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The Best Books You Will Never Read... EVER

For the bibliophile, the limiting function is time. Books take time to read, and life is short. Even a speed reader can't read everything. (I won't say any more about speed reading, except to wonder why anyone would want to do it, aside from reading purely informative material. Speed reading a book for pleasure is like going to a Michelin-starred restaurant and insisting on completing a seven course meal in 30 seconds. But I digress.) Reading involves choices. For every book you read, you choose not to read, or to delay reading, innumerable other books. This list is about the books you know (or strongly suspect) are excellent, but you’ve decided to forego… FOREVER! Note that crucial point about excellence. This is not a list for books that are widely read but of dubious quality. The qualifying criteria are simple: 1) there is some consensus regarding the book’s excellence; 2) you’re never, ever going to read it. (James Joyce’s Ulysses, I’m looking at you.)

Additional note: this is not just a list for books that are challenging. To choose not to read a book simply because it's hard is uninteresting. A curious reader reads challenging books. This list is an opportunity for you to identify the great books that you have decided not to read. That decision may be taken because the book is difficult, but one hopes that there is more to it.
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52 books · 44 voters · list created January 31st, 2013 by Andrew Hill (votes) .
17 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Andrew 1433 books
23 friends
Wendy 1840 books
198 friends
Kirk 416 books
139 friends
William 4209 books
102 friends
Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) 545 books
375 friends
Hilary 5750 books
110 friends
Phillip 4847 books
132 friends
Beth 912 books
59 friends

More voters…


Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Wendy (last edited Feb 01, 2013 05:00PM) (new)

Wendy Ha, you pretty much nailed it! I have no desire to read many of these books, even though I *know* I should. A few of these I've even listed as "want to read", and might even have on my bookshelf, but I know deep down that it will never, ever happen.

The one exception is Proust. I may attempt Swans Way. But how many other volumes are there? Uh...no thanks :)

*edit* I thought more about this list, and as I did, it actually made me start to WANT to read some of these again. I realized that my biggest barrier to many of these books is that I don't want to read them in a vacuum, all by myself. For the ones I own, I will hold on to them anyway. Who knows, maybe 20 years from now I'll have some friends to tackle Rabelais with. But until then, my shelves are groaning with the weight of enough unread books as it is :)


message 2: by Kirk (new)

Kirk I seriously can empathize with this list, although I would add that As I Lay Dying is one of my favorite books ever and I highly recommend it (also, it's alot more accessible than, say, The Sound and the Fury, which is also excellent). Then again, I've had people say the same thing to me about Ulysses, to which I reply A) I tried to read it once; it didn't take, and B) Life Is Too Short.


message 3: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Hill Kirk wrote: "I seriously can empathize with this list, although I would add that As I Lay Dying is one of my favorite books ever and I highly recommend it (also, it's alot more accessible than, say, The Sound a..."

Well, what I hope will be interesting about the list is that each book you add is added because you recognize that it might be really good... just not good for you. In this context, when I say I'll never read Ulysses, I'm not suggesting that it's a bad book. It's just not something I want to spend my time reading. As an aside, one of my best friends also lists "As I Lay Dying" as his favorite book. Perhaps I should give it another try. On second thought...


message 4: by Alex (last edited May 26, 2013 05:47PM) (new)

Alex Johnston Oh, come on. I've read nearly all the first five books in this list - I've got bogged down in the latter stages of Proust, but the rest of them aren't that difficult. War and Peace is completely readable, Ulysses isn't difficult for anyone with a brain, Infinite Jest is perfectly readable (it's just incoherent) and what, Gravity's Rainbow is off-putting because it has the occasional technical expression in it? Which is a problem why, exactly? As for the next five, On the Road is a good book with some of the same problems as Infinite Jest (it's more coherent, but if you're not in the mood, you can't finish it); American Psycho is not difficult, and certainly a lot easier (and nothing like so good a novel) as As I Lay Dying; Moby Dick is a positive page-turner, and nobody thinks that anyone has to read all of Gargantua and Pantagruel, especially since the last two books are crap. Most of the rest of the books here are, for the most part, either not worth reading (Of Grammatology is far from Derrida's best book) or not very good. Please. This list is silly.


message 5: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Hill Alex wrote: "Oh, come on. I've read nearly all the first five books in this list - I've got bogged down in the latter stages of Proust, but the rest of them aren't that difficult. War and Peace is completely re..."

I think you missed the point. This isn't a question of difficulty. Is there no great book that you just know you'll never read? Nothing that has led to you to say, "I acknowledge thy greatness, oh venerable tome, but I worship other gods"?

The point of this list is not to challenge the books' quality, nor is it list books that are just difficult to penetrate. Indeed, books on the list should be there because they have a strong claim to greatness. The title of the list is the books you have decided not to read for no other reason than you have given your attention to (one hopes) other good things to read. The silliness that you mention is there by design.

