10 books growing old on my ‘to read’ list
This week’s topic in the Top Ten Tuesday meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is a free choice. Since I have been spending a few hours today clearing up the spreadsheet I used to keep track of all the books I own but have not yet read, I thought I’d share the ten titles that are growing beards because they’ve been on my shelf so long.
Riddle of the Sands: 1903 novel by Erskine Childers that I’ve had since the late 1970s. I bought it at a time when I was reading some of John Le Carre’s fiction and heard that his potrayal of the world of spies was influenced by the realistic detail found in Childers’ novel. I’ve tried to read it a few times but never got much further than chapter 2 – I was irritated by the amount of detail about sailing.
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: bought in 2011 in Chicago airport on the recommendation of the assistant. Opened it just after take off to discover it was a non fiction account of how two men created the World’s Fair of 1893 in Chicago. A lesson here – don’t buy a book when you’re in a desperate hurry.
Contested Will by James Shapiro: Also acquired in 2011, this time as a birthday gift I think. Shapiro revisits the debate about who wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare, assessing the various conspiracy theories and the list of people variously named as the real author. It’s a follow up to his book 1599 which is a very readable study of a decisive year in the playwright’s life.
American Pastoral by Philip Roth: yes I know this is considered to be one of the ‘great American novels’ but I’ve not read it. Come to think of it I don’t believe I’ve read anything by Roth. Looks like I bought it in 1998 presumably after I’d seen a lot of commentary about it since it was published the previous year.
Armadale by Wilkie Collins. My copy is a second hand edition that came into my house after September 2000. I know this because it has a message (with a date) on the flyleaf which makes it clear this was a birthday gift for someone called Cath. I’ve read all the major novels by Collins and a few of the minor ones (sad to say he wrote some duds) – this one seems to have divided opinions. T.S Eliot said it was melodrama and nothing more but other critics have found
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This was given to me as a Christmas gift in 2011, the year it was published. I’d read an interview with the illustrator in which he explained how he approached the tricky task of depicting a monster without scaring the hell out of young readers. The examples accompanying the article were superb so I wanted the book just for that reason.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. This is a slim novella so I don’t even have the excuse that it’s a chunky book.
George Eliot , The Last Victorian by Kathryn Hughes: this is a hard-backed copy that came from a sale at my local library. It’s largely a biography but also includes some analysis of her major works.
The Comedians by Graham Greene. One of the few Greene novels I haven’t read.
And the prize for the oldest of them goes to….
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. How could I have completed an English literature degree programme without having read this landmark text? Wouldn’t you have thought it would be required reading especially since Woolf was one of the authors we studied? Maybe that tells you something about the nature of literature studies in the 1970s?? I bought a copy anyway, put it in a prominent place on a shelf in my college room so I could impress my visitors. And on a shelf it has stayed all these years.
59 thoughts on “10 books growing old on my ‘to read’ list”
Grossness Trigger Alert: Riddle of the Sands was highly recommended to me, but one of my cats daintily threw up on it. I cleaned and disinfected it but have never gone near it again. So, really, I’d better throw it out.
Ugh yes I think you have been given a sign that this is not a book you will enjoy reading 🙂
My oldest unread book (that I fully intend to read) is a biography of the Mitford sisters. I’ve had it on my shelf for 20 years I’d say!
Biographies do tend to linger on mine too -really I should stop buying them
I have stopped buying them. I still do for memoirs but a traditional biography, no.
I like this post (and the comments) – it makes me feel better about my own endless list of books waiting to be read. The worst are the ones I’ve bought or have been given to me as gifts. Oh, the guilt!
The books I received as un-requested gifts I dont feel too guilty about, but if i made a point of asking for a book and then I dont read it I do feel bad about
According to Goodreads, the oldest books on my shelves that I have yet to read were a 2001 Christmas present: the Arrows trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. For shame!! I remember I really wanted them, too!
im guilty of that too – so many books on my shelves that I requested as gifts but have not even been opened
I think it happened because I wanted TWO trilogies and I got both. I read one and loved it; however, the other trilogy, which was published later, had a character from the first trilogy who had died. I then convinced myself in a fit of anger that I read them in the wrong order and didn’t pick them up again!
also still planing one day to read Devil in the White City!
I started to read A Room of One’s Own in English and French as a translating exercise, I need to get back to it!
That sounds like quite a challenge
I loved The Devil in the White City and I finally picked up A Monster Calls after many years on my to-read list and I’m so glad I did – it was nothing I had expected. A Room of One’s Own is wonderful.
Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
Thanks Rebecca – so many people telling me how wonderful A Monster Calls is ….
Ethan Frome is short but really good.
Thanks for the recommendation Guy
Snap! I bought a new copy of American Pastoral ages ago and see it everyday on my mantelpiece-cum-bookshelf. I don’t know why but after it initially grabbed me in Waterstones, it’s not managed to again, so far…
That happens often to me Lucy
Ditto- Riddle of the Sands- snoresville, and as an English grad too just don’t get me started on Woolf… never again…
A podcast I listen to called Backlisted had an episode which said it started slow but got much better. Seems they were mistaken
Interesting list and interesting reading all the responses. I read The Riddle of the Sands yonks ago and remember really liking it!
well it seems you are a lone voice for Riddle of the Sands
So many books to read! I would highly recommend A Monster calls. It is fast paced and you will finish it in a couple of hours. The illustrated version is the best
Thats the one I have Resh
Devil in the White City has been gathering dust on my bookshelf as well. However I do highly recommend picking up A Room of One’s Own! I believe that the oldest unread book on my shelf is either Madame Bovary (purchased in college) or a collection of Faulkner giving to me as a gift ages ago.
