Purposeful not reading

February 22, 2012 at 12:00 am 9 comments


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?

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Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , , , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kate  |  February 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    My Dickens professor has intentionally left one Dickens book unread–Martin Chuzzlewit, maybe?–so he never “reads out” Dickens.

    I personally don’t have a list like this, mainly because I enjoy second readings much more than first readings. Since I don’t mind re-reading, I never feel like there’s nothing more to read from an author!

    Reply
    • 2. Corey  |  February 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      A lovely sentiment!

      Reply
  • 3. Kate  |  February 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Also, thank you for being awesome and posting on schedule — in shambles over here. I will come up with a LOT and write a LOT and be very productive and accomplished and an awesome blogger. Sometime. I promise.

    Reply
    • 4. Corey  |  February 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      One day…! *stares wistfully off into the horizon*

      Reply
  • 5. Susie  |  February 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    I have read all of Faulkner, some of it multiple times, except The Reivers (sp?), which simply doesn’t interest me. I do hope to read it before I die?

    Reply
    • 6. Corey  |  February 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm

      Wow, all of Faulkner! I’ve never been able to get into him, although I should probably try again since my last encounter was back in high school.

      Reply
  • 7. Eva  |  February 22, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    When I was younger, I would devour a newly favourite author’s back list. Then somewhere along the line, I got into the habit of saving books; subconsciously, I’d usually make sure not to read more than one a year of a favourite’s books so that they’d last. Recently, I realised how ridiculous this was; what if some freak accident happened and I died tomorrow w/o having fully enjoyed all of my favourite authors?! So now I consider myself a reformed ‘favourites hoarder’; I’m not completely out of the habit, but I’m putting a lot more focus on reading more by authors I’ve enjoyed in the past. And it’s been quite lovely!

    So I guess I’d encourage you to dive right in. :)

    Reply
    • 8. Corey  |  February 23, 2012 at 9:32 am

      I didn’t even think of the freak accident component! But you’re quite right that I should just go for it and read whatever I like when the mood strikes rather than denying myself possible favorites. It seems a pleasantly carpe diem-y philosophy about reading. :)

      Reply
  • 9. Eva  |  February 22, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Argh! Forgot to subscribe to comments.

    Reply

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