How do I explain why I will not read Ulysses? Must it be that I do not have a brain? I don't think so. It could also be that I just don't care for it enough to invest the time. But when I take something that is excellent and say that it is not excellent for me, I use humor as a way of avoiding a tiresome debate about why I think it's not excellent. I have no interest in challenging Ulysses' status as a classic. I'd rather use it as a means of illustrating my own idiosyncrasies and shortcomings.

Life is finite and good books are essentially infinite. More good books are written every year than one can possibly read. A reader makes choices about what to read, and more often about what not to read. This is a sort of confessional about the best books one chooses not to read. It's also meant to be humorous. For example, I'm not actually suggesting that Ulysses is bad. Only that I would rather read something else. Am I proud of that? Not really. Am I comfortable with it? Yes.

It's nice not to lie to ourselves about our preferences or about what we actually read. Have you never run into someone at a cocktail party who was impossibly well read, and left the conversation suspecting that the person had not read the books he or she claimed to know? There is a terrible anxiety among the learned: the fear of appearing ignorant. This leads people to stretch the truth, or lie, because they can't bear to admit ignorance of any subject that is valued by a peer. Oh boy, is it annoying. Because of the preservation of knowledge, the wide availability of books, and the expansion (or elimination, depending on your view) of the canon, no one can read everything that is good, much less everything that is great. Something pays the price for the time we spend reading what we actually read.

As to your complaint about the questionable quality of some books on the list: the criteria are that the book has a claim to excellence, and that the reader has decided not to read it. It would be nice if most titles on the list reflected a consensus view on their excellence. The humor, I hope, is in the explanation as to why one foregoes that excellence. If there are books on here that don't really have a claim to greatness, that's the nature of Goodreads.


message 6: by Alex (new)

Alex Johnston Andrew wrote: "I think you missed the point. This isn't a question of difficulty. Is there no great book that you just know you'll never read? Nothing that has led to you to say, "I acknowledge thy greatness, oh venerable tome, but I worship other gods"?"

OK, you make some very good points. I have to admit that I think I'm one of those incredibly annoying people you meat at a cocktail party (although I've only ever been to about three cocktail parties) who is impossibly well-read, but on the other hand, I'm not ashamed to admit that there are huge gaps in my reading. I've read very few Victorian novels, for instance, and the only thing by Dostoyevsky I've ever managed to finish is The Double. I'm not scared of appearing ignorant, maybe because I just can't see in these writers what other people see in them, so I feel no shame in admitting that I haven't read them and, what's more, am not interested in reading them. (Am I in fact saying that Dostoyevsky is boring? I've never tried to read him enough to say one way or the other. I would say that some hallowed writers are really not worth reading. Gertrude Stein comes to mind, except for some of the shorter and more impressionist stuff.)

Sure, nobody can read everything that's good. But I feel it as an obscure failing in myself that I find Thackeray and Dickens and Trollope and Dostoyevsky so boring. I would love to read a really good essay or review that convinces me that they're worth reading. But, I never have. I would certainly rather read something that convinces me that I've been wrong to dislike writers I don't like, than a list of books that seeks effectively to excuse me from the trouble of reading something that might in fact be really good.


message 7: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Hill I've not read Trollope, but I love Thackeray and Eliot (Dickens, less so). It's not an obscure failing to be bored by them. What is interesting is why you find them boring. You don't think it says anything about you? I'm not sure that, having read some of their work, you should be persuaded to attempt them again because someone writes a good essay. As an educated and well-read person, you probably trust your own judgment.

I enjoy literary criticism that introduces me to authors I do not know. I don't think I have yet read a critic who has changed my opinion about an author I've read.

I never really considered that someone would see this list as an excuse to ignore something that he or she had not yet read. I haven't read Moby Dick yet (shameful, I know), but I am going to read it. That it is on the list isn't surprising to me (long, technical discussions of whaling aren't exactly blockbuster material), but it doesn't change my view of the book. It tells me something about the taste of another reader.

I haven't been to many cocktail parties either. I think it was more metaphorical. When I was in graduate school, I knew students and faculty who seemed never to have said "I haven't read it" when the "it" pertained to something of substantial reputation. There is no humility in confessing you haven't read "Twilight" or "Fifty Shades of Gray". I confess that I often derive pleasure from my ignorance of popular culture. The snob in me says, "If it's popular, it must be bad." This type of ignorance (of pop culture in its varieties) can become a source of strange pride. But I digress.

I guess my object in creating this list was to point out that anyone who loves to read must choose NOT to read far more good/great books than he or she chooses to read. I've never seen a list that addresses this question. What drives our choice of what not to read when the "no" list must include books that are really good?

I find that choice interesting. However, not many people have added books to the list, so more readers probably share your dim view of the subject.


message 8: by Alex (last edited Jun 06, 2013 04:37PM) (new)

Alex Johnston 'What is interesting is why you find them boring. You don't think it says anything about you?'

