One of the biggest disappointments of my life as a reader and as a librarian is that I will never read all the books that I want to. I have a pretty healthy appetite for culture. I’m a reader, I watch a very hefty dose of movies -- both old and new -- and I devour television on more streaming platforms than I would like to admit. I also try to leave my house occasionally. But even without all of these other distractions, I have had to come to terms with the idea that my to-be-read list will be never-ending. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that over one million books are published each year. This is a daunting number to anyone but especially to the high-achieving readers out there. With this overwhelming amount of publishing material available, I have learned that if I don’t read a new book within a certain amount of time, it will almost certainly never happen. Still, I would like to acknowledge what is, in my mind, a tragedy -- the many, many books that I will have to leave unopened. Here are a few that, although I haven’t had the pleasure of reading them, are still worthy of your time.
The epic fiction novel that everyone loves -- “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon
To be fair, I’ve read (actually listened to) about half of Michael Chabon’s New York City-set masterpiece that examines mid-20th-century America through the lens of comics, magic and mysticism. A few years ago, I was racing through the audiobook of what is 600+ pages in print when someone pointed out that I was making impossibly good time. Upon closer inspection the word ABRIDGED jumped out at me and I’m sure I actually screamed. I have a hard personal stance against abridged audiobooks. They shouldn’t exist and you can’t convince me otherwise. The trickery of it all was too much, and I put the book away and will most likely never pick it back up. Other titles that fall in this category are “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen and “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction title -- “The Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt
“The Swerve” is a book for librarians -- it is a book about the importance of a single book. In this case, the subject is the last remaining copy of “The Nature of Things” by Lucretius. Greenblatt examines how a papal secretary’s discovery of the almost-forgotten text is responsible for the Renaissance and the thinkers, artists and scientists who were born from it. The story within “The Swerve” is probably every librarian’s and archivist’s dream -- the discovery of a dusty tome that changes everything. Even just thinking about it again, I am compelled to run to my shelves, grab “The Swerve” and dive in, but I know I won’t. Also in this category, “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond.
The classic that I’m just never going to get around to -- “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
“Lord of the Flies” could be a stand-in for so many of the classic novels that could have been on a required reading list for me growing up, but just never were. If it would have landed in my hands at the right time, I would have read it. Other titles that I could include here are “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy (nobody has time for this!), “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë (too much drama) and “Animal Farm” by George Orwell.
The young adult series phenomenon that is way too long -- all of Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter Chronicles
I am an adult who has, at certain times in her life, read a fair amount of young adult literature. I devoured Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” series and I still have faith that I will finish out “The Dark Artifices,” but with “The Infernal Devices” trilogy already on shelves and two new trilogies in the works, I think I have to admit defeat. Also in this category, the “Throne of Glass” series by Sarah J. Maas, “The Lunar Chronicles” by Marissa Meyer and “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor.
My goal is not to grant permission to dismiss these books. Each and everyone one of these titles is worth time and attention. I am simply here to say, as your librarian, it is entirely okay to have a never-ending to-be-read pile. All of us, even those who peddle books for a living, never reach the end of ours.