For All the Books I've Never Read...

I like to think of myself as a honest person. Honestly. But there are some deceptions from my past that cannot be ignored on this blog. Fortunately, I’ve reached an age when I don’t have to worry about my High School English teacher discovering my perfidy on line. I can see her yellow hair and hear her firm voice saying, “I’m very disappointed to hear that. I expected more from you, Teresa.” So, with my apologies to all my wonderful English teachers, here is my list of…

Books I Only Pretended to Read.

The first book I remember lying about was
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. It happened in my freshman year, when our class was presented with several books to read as groups. I’d read all of the others, and hated the idea of reading a ‘war story for boys’. So when my English teacher asked which group I wanted to be in, I told her I’d read them all. I remember the moment, I was sitting just right of center in the second row, Sharon Parrish was next to me, and I had just lied to Mrs. Gilliland -- right out loud. No one in the room questioned me, since I usually had read everything. I regret lying, but managed to graduate with straight As without reading Lord of the Flies, only skimming through The Scarlet Letter, and giving up on Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene not long into it. Now that I think about it I realize I’ve ‘not read’ The Faerie Queene three times. Mrs. T’s Senior class was just the beginning.

It happened again my freshman year of college. Not realizing I didn’t have to take all the bonehead classes they suggested for new students, I signed up for Intro to World Lit. It turned out that I’d already studied everything we covered in that class except for, you go it,
The Faerie Queene. I resolved to finish it this time, but of course this excerpt was longer, and I failed again. After that I had no illusions. When it appeared on the syllabus of yet a third class, I admitted to some fellow students that I’d never finished the selections, and wasn’t looking forward to trying again. The one boy who had actually read it before told me not to bother, it wasn’t worth it. We generally agreed on literature so I happily took his advice. Joseph, wherever you are, the third time's on you. The same class brought me to my literary knees again. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Byron was introduced as not being as great as the book said. According to my Professor it had sections of great beauty ruined by many difficult, awkward, and boring passages. He was right. I started with great gusto but never finished. Both of these poems are written in Spenserian stanzas. Is it possible I’m simply allergic to that form? I’d like to think so.

In my search for ever more interesting lit classes, I signed up my sophomore year for Modern American Drama, number 400 and something. No problem, until I arrived and found that all the other students knew each other. They were very friendly when I came in, but seemed to be regarding me as an unusual specimen of fish. When the teacher showed up he looked surprised to see me, too. It turned out that this class was actually required for graduate drama students, but was listed in the 400s because the department didn’t have enough undergrad classes to meet their quota. I was offered a chance to switch, but declined. It became one of my favorite classes, I learned so much, and they treated me like an equal. Here I studied plays by Tennessee Williams, Ibsen, and others. And for the first time I admitted to my teacher that I had deliberately not finished something. The play was Strindberg’s
Miss Julie, and I hated it. Unfortunately, one of the required essays on the Final meant I had to compare it with two other plays we’d read. Falling on my sword I admitted that I’d found it very distasteful, and had stopped reading it. Therefore, I explained with what I hoped would read as dignified humility, I would be comparing and contrasting the other two plays only. I got an A on the paper and the class, perhaps more for my guts than anything.

You might be wondering by now if I’ve gone back and read the books I skipped in school. I will tell no more lies, I have not.
The Faerie Queene, the longest poem in the English language, has been described as allegorical and allusive. Just pondering that can give me a headache. As for Childe Harold and his Pilgrimage, quite a few of the experts agree with my professor. I still enjoy reading short pieces of it occasionally, though. I don’t think I need Lord of the Flies to show me what depravity man can sink to, and I read the Cliff Notes so I know how it ends. Strindberg doesn't tempt me, while not reading The Red Badge of Courage has become such a tradition, I’m almost afraid to pick it up. I actually think I might upset the great balance of the Cosmos. Or something.

Sometimes, just like a fisherman, I find myself thinking about the ones that got away. Then I pick my current book and read on. It is possible to lead a full and rich life without understanding
The Faerie Queene. Fortunately.

Read Well, Friend.


Jill Edmondson said...

Oh, good grief! Yikes!

We all did that in high school (to our eternal shame!!)

I pretended that I'd read a bunch of boring books our teachers had in the high school curriculum. I even wrote essays on them (Cliff Notes and Coles Notes anyone?)

The irony is that in receent years I have gone back and actually read some of what I'd skipped. In some cases I enjoyed the books, in others I was glad I'd skipped it the first time around :)

Cheers, Jill
"Blood and Groom" will be available in mid-November 2009!

Teri K said...

Jill -- I'd love to hear some of the books you skipped, and which ones you read later. Cliff notes weren't available in my tiny home town, so I just winged it. Fortunately I got enough out of the discussions to pass the tests.

