Book Guilt

Since this weekend, I’ve been reading some of the tributes to children’s book author Norma Fox Mazer, who passed away this weekend. And with my sadness that a woman who was by many accounts a wonderful person and writer is with us no longer, there is another emotion: guilt. Because I haven’t read a single one of Norma Fox Mazer’s thirty-three books. Not the Newbery Honor book, not the National Book Award Nominee, not the Edgar award winner.

And that got me thinking about book guilt. There are a whole slew of books I feel guilty that I haven’t read. I’m in book publishing, I pay attention to the books that are getting a lot of praise, I love young adult novels, and I love sci-fi, including dystopias; I haven’t read The Hunger Games, a dystopian sci-fi YA novel that was one of The Books of 2008. How about seminal American literature? I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve seen the play, sure, but I haven’t read the novel. I love Shakespeare and spent quite a bit of time and brainpower studying his writings in college, but have I read his best-loved history, Richard III? Nope. I haven’t even seen the play. How about authors of color whose work I’ve never read? Toni Morrison. James Baldwin. Laurence Yep. Khaled Hosseini. Yeah, there’s guilt there.

And yet my hold list at the library rarely includes books I feel guilty about not reading. It includes what I’m most excited about, and guilt rarely causes excitement. Is this okay? Yep. I read a lot. I read what I love. I do miss out on some books I would love, but I don’t think it’s humanly possible to read every single love-worthy book on the planet. (Among other things, I miss out on everything that isn’t available in English.)

I still like to think that some day I’ll finally read To Kill a Mockingbird, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and something by Norma Fox Mazer. I just haven’t gotten to it yet.

And you? What books do you feel guilty about not having read?

5 thoughts on “Book Guilt”

  1. Ohhh book guilt. I know it well. My hit list includes 100 Years of Solitude, Moby Dick, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Also, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Oh and If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson, which I have GOT to read one of these days. Just thinking about the size of my to-read list makes me anxious.

  2. Strangely, I don’t feel too guilty about not reading the classics, it’s like somewhere in the future, I know I’ll get around to ’em, it’s just that for now, there’s a lot of great recent reads! It’s seminal stuff by authors that I should like but have never read that have the most guilt for me, like Stephen King, Asimov, Neal Stephenson, Frank Herbert, William Gibson. Things that essentially created the genres I read, that I’ve never touched. I figure I’ll eventually find out who Ishmael is, but Neuromancer will likely remain unknown to me.

  3. I haven’t read any Stephen King—and I’m okay with that, I don’t do horror and his fantasy isn’t considered as groundbreaking—but I’ve read my fair share of Stephenson, Asimov, Herbert, and Gibson. (And, of course, the genres they spawned… that’s what you will find on my library request list.)

    Of the folks you list, I’d say make some time for Stephenson. And maybe grab a collection of Asimov short stories—they’re better than his novels, in my oh-so-humble opinion. As for Neuromancer . . . I read it and it still remains unknown to me.

  4. Haha Good point on Gibson! I actually bought a few Stephenson in Powell’s the other day. My friend Thom is a huge fan and claims I’ll love him. I should check out some short stories by Asimov, true. I thought I’d be bored by Bradbury and now he’s one of my top favorites.

    King writes a few books that fit into the genre of horror I like – Small town beset by supernatural horrors, but it kind of bugs me that it’s always set in Maine…. I do dig his articles in Entertainment Weekly though…

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