Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
I have no clue why I’ve never read Norwegian Wood. I’m pretty sure I know why I bought it (Beatles fan; cover was beautiful). I know I’ve hauled it with me every time I’ve moved in the past decade (current running total: 11 times). But damned if I know why I’ve never actually read it.
This is actually kinda untrue – I did take a crack at it this spring. I’d owned it since at least high school – possibly even junior high – and I just couldn’t justify its continued unread presence in my life. And it was lovely and lyrical… and least the first 50 or so pages were, because that’s how far I got before I lost interest. Granted, I was having kind of a crazy time in my personal life and quiet Japanese novels weren’t really the antidote I was looking for… but still. I plan to finish it, though. Possibly even in this decade. It’s been part of my personal landscape for too long to not finish it. And here’s the kicker – I’ll probably love it and curse myself for not finishing it earlier. - Ashley Thiry
History of Madness by Michel Foucault
Every day when I come home, I climb my stairs, put my bike away and make a left into my room. The first thing I see there is my bookshelf and a fat red spine at eye level, reading History of Madness in big white Times New Roman. It smacks me in the face, and I shudder under the crushing weight of my insignificance in the shadow of French thinker Michel Foucault. Originally published as Folie et Déraison: Histoire de la Folie à l’âge Classique, the title was obviously anglicized for dumbos like me, probably just wanting to impress art school girls.
I slump my bag on the floor and give the shelf a sideward glance, never quite able to make eye contact with the nuanced culture-historic account of Western society’s forays in ethics and ostracism. In an exasperating moment of panic, my eyes dart around desperately trying to locate something by Nietzsche, Sartre or even Thoreau, but I can never quite remember their place, or even if I still own these relics of my early twenties philosophy trip. More often than not, I land on Shit My Dad Says, drop my head with shame and try to remember why I thought that putting my unread Foucault at eye level wouldn’t be entirely futile. - Jordan Ardanaz
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
So there it still sits on my basement bookshelf, as perfectly undisturbed as the day it was gifted to me: the first Harry Potter book, apparently about a “sorcerer’s stone” (which, incidentally, is a name just begging to be chosen by an upstart medieval-inspired goth band). It’s the thought that counts – sure – but this book was foisted upon me by someone who should have known such fantasy world things ain’t my cup of… whatever they drink in Potterville.
So, no, I haven’t read it yet and probably never will. And yes, I know I’m missing out on a wonderful world of…goofy creatures and seriously deep adult shit, man, but somehow, I think I’ll be ok with that. - Eric Dennis
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
I purchased my copy of War and Peace nearly two years ago for one dollar, surely the finest dollar-to-page ratio transaction I’ve ever pulled off. Yet since then the book has sat moldering on the shelf. Besides its reputation as probably the largest and most imposing of all classics, the book has put me off for a variety of reasons, not least of them the memory of the dreary “society” scenes in Tolstoy’s significantly shorter Anna Karenina. But I liked that novel, despite those flaws, and the biggest reason I haven’t read War and Peace, like Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, is a far more practical one: it’s too big for me to carry in one hand, making it impossible to read on the subway. For that reason alone, it’ll probably sit on the shelf until I retire. - Jesse Cataldo
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
It’s a foolish practice to wait for the hype to go down in order to read Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita when both young and old Americans are subtly saturated in references from the classic work year after year, long after its debut. Girls (or boys) can be spotted at the club or in the subway festooned in heart-shaped glasses inspired by the numerous remakes of the text; each encounter makes me only want to selfishly procrastinate the read even more for a solitary discovery of the darkly lust ridden tome. - Sky Madden
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
I’ll just be honest here: the only reason I started reading the works of W. Somerset Maugham was a random childhood viewing of the Bill Murray-starring 1984 adaptation of The Razor’s Edge tacked on the end of a VHS tape. Since then, I’ve grown taller, if not wiser, but I’ve still never managed to plumb the depths of one of the greatest and most successful writers of the first half of the 20th century, particularly his masterpiece Of Human Bondage. I’m not even going to try a plot summary (I haven’t read it, see?), but can summarize the reason why a reputedly beautiful novel on existence, futility and hope languishes even now on my bookshelf. I’m just plain lazy. - Nathan Kamal
Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
I was genuinely excited when I purchased Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon years ago, lured in by my appreciation of the author’s other work and the genuflecting reviews of the novel. I placed it proudly on my bookshelf and there it remained, a hefty brick testifying to my cowardly inability to crack the cover. I knew that all 773 pages of the book were filled with Pynchon’s dense, elliptical prose. Getting through was going to require a concerted effort, a mustering of whatever cognitive wherewithal I had in me. This was not a beach read. By now, I don’t even kid myself anymore. My stack of “to read” books is so tall that I’ll never get to the Pynchon tome. It’s a decorative piece, like candles or framed photographs. If observers with enough literary knowledge happen to use its presence to ascribe an intellectual fortitude to me that I haven’t actually earned, well, I’m not going to argue with them. - Dan Seeger
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
As I get older, I am realizing I will never get through all the books I want to read. With this finite timeline in mind, I keep putting off reading some of my longer books such as David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Seriously- how many other books could I read in that 1,000+ page span?
