The 9 Greatest and Most Important Books I Have No Intention of Ever Reading

Throughout my life, I have always been annoyed by people who believe their unwillingness to participate in a mass experience is a laudable and praiseworthy achievement. You know, the asshole who, when you mention the latest episode of AMERICAN IDOL, looks as though you’ve just farted in his dying grandmother’s face before he snidely asks, “Is that some kind of TV show?”

I’m talking about the tedious jerkwad who, when the conversation turns toward the latest cinematic blockbuster, feels compelled to inform everyone that he has no intention of ever seeing that movie and that despite his having never seen it, he knows without a doubt that its popularity augers certain doom for the future of humankind.

As far as I’m concerned, a person simply doesn’t have the right to take pride in anything that didn’t require any actual effort on their part. You must do something before you can claim it as an achievement. If someone had told you that you had to watch FORREST GUMP in its entirety or they would cut off your thumbs, then I might find something admirable in your refusal to endure it; otherwise, you’re expecting me to think you’re a better person than I am just because you were too lazy to drive to the local cineplex or Blockbuster, which really makes you no different than your average 957-pound trailer-home shut-in.

I tell you this because I’m afraid that in composing the following list, you might think I myself am one of these arrogant douchebags, when that is simply not the case. Although I admit that the flippancy with which it is written may suggest otherwise, the truth is that this list serves as much as a document of my faults as it does of any uncompromising individualism on my part. My intention is ultimately to amuse the reader through the use of my standard rhetorical devices of smug smart-assery and cheap sarcasm that does not negate the clear subtext of regret that lingers underneath the glib surface.

I wish that within me there was someone who possessed the complexity required to relish the thought of tackling these famously transcendent works of literary art, but the truth is that as long as they keep publishing books like Adrienne Barbeau’s THERE ARE WORSE THINGS I COULD DO or THE DIRT by Mötley Crüe, these nine classics simply don’t have a chance of ever being scanned by my crooked, shallow eyeballs.

WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy — In the canon of world literature, there is probably no title more revered than Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece, which is ironic, since it’s the book’s title that has thus far succeeded in keeping me far, far away from it.

As brilliant as the book may be, its title is quite possibly the most arrogant in the history of the written word. I mean, think about it! How could one book — even one as freaking long as this one — ever hope to satisfactorily explore both the highly complex concepts of war and peace at the same time. If Tolstoy had chosen one or the other, I wouldn’t have a problem, but both? That’s a level of hubris I just can’t accept.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel García Márquez — Speaking of books with bad titles …

According to Wikipedia, cholera is a disease in which people literally shit themselves to death. Need I go on?

At least LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHLAMYDIA would have implied that it had some freaky dirty sex scenes in it.

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST by Marcel Proust — Dude, the fucker is seven volumes long! Unless I’m guaranteed a freaking doctorate by the time I get through it, I just don’t have that kind of time (especially when I could be watching the episodes of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE I downloaded last night over and over again. Man, I can’t decide who I want to win more: Joshua or Katie! They’re both so awesome!).

Important Note: The above parenthetical aside is not a joke. The author of this piece truly cares about the outcome of this televised dance contest, to the point that it has kept him up nights. By the time this is likely published, the outcome will have been determined and hopefully he will have finally gotten the rest he so badly needs.

Second Important Note: The first Important Note wasn’t a joke, either.

MOBY-DICK by Herman Melville — First, I hate books that take place on boats, and second, I’ve already enjoyed the greatest man-vs.-nature narrative that modern storytelling has ever produced and need not experience another. I am, of course, referring to George P. Cosmatos’ 1983 man-vs.-rat classic OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, starring a young Peter Weller and an even younger Shannon Tweed.

Now that’s my kind of masterpiece!

THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien — Of all the books on this list, this is the only one I currently have immediate access to, having inherited a paperback of the complete trilogy several years ago when a former roommate left to teach in Germany and he gave me everything he had he couldn’t be bothered to take with him. That said, I am never going to read it and not because I have any natural antipathy for the fantasy genre it essentially created.

