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