This also a tale of two friends. One is a DFW devotee while the other is just learning about the author’s work. When the neophyte decided to read Infinite Jest on her own terms, my other friend castigated her for not doing it the “right way.” I am afraid to become part of the great unwashed should I choose to read the book at my own discretion. Infinite Jest, you are just looking more and more imposing by the day. - David Harris
Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
I started reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine during the prolonged federal budget crisis that threatened the basic functions of the EPA, Planned Parenthood and Congress while also imperiling Washington D.C.’s local government, eliminating the District’s right to use state tax dollars to fund abortions, and trying to eliminate the needle exchange program that combats the city’s HIV epidemic (ask me about D.C. voting rights!). Klein details international crises seized as opportunities to open foreign markets to American corporations, forcing stable, socialist countries into poverty. Every paragraph enraged me more. Capitalism is evil! So evil! Arrrrgh!!!!! “TEA PARTY” I scrawled in the margins at least a dozen times.
But less than 200 pages in, the rage exhausted me and I put the book down. It taunts me every day from my shelf. I know I should finish it. I want to finish it. But I don’t know when I’ll be able to sustain that level of anger for 400 more pages. - Katie Bolton
Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner
It’s been on my shelf for years, but I don’t have an explanation for where this like-new paperback copy of Intruder in the Dust came from. That’s why I haven’t read it. Granted, it’s also not really something I’d pick out for myself. Sure, Faulkner is in the pantheon of greatest writers who ever lived and belongs there, but his sometimes-convoluted mega-sentences were never really my style. The most likely scenario is someone stealthily lent me the book. No one has ever mentioned it, though.
A few times I almost picked it up when I had nothing else to read, only to have a certain paranoia set in like maybe I was being manipulated into reading more classic literature. I simply won’t have that, so it stays on the shelf until I can account for its presence. - Ryan R. Crawford
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Neal Cassady is both a historical person and a fictional character (Dean Moriarty in On the Road, Cody Pomeray in other of Kerouac’s works) that all at once inspires, enrages, exasperates and romances my imagination. Parts autodidact, criminal, Don Juan and guru, this man, for all of his disruptive brilliance, knew exactly what to do with the Right Now. Through many years and over many novels, is it weird to say that I “developed feelings” for this person(a)? Yeah, probably.
I can be selfish about history, and it’s for this reason I haven’t read the page-yellowed paperback of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I know that Cassady was, quite literally, a driving force behind the Merry Pranksters. The expansion of consciousness, I get it I get it I get it. Still, I can’t help but feel like this is where Neal goes off the rails. Because pretty soon after this, he dies. I guess somehow as long as I don’t read about it, he never gets there. I don’t know if it’s more about me losing him or him losing me, but I think I’m content to just consider him through Kerouac’s eyes, letting him stay a “holy goof” instead of a tripped-out fuck-up. - Stacey Pavlick
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Don Quixote was assigned reading in my tenth grade English class. Cervantes’ classic, which is also often heralded as the first modern work of Western literature and represented the birth of the “novel” form as we know it today, has sat almost untouched since I first purchased it in late 2005. In my high school days I couldn’t be bothered to attend to nearly anything that didn’t directly contribute to my chances with the ladyfolk (go ahead and guess, by the nomenclature, how successful I was anyhow), but in the intervening years I developed an abounding love for the artistry of the written word. Quixote was acquired in a brief period along with other vaunted titles–Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, Slaughterhouse-Five, Dante’s Divine Comedy and others which I have since devoured, and devoured again. But still, Quixote sits unread. Some habits, it seems, die hard. I’ll pick it up one day, I’m sure, but for now my insistent unreading of it remains my final, lasting teenage rebellion. - Joe Clinkenbeard
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Oh, Pynchon. I know he’s an influence for many of my favorite writers, I know Gravity’s Rainbow is on every list of the 100 best novels of all time that you could possibly Google, and I know I am fated to never get past page 36 of the damn book. It’s been sitting on my bedside bookshelf for the better part of two and a half years, and in that period of time I’ve started and finished 20 books, give or take a couple. It’s not even that I haven’t enjoyed the prose on pages one to 35. The Pirate Prentice/banana breakfast vignette that dominates the beginning is a fun read. I should know, I’ve read through it about five times only to hit a wall as soon as the Slothrop character comes into play, moping around a bombed out London. It’s at that point that I slam into the proverbial wall and start searching around the house for empty literary calories so I can justify my continued ignorance. Still it looms, that telltale heart of a novel, collecting dust on the shelf. - Tom Volk
