What do you claim to have read, and why?

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Tue Jan 19, 2010 11:39 am Post

Interesting that people lie about reading the Bible. And that so few people have actually read it.

I lied about reading some of the more tedious classics, but then I realized if someone was going to judge me based on what I have or have not read, I didn't really want to hang with them anyway :wink:
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Sat Feb 13, 2010 6:40 pm Post

What a curious selection. I can think of loads of books you might claim to read that aren't there.

I have read 1984, which I thought was brilliant. I'm quite happy to confess I never made it through Tolstoy's War and Peace.

I've read portions of the Bible - I have my mother's elderly KJV from school, a Tanakh and a Chumash, which are translated in a more readable style than most Christian versions.

I'm curious to see no Dickens made the list. I thought those were the kind of books everybody claims to have read, the two most prominent being Great Expectations and Bleak House (at least in my experience).

I went through a period of "reading books I should have read" in my twenties, but I've now recovered from that and tend to read books that are just very interesting, or are recommended by people I trust.

In the end, you have to accept that you can't read everything and just read what you enjoy.
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Sat Feb 13, 2010 7:02 pm Post

I can't imagine why anyone would lie about having read a book they hadn't, but perhaps I just don't get out much and don't understand social positioning.

There are certainly plenty of books I've read partway and decided they weren't for me--Proust heads the list, and Henry James in the third phase of his career. And I always have troubles with the Russians, probably because my simple Saxon brain doesn't properly process excessive consonants in proper names. Didn't keep me away from War & Peace, though--I found it a real page-turner.

But then I like Dickens, and Trollope, and Melville, and Austen, and Thackery, and Eliot, and Balzac, and Hardy, and Hugo, and Conrad, and the pre-nested-parenthetical Henry James, and whole crowds of long-dead scriveners whose books are long out-of-copyright.

Which probably means I don't get out much.

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Sat Feb 13, 2010 7:14 pm Post

Siren wrote:I don't claim to have read books that I haven't read. Can't see the point. On the other hand, I sometimes claim *not* to have read books, then buy them and read them, only to find that they seem horribly familiar and that I have read them before. I hate it when that happens.

That got particularly amusing while in school. I remember having to read Adventures of Tom Sawyer in high school, and realizing I'd already read it several years past. That happened with Moby Dick, too. (I've read one Grisham book, so at least I can say I don't care for him.)

I've read the entire Bible multiple times. (Christian.)

I own Madame Bovary from high school reading, but I actually did enjoy it. I haven't read those other ones, though 1984 and Brave New World are on my to-read list.
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Tue Feb 23, 2010 9:11 pm Post

When I was an undergrad, I took a class in American Romanticism, which has become sort of my specialty in teaching (along with Romanticism in general). When we read Moby Dick our prof claimed it was the book all English majors claim to have read but haven't. I love the book, but I can certainly see why people don't tend to stick it through to the end, and I laugh in the face of those who suggest I teach it to my high school students.

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Wed Feb 24, 2010 7:57 pm Post

I read Moby-Dick a few years ago (I haven't been a teenager in a long, long time) and found it mostly a tedious primer on whaling. For my money, the first paragraph ("Call me Ishmael...") is the only part worth reading. But I know a person who claims to reread it yearly. This is the same person who says he rereads LOTR every year also. I think he's funnin' us.

Anyway, I wouldn't advise assigning it to teenagers, with all their instant electronic devices.... Definitely the wrong audience.

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Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:26 pm Post

Moby-Dick is a must book to read, but you won't begin to understand it if you think there are differences between mind and matter. Melville wrote it as a romance, which in the 1850s meant high metaphysics. The early chapters give constant hints of that interpretive tradition: Water and meditation are wedded forever; OK, so how are water and thought alike? Father Mapple reads the Book of Jonah as a mighty braided cable; so how is a many-stranded rope like a text? All of the material objects are signs that express ideas.

If you tune into this way of seeing and reading, then the cetology chapters are not "a tedious primer on whaling," but a fascinating exploration of Ishmael's mind, which is constantly growing and expanding, while Ahab's is shrinking and descending into madness. And note, too, that the whale's anatomy always matches the human body; and that whaling as an enterprise is strongly condemned, as destruction of a fellow creature that's converted into mere food and fuel. The book is remarkably prophetic, and the chapter that gives the greatest clue to this method/meaning is 99, The Doubloon," in which a series of characters look at a coin and see it as a mirror of themselves.

I've taught the book over many decades, always to students aged 18-20. They are exactly the right audience to learn of its challenges, before they lapse into a strictly literal, unimaginative view of life.