Let's get something straight: by and large I am an extremely competent English major, but there are some books I pretend I've read. I have never read War and Peace, 1985, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, and dozens of other well-known books that you would assume an English major has read. Even worse, I often pretend that I have read these books so I don’t have to deal with the judgment of fellow English major who have actually read them.
Yes, as a serious would-be academic, I should probably be familiarizing myself with staples of the literary cannon rather than rereading the Harry Potter series twice a year. But I really like rereading Harry Potter, and everyone knows that you have to read the series twice a year, once starting from book one and ending at book seven and once starting from book seven and ending at book one. It’s a fact! And honestly, with so much great fantasy fiction out there, who has time to read Tolstoy?
So yeah, I’m not the best English major, and sometimes the guilt keeps me up at night. Below are the seven novels I feel most guilty of not having read (and pretending that I have).
1. Ulysses by James Joyce
Every year for the past four years I have sworn to myself that I'm going to tackle Ulysses. It's my great white whale. I love Joyce's other work, and I'm academically interested in Irish writing of that time period, so picking up Ulysses should be a no-brainer. But I'm incredibly intimidated by this massive novel. I'm positive that 2016 is the year I read it, though. (All of this being said, I don't know if I'll ever be ready to tackle Finnegan's Wake.)
2. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I have read other works by Virginia Woolf, but I haven't read what is arguably her most famous. Does this make me a bad feminist? What exactly is the plot of this novel? Is the lighthouse actually a phallic symbol? I have so many questions, all of which could be answered if I would just suck it up and read the book.
3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Everything I know about Crime and Punishment I learned from Wikipedia. From what I understand, it's a giant novel full of names I can't pronounce and a protagonist who murders a rich old lady. Don't get me wrong, that's all pretty intriguing, but it's hard to convince myself to read it when I could just reread The Mists of Avalon for the tenth time.
4. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Actually, I'm not ashamed that I've never read this one, because I've tried a couple times. And you know what? I really hated it. Seriously, I did not enjoy a single page of the 150 or so that I got through. I don't care how many of my fellow English majors wax on about what an important, groundbreaking novel this is. I didn't find it funny, I didn't enjoy it, and I'm not going to read it. So save your breath.
5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
In my defense, I have read a lot of Hemingway's other works. A Moveable Feast is one of my favorite novels! But I just can't get into his war stories. So instead, I usually just pretend that I'm familiar with this one, mumble something about war and masculinity, and pray that the subject changes. Oh, and I've never read A Farewell to Arms, but I regularly pretend I've read that, too.
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Yeah, yeah, Catherine and Heathcliff and their wild love. I get it, people really like this book. For whatever reason I've neglected to read Wuthering Heights, despite having read a lot of other Victorian novels (including novels by the other Brontë sisters). Am I really missing out on the greatest love story of all time? Honestly, a lot of Victorian love stories all kind of blend together for me.
7. Anything by Charles Dickens
Seriously, I have never read anything by Charles Dickens. Ever. I once played Tiny Tim in a production of A Christmas Carol, so maybe that counts, but otherwise I'm completely unfamiliar with Dickens's work. I know Oliver Twist is about an orphan, and there's a character called Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, but please don't ask me anything more than that. Maybe if the Muppets remade more of Dickens's classics I would be better informed.