The Ever Present Origin by Jean Gebser
In the Great Pretentiousness Race to see who can display the most excruciatingly abstruse volumes on their bookshelves (left unread of course) in the vague hope that someone will see them and admire them for it, I’m doing okay. Finnegans Wake shouldn’t even count – I mean, if anyone actually read that one it would cease to exist. That one’s on every grad student’s bookshelf. But how about Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics by Count Alfred Korzybski? Pretty good, right? Although I think this one should take the cake: The Ever Present Origin by Jean Gebser. Just check out this quote on the back: “Gebser’s noetic analysis, of Teilhardinian scope, is only partially equaled by such works as Erich Neumann’s The Origins and History of Consciousness or Gaston Bachelard’s The Philosophy of No. A profound and sagaciously polemic work, remarkably relevant to discussions of holism and postmodern consciousness.” This bad boy has been sitting on my shelf, unread, since 1996. I think we have a winner. - Shannon Gramas
Gibbsville, PA by John O’Hara
When you move to and live in a place as aggressively provincial as Boston for four years, you get really, really into your hometown, no matter how quickly you originally ran from it. I wished there was an author from my home state of Pennsylvania the way Mississippi had Faulkner. I don’t know how I came across John O’Hara, the author of the debut smash Appointment in Samarra, but his collection of short stories, Gibbsville, PA (based on his hometown of Pottsville) seemed like what I was looking for.
O’Hara the man shared with his work an obsession with social class striations; Gibbsville is supposed to have a peek into early 20th century Eastern Pennsylvania life – personal and financial turmoil, familial feuding, dashed dreams. It’s a great big intimidating volume and I suppose the writing itself never interested me as much as my notion of what I wanted out of it. - Chris Middleman
The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny by William Strauss and Neil Howe
Recommended to me by our very own music editor, Herr Middleman, back in 2007, this book has traveled with me. Purchased in Boston, it came to London with me when I studied abroad. It came to my parents’ house in Vermont in the aftermath of my graduation to unemployment. It then came across the country with me to Seattle in my failed attempt at West Coast living. And now, it’s on my shelf in Brooklyn.
So, why I have I never read it? Honestly, I have no damn idea. The subject intrigues me. I mostly trust Middleman’s taste. I even think the cover looks pretty cool. I just have never picked it up. And I don’t know when I will. For now it will continue to sit in the non-fiction section of our bookcase, taunting me. - Tris Miller
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
I’m a firm believer in reading a book before I see the movie version because I hate the way seeing a movie cements a version of the characters in my brain before I have the chance to develop my own impression of them based on the text. However, in the case of The Devil Wears Prada, the movie’s interpretation put characters such as the story’s heroine, Andrea Sachs, in a far more positive light than the novel did. I skeptically went to see The Devil Wears Prada with a friend and to my surprise, it was a story with a level of depth that I just wouldn’t expect from something whose main focus is a woman working as an assistant for fashion titan. I was charmed by Andrea as the fish out of water and related to her determination to earn respect in a competitive field she was new to. Afterwards I thought, “I should read the book since I liked this movie so much,” and obtained a copy. This was in 2006. Five years later and the paperback remains abandoned, its bookmark like a time capsule on page 15. Perhaps Andrea’s personality matures later in the novel, but I honestly had to put the book away after 15 pages because her narrative voice was so unbearably obnoxious – which is saying something, because at 16, I was in the prime of my teenage whininess and by all accounts should have related to her bratty behavior. Maybe Andrea was always this annoying but Anne Hathaway’s precious face softened it to the point where I didn’t mind. Whatever the reason, I simply cannot bear to read anymore of the book unless I develop the power to leap into novels so as to throttle the characters I don’t like. - Sam Gordon
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
I blame Neil Gaiman for giving me the burden of having not read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. “Ooh, my favorite novelist is singing the praises of a historical fantasy novel! I must read it!” I thought way back in 2004. It took me a few years to pick it up (I found it at a thrift store for a few bucks), and now it’s taken me a few more years to get around it.
Even though the book’s right up my alley, what with its magicians and 19th century England setting, the thing’s over 800 pages, making it a near-literal mountain of paper to conquer. Of the myriad stacks of books in my bedroom, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell sits under a copy of the Illuminatus! trilogy — another long book that I’ll take forever to get around to. I should really stick to short stories. - Danny Djeljosevic