Literary Blind Spots

The other day, I was reviewing some purchases made at Chapters.ca and, just because I was bored, I decided to review my entire purchase history. My very first purchase was in 1999. It was Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I had just returned from France and, and I was listening to the original soundtrack to the musical Notre Dame de Paris, and decided to read the original novel. Not because I had a love of his work but just because it seemed like something I should have read.

I lasted four chapters before I gave up.

Many of you reading this may find it hard to believe, but I suppose I should confess that I haven’t read every single book ever written.

“But,” you might say. “You have your Bachelor’s Master’s Ph. D. Surely an educated man such as yourself, surrounded as he is, in his rich mahogany furniture, by thousands upon thousands of handsomely bound tomes would have had time to read everything ever written.”

You might say that. But you probably wouldn’t. But you might.

I think most people have their literary blind spots: books that they just never read because it wasn’t assigned in school, or they just didn’t have the opportunity or inclination to read something. It could be a simple case of not thinking they’d like it. Or, as I did after graduation, simply decided that they’re going to read things for the pleasure of it and not worry about what the professor thought of their impressions of it.

For me, it’s almost the entirety of the 19th century. Renaissance plays? No problem. Charles Dickens? Thomas Hardy? I’ve tried but it’s hard to penetrate those dense blocks of prose. There are other things as well: I’ve never read a Western or an Agatha Christie book. Or a lot of the modernists. Or Mark Twain.

It’s always bothered me for no other reason that I’ve always felt that a well-rounded person should have at least a passing familiarity with all genres of literature. But it’s probably not entirely reasonable to want to read everything.

But a lack of reason has never stopped me before so to that end, now when I get new books, I’m trying to pick something new that isn’t my usual fare which runs to comic novels and science fiction. A while back I read the first two Ian Fleming 007 novels and will likely read the others someday (although Live and Let Die – OH MY GOD – THE RACISM!). I’ve just started reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. I thought, for some reason, that they would be hard to get into but they’re really a joy to discover. They’re quite funny.

And the twelve-year-old in me can’t help but snicker every time John Watson uses the word “ejaculate” in the original sense of the word, as in:

“Not the Countess of Morcar’s blue carbuncle!” I ejaculated.

No, really. Read the books. John Watson ejaculates all over the place. So, at the very least, if you’re ever hesitant to read something you’re unfamiliar with, there’s always the chance you’ll get to read something like that.

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4 thoughts on “Literary Blind Spots

  1. I have an BA in English with Honours and yet my literary blind spot isn’t so much a spot, more like a continent. All I’ve read for the last few years are British police procedurals.

    I’ve been wanting to tackle a new reading list of some sort. My first idea is to pick countries I’m interested in and read their most beloved writers. My second idea is, of course, to have a time travel adventure; a sampling of really great books throughout the ages.

    If it were the latter, and you cared to / had time to make a list of books you truly enjoyed, what stops would you recommend a person make?

  2. A few years back, I was given 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die as a birthday gift. It actually does a pretty good overview of the essential books to read and organizes them by era. It’s also very biased toward Western lit, British lit in particular. But I’ve found that whenever I’m at a loss for something new to read, I go the list and always find something new.

    By the way, the list itself, divided by century is here.

  3. Believe it or not, I too have failed to read The Hunchback despite my literary education and knowledge. It just didn’t captivate me. Much in the same way that 1000 pages of Moby Dick didn’t captivate me (I can’t find my copy to verify if my page count is accurate, but it felt like 1000 pages). I never understood why Dick was considered such a great read; sure, if you remove all of the non-narrative, then you’ve got a good book, but I never aspired to fish or hunt whales so all that talk about whale blubber and what-not didn’t interest me.

    Lately, my main interest has been memoirs. I don’t know why – I think I just enjoy reading about other people’s lives (if they’re interesting of course), particular those who have endured difficult times and moved past them. I always find these uplifting and positive to read.

    To Working from Home: If you are looking for a new book list to tackle, might I suggest Haruki Murakami? He’s a Japanese author and is fabulous! I would recommend reading some of his short stories first. If you really enjoy those then proceed to novels. Not everyone enjoys him, but I love him!

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