In college, I once read Moby Dick in three days for a class. I read The Scarlet Letter, Desert Solitaire, The Professor’s House, The Iliad, and many other new and old classics. If I sound defensive, it’s because I am. With the great power of being an English major (you earn the right to low salaries, the prerogative to infuriate others with your attention to precise, correct language and grammar, and… well, really that’s all), comes the disdain of others when you haven’t read one of the “great classics.” Any English major can think of at least a few moments where someone says to them, “What?! You haven’t read that? But you’re an English major!” Here is a list of some of the big classics I have been persecuted for not having read. I always intend to read them, but maybe with the backlash this page will generate, I will be forced to either go into exile or quickly catch up.
The Catcher In the Rye
This is a particularly unfortunate one. Most people had to read Salinger’s novel in high school, so they assume everyone did. All I can think of when I hear about it is a group of football jocks in one of my English classes in college. They had been writing novels and comparing notes, and one day they came in to class, one of them enthusiastic about finishing a first draft of his novel. He said he thought it was really good, and the main character was a “cross between Holden Caulfield” and some other great American character I can’t remember. So far, I don’t think the novel has been published.
“To be or not to be.” We all know the lines. It’s not my fault none of my teachers had me read it. Instead, I had Macbeth assigned to me three separate times. I do intend to read this classic, but it’s much more fun to get to analyze Shakespeare in a classroom, or at least go see the play.
I love Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. I think the reason I haven’t gotten to Emma yet is that I’ve seen three or four film versions, if you count Clueless. A book is so much more exciting if you don’t know what is going to happen.
This has been on my list a very long time. I enjoy dystopian stories, from Brave New World to The Postmortal, so it is surprising I’ve missed this big one. I didn’t read it for a long time because I had it ruined with a spoiler-ridden book report in high school. Book reports were responsible for my delay in reading Of Mice and Men, as well as the fact that I haven’t read Nectar In a Sieve. My stand: it is our responsibility as good human beings not to be spoilers. Do not tell people the endings of books. Ever again.
I’ve read all the other books that are worth reading, as far as I know. If any more come to my attention, I will add them to the list. This list will also be updated when I read any of the books on it. Feel free to comment with suggestions, catcalls, or words of encouragement.