What I Read
“Have you read…?” is a question I ask often. If the answer is “No,” I say something I liked about the book. “It’s a beautiful story. I thought how much you would enjoy it.”
I don’t mind being asked “Have you read…?” when the question is asked out of curiosity. What I don’t like is the person who pulls a pained facial expression when I say “No.” It is as if there is something congenitally haywire or morally defective in me.
“You haven’t read it?” they will gasp. “Oh, you must,” indicating I’m in danger of some dire consequence for not reading a book they consider essential.
Then there is the person who assumes I’ve read what they’ve read. “You’ve read…, of course.”
“No,” I haven’t,” I say. Again, the pained expression.
“You have to read it.”
I tried to read it. I didn’t like the author’s style; or, it didn’t appeal to me; or, maybe later. James Michener is a good example.
I became aware of Michener with the publication of Hawaii in 1959. It seemed everyone I knew was reading or had read the book. And everyone I knew thought I should read it. I didn’t. And, I did not see the movie. It was the same with Centennial 15 years later. I began reading Centennial but could not get past the dinosaurs rutting in the primordial ooze. I’m not completely intolerant of Michener. I enjoyed The Source.
My resistance to Michener is the same as my resistance to any fad. I refuse to be pressured into following the crowd. I’m making a statement about who I am. No thank you, that doesn’t interest me.
My primary reading interest is U.S. history and biography. Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin are at the top of my list along with anything written by David McCullough.
I have a fondness for nineteenth century English fiction. Eliot’s Middlemarch is a particular favorite. I love Jane Austen and I’ve read most of Dickens. I made a brief foray into 19th century Russian novels, though “brief” is a word not typically applied to 19th century Russian novels. On finishing Anna Karenina, I realized I cared nothing for any character in the story. As a novel, The Brothers Karamozov is an excellent story with strong character development. Two 19th century Russian novels, however, were enough.
Annie’ Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek hung around my “must read” list for several years before I decided its time had come. Dillard’s writing is skillful, pondering topics with dense, lush description. The book tired me out after 40 pages. Dillard’s pondering is, well, ponderous.
My reaction to Dillard is a different reaction than the reaction I had to Michener. I want to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; but, it is inaccessible. Has this frustration happened to you? How did you deal with it?