Mm, no, not really. My reason for saying so is that I've read plenty of comments by readers who like those writers, but who find writers I enjoy (e.g. Joyce, Stevens, Ashbery) impossibly difficult - or rather, as they put it, 'impenetrable', 'academic', whatever. Whereas I think I just lack the patience to read Thackeray and Eliot, who spend a great deal of time getting to points that I saw coming a long time earlier.

'I don't think I have yet read a critic who has changed my opinion about an author I've read.' Whereas I think that's the greatest service a critic can provide. My favourite critical essays are the ones that take a writer I thought I had got to the bottom of, and show that writer to me from a completely unexpected angle. I had pretty much made up my mind about Kipling until I read CS Lewis, of all people, on him - and I am not a great CS Lewis fan, by any means, but his essay on Kipling is masterly. Edmund Wilson was brilliant at taking a writer or a piece of writing you had thought uninteresting and making you see it in a new way. It's one of the reasons he was a bad critic of work by his contemporaries; he needed to own, critically, the stuff he wrote about, which is why when he tried to talk to Nabokov about N's own work he couldn't help being patronising, which in turn enraged Nabokov, and so their friendship ended up breaking down because Nabokov's whole stance as a writer was that his work had absolutely no secrets for him but was a contrivance he'd mastered on every level, etc.

I don't believe that if it's popular, it must be bad. The Beatles confound that particular notion (they're my favourite band, but I like a lot of other music too). Dickens sold a lot of books in his day; the fact that I personally don't enjoy any of them is irrelevant.

I guess my whole mission as a writer about books is to attack snobbery, whether it's the snobbery of assuming that popular work must be bad, or the inverted snobbery of assuming that unpopular work must only have snob appeal. Arnold Schoenberg is one of my favourite composers. I used to read Steven Pinker's work with pleasure, until I read in one of his books that tests on small children had shown that they respond much more to diatonic music than they do to music that involved all the notes of the chromatic scale, and so, (per Pinker), it followed that a composer such as Schoenberg, who made an entire compositional technique out of using all the notes in the chromatic scale, could not possibly write anything that anyone could find genuinely enjoyable (I'm not really paraphrasing here, he really said this) because an enjoyment of simple music is observably part of the human mind whereas an enjoyment of complex music isn't, and so anyone who professed to enjoy Schoenberg's music must only do so because of its snob appeal, because experiments have shown that the human brain isn't wired to enjoy it.

To which I say, phooey. Nobody tells me that I don't really like what I like.


message 9: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Hill I think good criticism helps me when I am on the fence or, as I said, unfamiliar with a writer. But to take writing I admire and actually cause me to dislike it, or vice versa? I don't think it's happened. Taste can change by degrees, though, and perhaps I am wrong. It's possible that a critic planted the seed of a real change of opinion (by "real" I mean from positive to negative or negative to positive).

My problem with criticism is that it is often used to do what you mentioned in your prior post: excuse ignorance. Critics become surrogates for the writers they criticize, and the educated become better versed in the criticism than in the work itself. There is a great scene in Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan", in which the two main characters converse about Jane Austen. The young woman, upon whom the young man is working his charm, admires Austen's work. The young man is dismissive, but in the course of his dismissal he admits that he has not to read the work in question (Mansfield Park, if memory serves). Intelligent people want to KNOW things. Intellectual curiosity is one mark of a good mind. But, to my earlier point, books are decidedly hard to know compared to any other part of culture. You can only really know a book by reading it--at least a substantive portion of it--and reading consumes time in a way that music and visual arts do not. I can gain sufficient familiarity with the works of John Singer Sargent in a few days of serious viewing, albeit in the broader context of other knowledge of art. But to "know" the works of Trollope enough to make a legitimate judgement? How long does that take? It's not surprising that we depend on critics to help us avoid making our own judgments. But it's not a nice dependence.

I don't actually believe that popular=bad. I didn't mean to suggest I advocate that view. But I know the prejudice lurks inside me, and it occasionally pops up in unfortunate ways. I, too, dislike snobbery (though who would claim to like it?). Nevertheless, in my weaker moments, I'll discount something without basis for the judgment.


message 10: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Hill Alex wrote: "'What is interesting is why you find them boring. You don't think it says anything about you?'

Mm, no, not really. My reason for saying so is that I've read plenty of comments by readers who like ..."


Phooey, indeed. What evidence does Pinker cite? Brain scans? In science, we are so far from bridging the gap between our understanding of the chemistry of the brain and the reality of the mind.http://www.commentarymagazine.com/art...


Sentimental Surrealist I basically consider Infinite Jest, Gravity's Rainbow, Ulysses, and the Brothers Karamazov to be my Big Four, which is probably why people sometimes consider me inaccessible. And hey, I understand they're big investments, but they really are worth it if you can set aside the time.

On the other hand, those curious about Wallace, Pynchon, Joyce, and Dostoevsky should check out their respective shorter works Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, The Crying Lot 49, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Notes from Underground. A good way to get a sense of their ideas without committing to the really, really long ones.


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