Over at The Guardian, literary critic Robert McCrum posed to his readers a challenge, admit your most glaring literary gaps—the books you should have, but haven’t read. In fact, he suggests that most bookish people have probably claimed to have read great books they’ve never even opened. I hope I haven’t done that, but I’m sure I’ve nodded and smiled knowingly to literary references to which I was actually clueless and maybe passed judgment on authors I haven’t spent proper time with. There are forests of books I know I should read, but for whatever reason, never got around too.
I’ve never read anything by Virginia Woolf. I put up a fight against Pound. I’ve paid little attention to Plath or Olsen beyond a few Norton Anthology samples. I didn’t pick up Pearl S. Buck until I took my first business trip to China. And I’ve yet to make an appointment with Dr. Samuel Johnson. A few years ago at a discount bookstore I picked up a copy of Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon in the hope that it would help me fill in the gaps a bit or at least let me know what I’ve been missing. It sits on a bookshelf untouched too. My exposure to the Eastern canon wouldn’t have gone much past anime if it weren’t for a brilliant course on nonwestern literature I took as an undergrad (thanks Habib).
So I pose this challenge to the other poets reading here: what great poets or books of poems haven’t you read? Are you still short a few cantos? Never found Paradise Lost? I never read Geoffrey Hill until he was named Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford (even though he’s in my 1986 Norton Anthology of English Literature).
I ask this for two reasons (three actually, as I really needed an idea for a new post). First, I think knowing what we haven’t read (yet placing it in the category of Should Read) says something about where our aesthetic associations live. Second, I want to know what other readers think is really important to include in their poetry shelf bucket list. So please, share. I won’t make fun of you for admitting to never having read Edward Lear.
Really, please leave comments. I’ll work them together into a follow-up post. It’ll be good times and candy for all.