Jam and Idleness and Wuthering Expectations have been making lists of authors they haven't read yet, authors they feel they should have read. Wuthering Expectations takes it a step further and includes the authors he read instead. I find that an intriguing idea, I've never been aware of making a conscious decision to read one writer rather than another. I think of my reading following a path with one book leading to another, and collect books like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter. I'm also in the habit of assuming I'll get round to reading through my book store - though as it grows obviously there's clearly a greater chance of byways left unexplored. Anyway I thought I'd have a quick look and see what books I had on the shelves that I probably should have read by now.
That list is obviously much longer than 10 books (much, much, longer) and there are plenty of books on it that I should have read - Moby Dick is somewhere near the top. It came as a highly recommended gift and every time I walk past it I feel guilty about not having read it yet. But the list of individual books would be very long indeed, almost as long as the list of books I don't have (or have any particular interest in which includes just about anything Russian) that you might imagine anybody reasonably well read would have managed to get through...
Here then is a list of authors that I seem to have acquired plenty by, without ever having read a word of. They represent books bought with an earnest intention of reading them, as well as ever so many conversations in second hand bookshops which go like this - friend 'Do you have this one?', self 'oh yes...' friend, 'Is it any good?', self 'Who knows?'. I'm sure we all know that conversation.
My Virago collection has everything they've ever published by Kate O'Brien who not only have I failed to read, I even failed to listen to a radio adaptation of one of her books. This isn't really good enough.
The same collection has a whole lot of Mary Webb in it. 'Precious Bane' is one of those books I really don't want to read but the others all sound much better, so over the years I've bought them, lots of them, still not read any. If anybody can recommend a place to start I'd appreciate it - if anybody strongly recommends that I take the lot back to a charity shop I might also be inclined to listen.
It's Virago which is responsible for the Christina Stead's as well. Lots of them. All still waiting to be read. I must have been attracted to them when I picked them up but when I had a quick look at the shelves earlier I was surprised by how many there were and how little I know about her.
I've never read Vera Brittain either (guess who published all the copies of her book I have) which is at odds with a very definite interest I have in the first world war. Maybe this year is a good time to tackle her - although as she's waited this long for me it might be that 2018 will be soon enough.
I have John Cowper Powys on the shelf too, only 'Wolf Solent' but that's long enough to count as several books anyway. I really wanted it when I bought it, I occasionally read something that mentions Powys and think about how much I want to pick it up, an yet somehow never have. Frankly I'm intimidated by how long it is.
George Gissing feels like a real gap in my reading, but there it is, I almost bought another title at the weekend but decided I had to read one of those I already had before I could reasonably get another. It seems crazy not to have read any of his work as it so clearly sounds like exactly my sort of thing. How has the path not lead there yet?
It's not lead me to Thomas Love Peacock either. I went to the Astley Book farm yesterday with friends, it's been an unusually long time since the last visit when I got a lovely two volume set of his novels (hard back and very nice). I was really excited by those books when I got them home but they're still sitting unopened (next to Moby Dick) on the shelf. I really feel I should have read him.
Stefan Zweig is another omission, I have a couple of his book - bought because they sound brilliant, but I've yet to actually open one. However we went to see the excellent 'Grand Budapest Hotel' today so maybe that'll be the necessary push.
Somerset Maughan is an omission that's about to be corrected - slightly unwillingly if I'm honest, I fear it's going to be a struggle because whenever I've actually picked up one of his books I've had no trouble putting it down again, but he's another writer I feel I should have read and be able to go on reading. The sort who comes recommended by plenty of people who's taste normally coincides with mine and the sort who's books I have bought.
I'm going to make Henry Green the last on this list. I found him when I briefly worked in a bookshop not long after graduating. For almost 20 years I've thought I should read him and still haven't - which is one of the wonderful things about books; they wait for you, more or less without reproach (damn you Moby Dick) until no other book will fit the moment.