Thursday, October 02, 2008

Books That Are "Stuck" on My Shelves

Thanks to Christopher Schoppa of the Washington Post for a clever idea about a category of books that many readers find on their bookshelves these days, titles that have been there for a number of years, never tossed out, but still not read. These are titles we are certain that we will read...someday.

Schoppa lists these five from his own collection:
1. A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth

2. Constantine's Sword, by James Carroll

3. Marie Antoinette, by Antonia Fraser

4. An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears

5. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan

(See the article for Schoppa's comments regarding each of the books and why he still feels compelled to read them after all the time that he has owned them.)
Schoppa's list got me wondering about what major, unread titles I might find on my shelf and how long they've been there. These are five of the ones that jumped out at me:
1. The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan - I bought this one in a pristine hard cover first edition way back in 1989 from a local bookstore. It is still in perfect mint condition, hardly ever having been opened and one book dealer offered me $385 for it a couple of years ago. When I finally get around to reading the book, I'll probably do so from a "reading copy" rather than risk doing any damage to the one on my shelves.

2. The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie - I bought two copies of this one from a B.Dalton bookstore in 1989 just as all the controversy about it began to hit the press. I've never really tried to read it, and bought the books more to show my support for the author than for any other reason. I traded one copy for a perfect first edition of John Irving's The World According to Garp and am still pleased about that. Several years ago, a local dealer offered me $300 for my remaining copy but I doubt it's worth that much today.

3. Beloved - Toni Morrison - I had a hunch back in 1987 that Morrison was going to win the Pulitzer prize that year and when I spotted a dozen first editions on a bargain book table I bought them all for something like four dollars each. I've been offered anything from $150 to $250 per copy since then but haven't sold any of them, why I don't know. I tried reading this one once but found it difficult to lose myself in Morrison's style - but I do plan to read the book even though I've had 12 copies in my collection for 21 years and haven't managed it yet. Sad, that.

4. Sarum - Edward Rutherford - As fascinating as I find Stonehenge and all the theories associated with its origin, I have still not managed to read this 897-page novel from 1987. But I'm not giving up on the idea.

5. R.E. Lee (four volumes) - Douglas Southall Freeman - Many historians believe these four books to be the definitive biography of Robert E. Lee and , although I've owned them for close to 20 years, I've only managed to read the first volume - which itself is over 600 pages long. The other three volumes will be read; it's only a question of when.
What about you guys? Do you have any long-term unread books on your shelves - and will you continue to keep them indefinitely?


  1. 2 come to mind for me (well, technically 4) - "Gone With the Wind" and Shelby Foote's "Civil War" trilogy.

    I know for a fact there are others, but I can't think exactly what they are right now.

  2. Great Expectations was stuck for years, but there's more...I must post about this...thanks for the idee.

  3. Oh man, the first book that comes to mind is "Empire Falls" by Richard Russo. It's been on my shelf for ages. I want to read it. I just haven't had a real urge yet. Like Bybee I do have more, which I'll probably have to post about later. This is a very interesting exercise, though it's bound to make me feel guilty. =)

  4. I've got a number of these. Ones that I just wasn't in the mood for the first time, but they've had such high recommendations I'm going to keep them and see if I appreciate them better in the future. Some are:

    Schindler's List
    Their Eyes Were Watching God
    Emma- Jane Austen
    Red Badge of Courage
    The Old Curiosity Shop
    Zorba the Greek
    Henderson the Rain King
    A River Runs Through It
    To The Lighthouse
    House of Sand and Fog

    My plan is to get through the other 80 books on the floor by the bed, and then try these ones again! I've had some success with this strategy. When I first tried reading National Velvet, by Enid Bagnold and The Plague Dogs by Ricahard Adams as a teen, I didn't like them. But I reshelved the books and a few years later tried them again. Now they're some of my very favorites.

  5. I have read "Fingerpost" and it is EXCELLENT. I don't buy books (I'm too cheap and the library is free!), so can't tell you what I've bought and held.

  6. The one I have had the longest is Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd. I think I have had it nearly 20 years or so. I will read it. There are loads of others including Sophies World which I have picked up a few times but still haven't read.

  7. Oh heck yeah, I do. I'll have to see if I can identify the oldest ones.

    Sarum, btw, is excellent. Which hasn't made me pick up and read London yet, also on my shelves.

  8. J.Anne, hang on the those because one day you will enjoy both, especially the Shelby Foote books.

  9. Bybee, my only surprise was just how long I've kept some books without ever having read them. Their good first impression and reputation seem to have made them permanent additions to my library - not sure that is a good thing or not.

  10. Hey, J.S., I have that one around somewhere myself. I even started the film at one point but never watched the whole thing. I still suspect I will really like the book and can't explain my tardiness in reading it.

  11. That's an interesting list, Jeanne...sounds like you have quite a mountain ahead of you with those 80 books. Has that stack been building for a long time; does it go up and down or stay pretty steady? Good luck with that. :-)

  12. Factotum, you always make me smile because you're comment is just a little bit of a different slant to the question...

  13. Leah, at least we can say that we will never suffer the problem of not having something around the house to read. I remember when that used to happen to me and can't even imagine how it would ever occur these days.

  14. Thanks for the Sarum-vote, Carrie. When I pulled that one off the shelf last night I almost started reading it, finally - key word being "almost."

  15. Sam, I have my talking points and I'm not going to deviate?

  16. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many unread books I have on my shelves! Speaking of Douglas Southall Freeman, did he write a series of books on Stonewall Jackson? My dad read Freeman's books. Books about the Civil War were the only ones he would read.

  17. O.k. Sam and J.S. I highly suggest you get to Empire Falls. I read the book and watched the movie - both excellent...Paul Newman playing an outstanding role, incidently!

    Sam, I read Beloved in college and also attended a Toni Morrison workshop where we poured over it again. I do like a lot of Morrison's work, but can only read it in spurts. She's definitely not a writer I could read one work right after the other.

    A few of the ones stuck on my shelf are David Copperfield, Catch-22 and Cat's Cradle. I'm not sure how long each has been on my shelf, but I'm still not willing to part with them. I fully intend to read them one of these days.

  18. Good post idea!

    Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club has been on my shelf for a while, too.

  19. The pile has been gradually going down. (This is only my physical pile, my written TBR list grows exponentially). It came from a place in Baltimore which is a basement full of free books. I stocked up on everything that looked interesting before we moved away, and am now trying to get through them all!

  20. Oh, so many.

    The worst I think is Henry James' The Ambassadors, which I've been carrying around for about 10 years. Then, the runners-up include Charlotte Bronte's Villette, William Faulker's Light in August, and D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. So. Much. Guilt. They *reproach* me, I swear.

  21. One of my books is Victor Hugo's Les Miserables--the unabridged Signet Classics version, coming in at about 1500 pages, give or take a few. Another book that's on my shelf that I've never read is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; yet another is The Quincunx. And Fanny' Burney's Evelina has been sitting on my "TBR" shelf for about six months or so.

  22. I love these responses, guys. It proves to me that booklovers have many, many things and tendencies in common. One of those tendencies appears to be a great reluctance to EVER give up on a book that even remotely strikes us as something we might read someday.

    I sincerely suspect that I will die with some of these books on my shelves...still unread. But they will be here as long as I have the space for them.