Teri K said...

Jill -- I forgot to say CONGRATULATIONS! That is a very big deal, and I'm glad your books are doing well.
BTW, the post was written a bit tongue in cheek. I'm sorry if I didn't convey that well.

Sanctum's Muse said...

So entertaining! I, too, have books that I've never finished: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Atlas Shrugged, and Anna Karenina. I know I'll probably never pick up the first two again, but hoping to finish off the last one soon.

Worse, though, is the list of books I have never read: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Red Badge of Courage, Moby Dick, 1984, and Jane Austen's novels. And other than Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, I haven't read much Dickens either. Pretty sad for an English Lit major.

However, I did get through The Faerie Queen in college! And Paradise Lost twice! I suppose that counts for something.

Sharon McPherson: AUTHOR / ARTIST said...

'... regarding me as an unusual specimen of fish,' love your description, it made me smile.

There must be so many people who have not finished books but are unwilling to admit it because it is frowned upon. I myself always tell the truth. (wink)

I studied English lit at university and I remember the lecturer telling my class to skip over the first seven chapters or Waverly by Sir Walter Scott. Being a maverick I read the first seven chapters ... then stopped - they were the best bits.

Stephen Crane's book you talk of I have not read, and after reading your post will cross it off my list ... why waste time. though I have to say Stephen Crane's Maggie Girl Of The Streets is my favourite story of all time. There you have it.

Thanks for your comments on my blog. I like yours too - will be following. :)

Robyn Campbell said...

Teri, no cliff notes for me. I'd read the beginning, middle and end. Just skimming, of course! Then act like I'd read the book. Prance around like nobodies business. :) And take credit if I was the only one in the class that (supposedly) read it. "Why can't you all be more like Robyn? I can always count on her to read the books I choose." FOR SHAME ON ME! :)

I did read Red Badge of Courage though. Even going so far as to enjoy it. I think because my dad loved it, which made me WANT to love it.

Teri, when I decide who and what I want to write, I just start typing. And I write mostly picture books and MG, because those are the books that I love to read even now. And I want to help those kids have a love for reading books. With the age of computers and video games they don't have a chance to open a good book like we did. Right now I'm writing a YA mystery. It's very exciting to try and think up clues as I go. If you write mysteries, you might think about YA mystery. They need mysteries. They don't have many. They have a lot of fantasy. It sells, but that isn't what I write. Email me if you want to talk about it. robyn@robyncampbell.com

BTW, I'm a longtime fan of your blog too. :)

Being Me said...

I actually read the books BUT did not really get into them. George Elliot's Mill on the Floss was oh so tough and Wuthering Heights so tragic..'Things Fall Apart' King Lear and let's see.. 'Walkabout'- why on earth they put us through so much tragedy .. I have no idea; the one I really enjoyed was Midsummer Nights Dream..
I think it takes maturity to appreciate some of those other titles .. Which I think I can now.
Interesting confession.

Cara Powers said...

Happily, I was never required to read The Faerie Queen. Long form poetry gives me a headache. It also turns out I hate English Romantic Poetry. I know because in college I took English Romantic Poetry and Prose. I thought I'd get to study Jane Austen because of the dates. My bad.

To both my grandfathers, both winners of the Purple heart in WWII and one a POW. To my father LtC. Steven James Powers (Ret.) and to my brother who won't let me name him online lest his helicopter go down in Iraq.

Always a mom said...

Hi Teri K,
I have something for you on my blog. Check my post
"My First Award". Congrats!.....I loved your "Books I only Pretended to read"....by the way!I have a few of those myself. "The Color Purple"
was one of mine....but of course I watched the movie years later and loved it. Wishing now I had read the book....guess I should. LOL

Teri K said...

Thank you to everyone for your replies. There really are quite a few of us out there, aren't they? This is the first time I've been back on the computer, so I didn't get to reply to everybody. Sharyn -- I love the idea of the English teacher reading the opposite of the assignment. I'm all for rebels in the classroom, just not mine. HA.
Robyn -- I see you built your reputation on the work of others. Somehow the really smart kids always find a way to skip work the others slogged through!
Being Me has it right I think. Many of the classics we all should be familiar with for a common culture are may be too sophisticated for our young understanding. Though a lot of them can be enjoyed on their own level.
Always a Mom -- Thanks for your encouragement. I'm not sure I could make it through Purple. It's so tragic.
Thanks for sharing!

Always a mom said...

Hi, I have an award for you on my blog. See post
"Blushing". Congrats!

Always a mom said...

I meant to add that your blog is sooo wonderful
you deserve the award twice! :)