Madame Bovary is one of my favourite reads
Me too. And although I have only read one of Woolf’s works so far (Mrs Dalloway) I was so entranced by it that I will definitely get onto A Room of One’s Own sooner or later. Don’t you find that books you couldn’t get on with in younger years find their appeal later in life – and vice versa?
Absolutely Jenny – when I was young I never understood why people said Jane Austen was so witty. But now I love that aspect of her work
A room of one’s own, and Ethan Frome, both short and both very well worth reading for different reasons.
I bought The devil in the white city for my Kindle recently because I remember when an online bookgroup read it years and years ago and it was very well received. It keeps popping up as a much liked non-fiction work. I have read his Isaac’s storm about the big hurricane in Galveston. It is a really excellently written story of that event.
I think i’d have to have an interest in the subject for me to read this now – can’t say that knowing how a world fair came about is exactly high on my agenda
Ah I think I’m different. I’m intrigued by things so left field to my interests, particularly if what the book is really about is social history (ie attitudes and values of the time) and human behaviour, and this is I think Larson’s interest.
Do not bother with Riddle of the Sands – it is awful, and the detailed descriptions of sailing minutiae just keep on coming.
Putting it in the bag for the charity shop right away based on your comment 🙂
A first for me, persuading someone not to read a novel.
My cousin recommended Riddle of the Sands. I started reading it a few days ago and I am persevering in the hope that we can get beyond the boat stuff. It is set in a region of Germany that I am interested in, and I think that sometimes you have to read something that stretches you a little. And it’s quite short!
You might want to listen to the discussion about this book on the Backlisted Podcast….
A Room of One’s Own and A Monster Calls are excellent and quite different from what you might expect from just looking at the covers or reading about them.
I’ve dipped into Room of One’s Own periodically and liked what I saw so its just a case of getting down to it
Great idea for a post! I’d recommend A Room of One’s Own and skimmed Devil in the White City for work which didn’t make the grade for me. Time for a trip to the charity shop?
I seem to be living in the charity shop these days – how can two people accumulate so much stuff???
May I suggest a bulk donation to your favourite charity book-sale? One’s reading tastes change over time. Some of your list strike me as “should read” or “worthy reads”. These two categories seldom yield enjoyment or surprises in my experience.
I have a bag where I put all the books for donation or that I plan to take to the book crossing zone. I’m learning to get more ruthless….
I love the idea of book crossing zones, but we don’t have them here. Or if we do, I haven’t located them as yet.
Seems there are a few book crossers active in the western cape. Hope this link works – if so you should see someone has been leaving book in Hout Bay and Kalk Bay http://www.bookcrossing.com/hunt/41/164/31608
Thanks for info. will follow up.
I have lots of ancient books so I smiled when I saw your post. I read Armadale many years ago- I don’t remember that much about it but I know I found it compelling. I really loved Ethan Frome it is quite sad but beautiful. I also really loved A Room of One’s Own – I found it more relevant than I had expected.
i cant imagine how many books you have Ali – but then you read much more quickly than I do. thanks for those insights on Collins, Wharton and Woolf
American Pastoral and Devil in the White City have been gathering dust on my shelves for years and years, too. They’re both books it seems I “should” read, but I’ve never felt at all compelled to do it. If I can stick my nose in, though, I really do have to highly (highly) recommend A Monster Calls. It’s a stunning experience. I’m also a huge fan of Virginia Woolf, and A Room of One’s Own is one of my favorites from her oeuvre. I have three degrees in English and was only ever required to read one Woolf text (this one wasn’t it). I wish we would have done more, in any of those three programs; she’s now a personal favorite, so the experience of reading her in an academic setting would have been nice.
I can understand how you might have skipped Woolf in one degree program but three is going it somewhat…. though I suppose if none of them was 19th/20th century literature maybe that is understandable.
A Room of One’s Own, definitely top of the list.
BTW I read Woolf at uni in the 1980s, along with other modernist texts. A Room of One’s Own isn’t modernism, so it wouldn’t have suited the agenda.
there are a lot of people rooting for Woolf in here so I suppose I should get on and read her soon
It’s not very long. Actually, I ‘read’ it the first time as an audio book, alas, before I kept a reading journal so I don’t know who the narrator was, but I can still hear the voice in my head, telling me to stand firm.
What a combination! I, too, have books on my shelves which I bought in university (even a few books from childhood which I never read – classics) and I’ve been trying to gradually read through them (or send them to live with a more appropriately adoring reader) and it’s a huge project. However, so far, they’ve all been very good. Which is an added incentive to continue. At least Woolf is only a matter of a couple of hours!
Im tying to think whether I have any of my childhood books but sadly they all seem to have disappeared over the years.
Do read A Room of One’s Own—it’s so short and such a call to arms, even now.
Message understood 🙂
A Monster Calls is amazing! I hope you get around to picking it up soon. 😊
I strongly advise you to bump it up your readlist all the way to the top and read A Monster Calls 😉. It’s so touching in the end, I loved it!
Will do – I’ve recommended it to someone else so i’d better read it before they do 🙂