Nor have I been put off by Peter Jackson’s mega-successful movie adaptations, all of which I own and enjoy watching at least once a year. No, I will never read THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS or THE RETURN OF THE KING for one reason and one reason only: When I was 12, I tried to read THE HOBBIT and the shear, excruciatingly terrible agony of that experience forever convinced me that I would rather (insert the closest Elvish phrase for “drink a frappé composed of milk, strawberries and my own testicles”) than ever attempt to read this author’s work again.

HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad — In truth, I did actually attempt to read this highly influential jungle tale of the terrible evil that lurks within the heart of men not once, but twice — neither by choice. Back in high school, I was in the Accelerated English program — or, as I liked to call it, “English for kids who could actually read” — and somehow managed to end up with not one, but two teachers who had spent their entire careers waiting for the chance to teach a class of students savvy enough to appreciate Conrad’s short, but inexplicably dense novella.

For those of you who unfamiliar with Conrad’s writing style, it should be noted that he had the strange ability to create a seemingly normal length paragraph filled with entirely average-sized sentences composed of perfectly ordinary words that when you tried to parse it, made you feel like Paris Hilton attempting to read passages from the Torah in the original Hebrew. Both times I failed to get more than 20 pages into it, but luckily my first attempt coincided with the 1991 theatrical re-release of APOCALYPSE NOW and I was able to fake my way to an A not once, but twice.

Movies are awesome.

ULYSSES by James Joyce — To be honest, I can’t come up with a single good reason why I shouldn’t read this book, beyond my completely irrational and unjustified belief that were I ever to go back and time and meet Joyce, I’d want to punch his toothless Irish face in.

ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac — If there was any creature more annoying and loathsome during my 20s than the wannabe hippie who constantly lamented having been born two decades too late to enjoy the Summer of Love, it had to be the wannabe beatnik who hid their similar disappointment under a thick veil of existential angst. To these sullen manglers of free verse, there was no greater god than the dickish alcoholic who composed a rambling travelogue that took thousands of words to sum up the same sentiment Kris Kristoferson so easily evoked in the mere chorus of “Me and Bobby McGee.”

Call me a craven member of the cult of Capote if you must, but I’ll leave this collection of typing to the other beautiful losers out there and spend the rest of my life the happier for it. (See also: anything by Charles Bukowski.)

THE HOLY BIBLE by a bunch of dead dudes — Now I could go the usual route and list all of the clichéd reasons others bring up when they want to dismiss North America’s all-time favorite bestseller as a work of literature (i.e. books with multiple authors never work; the main character doesn’t show up until the second half; it tries to be all moral and preachy, even though it’s filled with sex and violence; all those freaking “begat”s; etc.), but I think a single personal anecdote best sums up why I’ll never read this book.

A few years back, the Canadian government required us citizens to take part in a major national census, and one weekend, I walked into my parents’ house just as my mom was completing the necessary forms. Filling in the information for both herself and my dad, to whom she had been married for 30 years, she found herself stumped by just one question and needed his help before she could write in the answer.

“Bill,” she shouted out to him from her seat at the kitchen table, “what religion are you?”

There followed a brief moment of silence as my dad pondered this question.

“I don’t know,” he admitted from their bedroom, where he was watching television. “Protestant,” he guessed.

My mom considered this and looked down at the options suggested on the form.

“They want you to be more specific,” she told him.

And thus I witnessed the longest and liveliest religious debate to ever occur in the home I grew up in, which I think explains why I lack the spiritual curiosity required to properly dig my way into this particular title.

Okay, so that’s my list. Again, it’s not one I’m proud of and its existence probably does a good job of explaining why a lot of people consider me to be something of a prick, but if the critic’s job is to tell the truth as they see it, then it should be one all BOOKGASM reviewers should endeavor to create.

