Top Ten

Top Ten Books I Absolutely Had To Have – But Still Haven’t Read

I saw this meme a while back over at The Broke and The Bookish and thought it sounded very me – except of course it’s too easy, and I could give you a list of the top 200 books I absolutely had to have and still haven’t got around to reading. But here’s a handful that standout:

Booker shortlist 2009

I often ask for the Booker shortlist for Christmas, particularly since one of the UK book catalogues offers the set at a very economical price. But this list that year was so good – Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, Summertime by J.M. Coetzee – that I couldn’t wait for Christmas to roll around and I ordered them as soon as the offer appeared in October. I lay in wait for the delivery van every day, and finally they arrived and I was thrilled! Only by then, the announcement of the winner was days away, the blogworld was flooded with reviews of the shortlist and suddenly the impetus had gone out of reading them. I’d read so much about them all online by that point, I felt I almost had read them. I’m still looking forward to all six shortlisted novels, just waiting for the right amount of time to elapse.

pre-Christmas 2010 fantasy and magical books

In the run-up to last Christmas I ordered myself a special batch of reading, all of it fantasy and fairy tale and so on, designed to inject the festive season with a little alternative spirituality. I ordered the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Michael Ende’s Neverending Story, Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve and The King Arthur Trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff. Then the snow fell and the books took so long to arrive that Christmas was almost upon us when the travel-torn packages finally came. I squeezed in the Rosemary Sutcliff but after that the moment seemed to have passed and I didn’t feel like fantasy reading any more. Oh well, their time will come around again, no doubt.

Colette in Pleiade editions

It’s a convention of the university that if you write a dissertation on a French author and the work exists in the Pleiade edition, that is the one you must reference. Pleiade produces all canonical French writers in these special hardback editions – embossed covers in slip cases, thin, gilt-edged pages, a wodge of references, notes and secondary material at the back almost as big as the works themselves. When I wrote my thesis, three-quarters of Colette’s work had made it into Pleiade edition and none of Duras’s. Did I mention how expensive these books are? Each of the three volumes I bought cost me around £60. They are beautiful in their way but no fun really to read, with paper too thin for margin annotations, and tiny type and all those endnotes. They are my red badge of courage for submitting a thesis, and shelf ornamentation.

Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

This time last year I had a blockbuster-fest and the book that provoked it was Gone With The Wind. I can’t recall now why I decided I wanted to read it so much, but it was the first on my list to buy and the first I intended to read. And then, somehow, I ended up reading Valley of the Dolls and The Thorn Birds and Sidney Sheldon and without really meaning to, relegated poor old Margaret Mitchell to the last in the queue, by which point I’d had enough of 700+ page novels. I still very much want to read this novel – probably the summer will see me in blockbuster mood again.

Noah’s Compass – Anne Tyler

I so nearly bought this in hardback. I am a huge Anne Tyler fan and have read pretty much everything she’s written.  But I held myself in restraint until the paperback came out and then finally I bought it. And now I’m still holding myself in restraint because Tyler is a reliably good read and there are times when only a book by one of my favourite, reliably-good authors will do. I’ve saving it up for one of those times.

Cleopatra – Stacy Schiff

Now this one I did buy in hardback, although not that long ago – January of this year. I heard it had won the Pulitzer, fell for the subject matter and the rave reviews and just succumbed to pure book lust. I still want to read it, only I can’t see myself fitting it into my schedule before about May. Where does the time go?

Narcissus and Goldmund – Hermann Hesse

Another recent purchase, and one I had intended to read the moment I got my little paws on it. However, once I had it, it actually gave me a real yearning for the Hesse novels I had read already. Somehow the desire I felt for this novel swerved away onto Siddhartha, which I read a few days ago, and Steppenwolf, which I feel sure I will now have to reread before coming to this one. I have no idea why this should be; it just is.

