’t read. But at the same time, I want to read new authors, so I think I am going to ditch the Banks books. I just realized that somehow I missed Cloud Atlas when compiling this list and now I wonder where it’s gone…

    I have somehow managed to never read any Rushdie, but I’m going to ditch Shame and down the line I’ll choose another Rushdie.

  5. A Frolic of His Own is remarkable. You should read 20 pages of it some time and then decide.

    Will Self is totally unnecessary. And so are his books.

    Kill Your Darlings has missed its read-by date.

    Ender’s Game is a book that one either reads or doesn’t, but in either case just once, and quickly. If you’re going to spend time not reading such books switch to William Gibson, who is worth not reading (or reading, even, if it comes to that).

    I’m willing to take over not reading La Disparition. It won’t be the first time.

  6. if you’re going to try another rushdie, i would suggest either “midnight’s children” or “the moor’s last sigh”. both were amazing, but unfortunately, a little too similar to one another to read both in quick succession.

  7. Frolic of His Own stays, so does Kill Your Darlings, even though you’re right. Will Self is a goner. I think since we’ve both read La Disparition’s title, we can just as well say we’ve read the book.

    Upyer, Midnight’s Children it is. Perhaps in 2012.

  8. I only scanned (and saw my name–ooh!), but I heartily recommend Up in the Old Hotel. Sooooo wonderful, full of Old New York-y detail. I think it starts not super-NYC, with something about turtle soup in Savannah, so maybe skip that and go in for the chapters on beefsteaks and the guy who eats only fish (Mr. Flood?).

    And I don’t blame you for not reading Taxi. It’s partially endearing, and partially PTSD-inducing for anyone who’s been in a Cairo cab.

    And I’m pro-Midnight’s Children. First Rushdie I read, and I can now only assume his best, because everything else after that was bad, it seemed.

  9. Okay, Up in the Old Hotel stays on the shelf. Which is looking delightfully bare.

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