Not that I’m trying to start something … —Allan Mott

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Comment by Wayne Hurlbert
2008-08-08 08:46:57

There is nothing like a wonderful rant about the books that everyone considers great, but no one ever reads. Mark Twain said something to that effect.

I am partial to Dr. Johnson’s remark about “Paradise Lost”, though. He said he never met anyone who wished that book was longer. 🙂

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Comment by Rhea
2008-08-08 08:53:05

This puts me at ease. I always like to think that someday, somehow I will get around to all the great books. But I have to be honest at some point and admit I will not. Good for you. I read The Hobbit and it was dumb. On the Road was good. I will not be reading the Bible, War and Peace or even Anna Karenina.

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Comment by R
2008-08-08 09:13:59

I haven’t seen Dark Knight yet, and won’t until it’s on DVD, and yes, it’s because I’m too lazy to get in my air-conditioned car, then walk all the way across the movie theater parking lot, then sit down for two and a half hours and stare at a big screen.

Also, put me in the list of people who read The Hobbit and won’t be reading the trilogy.

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Comment by Michael
2008-08-08 09:19:14

Awesome list… how have I never seen your blog before? Just looking at that pile of books next to you tells me we’re kindred spirits (WWZ, JLA, The Ruins)

Just GoogleReadered your site, looking forward to reading more!

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Comment by Michael
2008-08-08 10:29:33

Of the books listed I’ve read only LOTR and “Heart of Darkness” and loved both. But I can’t say I take any pride in not having read the others. I feel safe in assuming that these so called “talent” contests on tv are godawful because everyone I know who watches them is a semi-retarded asswipe. “American Idol” has reached the stage that it’s virtually impossible to avoid at least seeing clips from it unless you just never turn on a tv. But honestly, I think if I had to choose, at gunpoint, either “American Idol” or “War and Peace” I’d go with the latter.

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Comment by Rod
2008-08-08 18:13:19

As painful as IDOL is, I’d choose it at gunpoint over WAR AND PEACE because you could finish IDOL in an hour.

Comment by Michael
2008-08-09 09:10:26

OK, Rod. Let’s make the choice a bit tougher. “War and Peace” or a whole season of “Idol”? And to make it a little easier you can substitute “Anna Karenina” for W & P. I know people who actually love this book, while the highest praise W & P gets is admiration.

Comment by Rod
2008-08-09 09:27:42

I’d accept that substitution! Speaking of Tolstoy, I read last night that made his wife write out *seven* copies of his W&P manuscript by hand! By hand! That’s grounds for divorce in most states, right?

Comment by R
2008-08-08 11:05:26

This is the part I don’t get. People seem to make fun of variety shows (the kind you used to see in the 60s and 70s) all the time, yet these are probably the same people who now watch these talent shows, which are basically more expensive versions of The Gong Show. The thing is, at least the old variety shows had professional singers. They had to achieve a certain level of success just to make it on TV. Now people are going crazy over amateurs. It’s mind boggling.

And on the subject of being unable to avoid seeing clips from it unless you never turn on your TV, I’d love to be one of those people who have no idea what American Idol is. Also, a lot of other parts of pop culture. I’m just too much of a TV watcher to avoid it. Still, sometimes I’ll stop on a channel and see someone talking about an actor or actress who’s supposedly famous and I have no idea who they are. Pure joy, especially if they’ve been around for more than a year or two. I’d love to not know anything — not the current popular actors, not the TV shows or movies. Not so much to feel superior to the common masses, but just to end the ceaseless blather and white noise of it all. Sometimes I think a cabin on a lake, with a lot of books and no TV would be the best way.

Also, there should be a nudist colony across the lake and a telescope handy.

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Comment by Eric
2008-08-08 12:51:15

I’ve read MOBY DICK and it is without a doubt the best/worst book ever written. Take your pick.

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Comment by JAK
2008-08-08 16:27:12

Wish Katie would have won, as she has much better legs than the dude’s.

Cool rant. Smiled out loud several times.

Lord of the Rings is more than worth a read, but then folks told me that about Wolfe’s A Man in Full and I couldn’t get past page one.