Skating to Antarctica – Jenni Diski

It must be a couple of years now since Dorothy read and reviewed this memoir. She made it sound so good I knew I had to have it. I found a cheap copy from an amazon marketplace seller and was pleased to receive it. It’s about Diski’s dysfunctional upbringing, featuring a mad mother, I do believe, intertwined with a journey she makes to Antarctica. I bought it just at the end of a long period of reading about motherhood, and it turns out that the vast majority of mothers who star in memoirs are mad and dysfunctional. Not that I mind adding another to my list, they are always worth reading about, but I haven’t felt that sharp twist of need that accompanies picking up a book and that says, yes, this is the moment to read another story about x or y. But I’m still looking forward to it very much, and the moment will undoubtedly arise.

Mentors, Muses & Monsters – edited by Elizabeth Benedict

Another blogger recommendation here from Stefanie, who posted glowing, delightful accounts of this book until I could stand it no longer. It’s a lovely volume, a hardback again, with untrimmed pages. The problem here is that I keep promising myself this book in conjunction with a writing project. I’ll be reading that book, I say to myself, when I write that article about writing I keep assuring myself I’ll do. Naturally the project keeps receding over the horizon, and so does my reading of this book. But I DO want to read it.

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

I can’t quite recall now why this book got so much coverage last year – it was in conjunction with a prize, wasn’t it? The Orange Prize, perhaps? Anyway, I waited until the copies online were cheap and bought one, and then it so happened that a whole bunch of very uncertain reviews came out in the blogworld and I read them all. They weren’t the kind of reviews where someone loved the book and another person hated it and so one feels persuaded that at least an interestingly provocative reading experience will occur. No, these were all reviews that just felt lacklustre about the novel, and those reviews are more offputting than any other kind, I think. I need to wait long enough to forget them, or until another bunch of reviews come out that show it in an intriguing light again. It will happen, and in the meantime, it’s not like I don’t have other books to read……

22 thoughts on “Top Ten

  1. This does strike a chord with me and some of the books you’ve listed here are sitting unread on my bookshelves too – Lacuna and The Children’s Book, for example. I have read some of the others – Here Lies Arthur and Wolf Hall,(both excellent – I hope you do get time to read them) and although I’ve not read Skating to Antarctica I have read Diski’s On Trying to Keep Still, which is also very good. You’re right , of course it’s pure book lust but it’s amazing how quickly the impetus to read them just goes.

    I think I’ll have a go at this myself – it won’t be too hard!

  2. I agree this meme would be so easy to fill out. The prizes do inspire buying don’t they and I’ve got a couple of last years Orange longlisted novels hanging around (The Lacuna won The Orange last year btw). when I was sure I would read them right that minute. How wonderful that I have sworn off buying at the same time the longlist has been released this year *virtuous look*.

    It’s funny how reading goes and one minute we must get something NOW or the world will explode. I guess that’s us well and truely addicted to book consumerism, which is probably a terrible sign of…something capitalist and awful, but I can’t bring myself to care about being too much of a consumer when it comes to books. Whenever I look at the national averages and see that the average Brit buys a book a year I heave a little sad sigh.

    Not to add more books that you might want to read right now but have you seen ‘The Eagle’ by Sutcliffe has been made into a film (Romans – huzzah!)? I’m quite tempted to find a library copy and reread it.

  3. What fun! I’ve been neglecting my blog a bit as of late, but I think I must do this meme. It took me about 20 years to get around to reading Gone with the Wind from the point at which I decided I MUST read it. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it in your retirement? Have no fear. You will enjoy it once you get around to it. I would say Cleopatra doesn’t even belong on this list. That book has barely been in residence at all in your house. Can’t remember the last time I bought a book and read it within two months of having bought it, unless it was for a book discussion.

  4. This post made me chuckle to myself. I have SO many books that I just had to have and then they ended up languishing on my book shelves. I guess all of us avid readers have this “malady” in common!

  5. I daren’t even start this. If I emptied my bookshelves of everything that came into this category I could stock the local Oxfam Bookshop single handed. My enthusiasms tend to run in themes, so there might be everything ever written by a particular author, Muriel Sparks, or Penelope Fitzgerald for example. But I also do the prize list routine as well. In fact, I’m feeling particularly good today because when the Orange long list was announced this morning I went onto the library site and ordered them there rather than purchasing them. Now I have to find time to read them all!

