Monday, September 1, 2014

My Embarrassing Literary Blind Spots

Every devoted reader has blind spots — books or authors that he or she hasn't gotten around to yet, much to his or her dismay.  Maybe, over the years, these books keep getting pushed down on the to-read list in favor of shinier, more attention-grabbing alternatives.  Or, maybe, someone started reading in the pre-internet era and was unaware that certain authors like Tamora Peirce existed. (Ahem.)  Eventually, these passed-over novels become embarrassing little sores that chafe under the saddle of any principled, dedicated reader. (Forgive me my clunky metaphors; I am currently medicated.)  I was once told that in order to get something done, talking to someone about it helps build feelings of accountability. So, without greater introduction, I present my embarrassing literary blind spots.

1. Tamora Peirce — Okay, I just walked past this author as a kid when I was strolling the stacks at the library. I did get my hands on the Protector of the Small series, but I'm embarrassed to say that it didn't make too great of a impact, besides my shock at the main character eating birth control plants/herbs so she can get it on with her lover, free of catching infant.  But otherwise, I have an enormous blind spot concerning one of the mothers of feminist YA fantasy.

2. Katherine Patterson — Ugh, how embarrassing.  I really have no excuse for this one.  I've read Lyddie, but I have never read a page of Bridge to Terabithia or Jacob I Have Loved, which are Patterson's main hits.  That's like only reading Villette out of all of the Bronte sisters' works. Just, why? My lapse is especially mortifying because my sister read Bridge as a girl and has a total spiritual connection with it.  Bridge to Terabithia is my book equivalent of a Brother-in-Law who I've never met.

3. Charles Dickens — Now we'll get to more mature material.  I have read A Christmas Carol. But that doesn't count, does it.  It's a short story. But, Tale of Two Cities? Great Expectations? Bleak House? Little Dorrit? Hard Times? Oliver? Nicholas? David? No. None.  I can't even put into words how shameful this is.  I mean, it's implausible, too.  I made it through lower and higher education without touching these books. I can only account it to the fact that in high school, I transferred schools four times and managed to evade all Dickens like a jewel thief dancing through lasers.

4. Lord of the Rings trilogy — I've watched the movies countless times, but can never get through J.R.R. Tolkein's prose.  Maybe it's the dense language.  Maybe its the info-dump of extraneous Middle Earth lore.  Or, maybe its that J.R.R. Tokein's books are huge sausage fests.

5. Stephen King — He's a legend. He's written so many pop classics and has left an indelible mark on literary culture.  I've tried to force my way through a few of his books, but his language is a little denser than I'm used to outside of school.  This is embarrassing.  It makes me feel like a lightweight.  Or, more accurately, the one person in TurboPump who's lifting a bar with no weights on it. (True story.)

6. Anne Rice — Follows from Stephen King.  Anne Rice is a pop legend.  Funnily enough, the only Rice book I've read is Ramses the Damned. I read it when I was still a kid, which is hilarious, because that book is really sexual.  It definitely was... informative in the sense that it let me know what terms to look up in the dictionary. But, what I really want to read is Interview With a Vampire. I feel like it will redeem me from my (brief!) high school stint as a twi-hard. (Really, it was brief!)

7. Ian McEwan's Atonement — This book is going to have staying power in literary history, I feel, and I would like to be with the times enough that I read it while the author still lives.  I've watched the movie, and it was a great combination of historical detail and sweeping family drama.  These are elements which make classics. Everyone who reads this book seems really proud that they've read it.  I want to be proud of myself, too!

8. David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest — So sadly, David Foster Wallace took his own life a few years ago.  Following this, I read some material of his that spoke about depression, and it shocked me how well-phrased and incredibly, evocatively accurate his language was in describing the most speechless emotions.  I love Wallace's essay Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars of Usage.  I make many of the kids I tutor read it, because it opens up people's minds to the power of language. I've found that nothing improves a kid's grammar more than understanding it through Wallace's words. Also, his commencement address at Kenyon College, titled This is Water, helped me through rough times in high school.  Simply, I love this author, but I've been intimidated to make it through his larger works, because Wallace's language is so, so, so dense. But, I won't be happy with my life until I read Wallace's masterpiece, Infinite Jest. Okay, need to find a Kleenex now.

9. Flannery O'Connor — Lord, save me from this humiliation!  I didn't know O'Connor's gender until I googled her name! I don't even know the titles of her books or what nationality she is. Or when she lived! What's worse, my sister-in-law, when kindly reading some of my own fiction, commented that my writing style was vaguely Flannery O'Connor-ish.  And I didn't know what that meant!

10. Toni Morrison — As an American reader I have no excuse for not having read any Morrison. She has so many classics: The Bluest Eye, Beloved, Song of Solomon... What I know about these books is merely that they deal with race in the United States, which is the most basic thing I could know.  I remember sitting in on a college seminar at Emory University when I was a teenager in the throes of college hunting.  All of the students were half-asleep (8 a.m. class) and I remember wanting to raise my hand like Rory Gilmore or Hermione Granger and just dive into a conversation with the professor.  But, I couldn't because I hadn't read any Morrison!!!


  1. I also have not read LotR or Flannery, both of which I have been told by many to read.

    Ian McEwan is one of my favorite authors. I've read almost all of his books and they are excellent, and he is so good at making me gasp at the end of his novels (WAIT WHAT JUST HAPPENED THAT TWISTS THE WHOLE BOOK WHAT WHYYYYYYY). You must must must pick up one of his. Atonement is definitely a good start.

    Can I also recommend you add Ann Patchett, if you haven't read her? Bel Canto is my favorite, but I love almost all of her books.

    1. LOVED Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. I tried to read Bel Canto but couldn't get into it. This might be a case where I need to try it again until I love it.

      I'm so happy to hear to McEwan lives up all the good things I've heard. I love that you've read his novels, plural, and not merely Antonement.

      BTW, your book will be on its way soon, Liesl!

  2. Is it weird I do not even know 80% of the ones here? Haha. I've yet to hear their names or titles before, but I'm with you regarding the Stephen King one. I've yet to read a book of his. I tried, but I really find his prose so muddled. BUT I WILL THOUGH! I PROMISE!

    Faye at The Social Potato

    1. Not weird. I have a feeling that these are the books I notice because I know of them. There are probably a ton of books that should be on here, but elude me because I'm not familiar with them, hence they don't register when I'm thrift store browsing.

  3. I'm finding it a little eerie how similar we are! The only exception for me would be Tamora Pierce. But you're dead on with everything else. I would also have to add some high school reading classics such as 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'Of Mice and Men'. But I can blame that on the fact that, I too, transferred 3 or 4 times during high school and skipped some important classics :P.

    1. Sierra, hi! It's so nice to see you here! We really do have similar tastes. I haven't run a comparison yet on Leafmarks, but that result would be interesting to see. That's probably my next internet destination after I post this reply. :D And I haven't read To Kill A Mockingbird either! I forgot to add that one. I've started it extracurricularly about ten times, but my attention always wavers.