by Grace Gordon
If you've been with Book Jawn Podcast from the beginning, you may know the much-referenced To Kill a Mockingbird story from our early meetings. In case you haven't been taking notes, here it is: Sarah and I were in one of our first planning sessions for the podcast, and we got on the subject of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. The publication of the book had just been announced, and Sarah was excited and nervous and asked me how I felt that this (prequel? sequel?) follow up to To Kill a Mockingbird was coming out more than fifty years later.
"Well..." I stammered, looking for a way out of this discussion, "well, I actually haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird."
Time seemed to stop as Sarah dropped her sandwich and looked at me in panic. I learned that this was one of the most important books for her growing up. She was so passionate about the book that she offered to hand deliver me a copy that night. (A sign of true bookish friendship.) I ended up listening to the audiobook, with a fantastic narration by Sissy Spacek, and within a few months To Kill a Mockingbird became one of my favorite books of all time too. Sarah and I also hosted my favorite bookstore event of all time together, a midnight release of Go Set a Watchman.
The experience made me think about all of the classics I have never read, which is most of them. I have been working in bookstores since I was fifteen, and I have always been a voracious reader, but never when it came to "classics". Perhaps this is because I dropped out in what would have been my junior year of high school, because I was acting and modeling and I have rejected traditional schooling my entire life.
I grew up with phenomenal teachers. I had teachers who created independent studies for me so I could translate Octavio Paz or read contemporary world literature for credit, teachers who supported me and engaged with me about whatever I wanted to read. My parents spent countless nights of my childhood and teens bringing me to midnight book releases, wizard rock shows, and Shakespeare rehearsals. My godmother gave me the 814 page copy of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan when I was nine. All of this support and flexibility was not enough to keep me in school, and I am glad I did not stay. Regardless, my commitment to "self-education" is largely due to these adults who raised me and let me make decisions for myself, like what I wanted to read.
Having worked in bookstores for years, I notice that customers can make assumptions in extremes. Either they believe that because I am a bookseller I have read every book ever published, or they think that because I am a young woman I must have no interest in reading anything at all. Both of these assumptions are wildly untrue, but reading To Kill a Mockingbird made me realize that perhaps some of these classic books were worth braving my distrust of anything assigned in a normal high school classroom.
So I begin my confession, my list of famous and celebrated books I have not read. Some of these I will read, and when I do I will note their completion on this post. I'm excited to dive in, but I am also posting this as a retrospective on assumptions we make about strangers. You never know what someone likes or what they've read, until you read their lengthy diatribe on their blog!
No, I haven't read:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkein (I read the Hobbit)
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Dune by Frank Herbert
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
A Song of Ice and Fire (series) by George RR Martin
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Color Purple by Alice Walker