  6. I think you could safely add the Olmi novel I just read to that list of mad or dysfunctional mothers you have going–it would fit in nicely I think. You’re good to wait to buy books until they are in paper when you can–I have so many times bought something I intended to read the Moment I received it and then ignored it until it was well into its tenth printing in paper–I hate it when that happens. I also have The Lacuna, which I was looking forward to, but after reading a number of disparaging comments have let it sit unread. I was thinking I might read it instead of books from the new Orange list, but I bet that won’t happen now that I’m excited to see the list.

  7. Oh, my. The Neverending Story is wonderful!!! It made for a great movie as well. I completely understand the situation when booklust overcomes budget, time and common sense, as I’m guilty on all counts (you have at least kept your good sense). Have not read any of the Bookers, though the Byatt tops my personal list. And I too bought Lacuna only to have it languish in the middle of a pile somewhere. Normally, I inhale Barbara Kingsolver’s words.

    I’m sure there are many more now, but as I’ve not been paying much attention, the budget is currently quite safe…Sigh…

  8. These are great, litlove. And I hear you on Gone With The Wind. My mom was raised in Atlanta and I spent my childhood visiting my grandparents there. My grandmother was (in personality) basically a dead ringer for Aunt Pitty Pat. I’ve seen the movie possibly well over 50 times in my life and I’ve only skimmed through the book. I’m so ashamed. ;-( Well, what I have skimmed is quite nice writing.

  9. That final line raised a smile in Sydney, Litlove. You do sound well catered for indeed. I love that you have unique and compelling justifications for each and every delay – it’s never simply time, though god knows it’s the main offender. A great meme – in your hands, at least. The Benedict immediately piqued my interest.

  10. There are a few that also made their way into my home. If you read Steppenwolf after Siddharta next you would have to squeeze in Demian first before moving on to Narziss und Goldmund. It isn’t linked to the other three. They were meant to form a sort of triptych.
    I love those Pléiade editions.

  11. I am going to have to do this meme for myself. There are so many that could go on the list it might take me a while to get the meme up because I’ll be shuffling the books trying to determine which ones I have neglected the most. And the neglected books will be clamoring so loud I won’t be able to hear myself think and then I will be overwhelmed with guilt and might have to postpone my plan to go to Half Price Books this coming weekend. Well, ok, I might feel guilty but that’s never been enough to stop me from acquiring more books🙂

  12. You have a whole bunch of interesting titles, a few on my TBR list too. I’m particularly fond of the Booker prized books… still have White Tiger and The Sea in a box of bargain I hauled back from book sales from past years. I’ve enjoyed a few of previous Booker winners, but this time, I admit I have a hard time getting into Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question. It’s not the subject matter, which is fine with me. It’s just the way the author writes that gives me the frustrating ‘stop and go’ feeling, like I’m stuck in traffic. Have you read it?

  13. Now I wish you would stop adding to my TBR pile like this! On the must have not read I just looked at my shelves (those in view) and noticed a biography of Auden still unread hardback first edition bought at the time, still waiting! But it was only 1981. I have read several other Auden books since, I have to say in my defence! Now I aim for library copies to start with as the house is under stress, as is the garage overspill! Happy reading!

  14. This is such a good idea for a meme! I can think of several back on my shelves (Gravity’s Rainbow, for sure), and I’m sure that if I were actually looking at them there would be even more.

    I have to say: SIXTY POUNDS per volume for the Pleiade editions? That’s like $100! The whole economics around academic texts is interesting and frustrating to me. I understand about the small, specialized market, but it just seems insane.

  15. Oh, my list would be very long! There are tons of books I keep saying to myself, soon, soon! Sometimes I end up reading things that are less exciting than what I planned on reading, and I don’t know quite why that is. But moods come and go, as you say, and I love having all sorts of things around for when a particular mood comes back.

  16. Pingback: BooksPlease » Blog Archive » Top Ten Unread Books

  17. Pingback: Weekend report and book list | Of Books and Bicycles

  18. Pingback: Books I Had to Have Meme | So Many Books

  19. Dark Puss – I expect it may be – but you could definitely get hold of the book that came out of it (and is almost identical) Critical Subjectivities: Identity and Narrative in the work of Colette and Marguerite Duras, published by Peter Lang. I should think the BL would carry that one. Let me know what you think of it if you do get hold of it!

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