Purposeful not reading
There are certain rare and favorite authors who I have not read. I’ve read enough to know I love them, but I haven’t read all their work and with good reason: I have purposefully stopped myself, knowing that their output is finite, and decided that the author’s work should therefore be savored and parsed out over a lifetime.
The authors on this list are all dead, setting their oeuvre in stone. William Shakespeare was placed on the purposeful not reading list towards the end of high school, at the height of my adoration of his work. I didn’t want to dash through them all and leave myself with seventy more years of life with no new Shakespeare.
Jane Austen went on the list sometime in my early twenties, less intentionally than Shakespeare, but with the same effect. Since so many of her books took me time to mature into (notably Sense and Sensibility, which I had to start at three different times between the ages of twelve and sixteen before getting through it and loving it), I started saving them. I still haven’t made it all the way through Northanger Abbey and I’ve very intentionally not even touched her juvenilia or Lady Susan.
There are a few other more casual, less intentional additions to the list: Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Edith Wharton and Henry James, and perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexandre Dumas.
When I started the list, it seemed a brilliant way to enjoy the books I knew I would love best over a lifetime. But now I’m starting to question my own purposeful not reading. I worry that by purposefully delaying my edification in reading these books, I’m actually creating a sort of exponential decay of enjoyment. With each passing year, does how much I would have appreciated these books initially half itself?
In some cases, the answer is no. I picked up Northanger Abbey last week and actually loved it (and understood its humor) a lot more than I did when I started it back in high school (notably before I read The Mysteries of Udolpho or was at all aware of Gothic romances!). So the parsing out of the Austens is (so far) working in my favor.
But in others, the answer is definitely yes. I still love these authors, but mightn’t I have enjoyed the Shakespeares I didn’t read more when I was at the zenith of my love of the Bard? I still appreciate them now, but the fangirlish adoration is gone. I think I would have actually gotten more enjoyment and pleasure out of them back in high school.
So I no longer have absolute faith in my plan and I wanted to ask all of you if you’ve ever embarked on purposeful not reading or saved some of a favorite author’s work for a later date. Did it work out or did you regret not devouring the work immediately?