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Comment by Allan
2008-08-09 06:35:37

I’ve actually read A Man in Full twice (which is half as many times as I’ve read Bonfire of the Vanities), so that’t probably a good indication that I’m probably right to give Tolkein’s work a miss.

Comment by R
2008-08-11 10:43:36

That should be the next article – “Nine Books (it always seems to be nine) That I Couldn’t Finish.”

Comment by Bruce
2008-08-08 16:48:10

I’ve read four of the titles listed and Lord Of The Rings was the only one that kept my attention the best. I’ve got pals who have that Proust set and I ask them if they have ever read it. Usually they only got through the first book.

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Comment by Rod
2008-08-08 18:12:12

I’ve read HEART OF DARKNESS (assigned in high school) and the Bible (part of my three years in private school) and part of ULYSSES (assigned in college). I’d probably only ever read HEART again.

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Comment by Allan
2008-08-09 06:37:33

I just realized that your comments are linked to the site in which you’re commenting. How wonderfully redundant!

Comment by Allan
2008-08-09 10:12:15

That’s grounds for divorce in most states, right?
Divorce? Try justifiable homicide.

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Comment by Robert Loy
2008-08-10 07:39:29

Stick with Barbeau and Tommy Lee if you want, but Love in the Time of Cholera is actually pretty good.

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Comment by Eric L
2008-08-10 11:36:37

Never read LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, but I did read his book 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE and enjoyed it very much. It reminded me a lot of Gilbert Hernandez’s PALOMAR stories. I certainly would not object to reading another of his books. Otherwise the only book I’ve read was ON THE ROAD which I liked, but at the time I pretended I loved it. But I read it for a class where I had a choice as to what book to read and I’m pretty sure it was better than the alternatives.

I’ve also neither read the LORD OF THE RINGS books nor have I seen the movies. The whole mythology just does not interest me in the slightest.

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Comment by m
2008-08-10 12:22:19

I actually enjoyed Heart of Darkness, though I’d never have read it if it hadn’t been for a lit class.

I have tried reading Anna Karenina approximately 7 times (by tired, I mean started it, put it aside, picked it up a few months to over a year later, had to sart all over again) and failed each and every time. I want to; it’s a classic, I love tragedy (Eidth Wharton is one of my favorites), I really should, etc etc. Can’t do it. I’ll keep trying, though. And probably keep failing.

I have the same difficulty with Virginia Wolfe.

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Comment by R
2008-08-11 10:49:43

Starting over is crazy. You end up reading the beginning multiple times (probably hundreds of pages) and still can’t say you finished the book.

I had an experience like never before with a Stephen King book recently. I usually gobble up books by King, although in the last few years, as King gets more more long-winded, it’s been taking longer to get through each book. But I couldn’t make it through Book 7 of the Dark Tower series, even though I’ve read all the others and this is supposed to be the big, exciting finish. I put it down and picked it up for four years. Four. Years. I read the stand in three or four weeks, but this one took me four years. And no way was I going to start from the beginning again. It’s the Dark Tower series anyway. You can’t remember all the little details from every book when it spans twenty years, anyway.

Comment by R
2008-08-11 10:52:03

I don’t know if I wrote that clearly enough, but I did actually finish the book just last month. It came out in fall of 2004, which is when I bought it.

I’ve seen a lot of things in those four long years, most of it online pornography.

Comment by Peter S
2008-08-10 21:36:11

I think I’ve read most of the books on your list, and would have to say War and Peace and The Lord of the Rings are my personal favourites. By no means does this make me a better person, just means I have more useless information stored in my head.
But even I can’t find a good reason to read Ulysses or anything by Salman Rushdie.

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Comment by Christopher Sharpe
2008-08-12 20:08:59

I have to chime in for WAR AND PEACE. I think I read it just to be a pretentious asshole, but I have to admit that I loved it and will definitely read it again in the near future.

However… I’ve tried and never been able to make it through LOTR.

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