I own too many unread books by…

A side effect of packing my library in preparation for moving: I’ve noticed there are certain authors whose works I tend to acquire secondhand and then stockpile rather than read. (I’ve also included in the tallies copies that I know are sitting in boxes in the USA.)

 

D.H. Lawrence: 9+ (Aaron’s Rod, Kangaroo, The Lost Girl, The Plumed Serpent, a Complete Poems volume, Sea and Sardinia, a Selected Short Stories volume, Studies in Classic American Literature, The Woman Who Rode Away)

Lawrence was one of my research specialties as an undergraduate, so I read all his major works in my early twenties, as well as some lesser-known stuff, but haven’t felt compelled to pick up anything by him since. I’m not sure I’d care for him anymore, and it’s as if I don’t want to destroy the mystique. Yet I also can’t bring myself to get rid of these.

 

T.C. Boyle: 7 (A Friend of the Earth, The Inner Circle, Riven Rock, The Tortilla Curtain, Water Music, The Women, World’s End)

I’ve read five of Boyle’s books and have had a mixed experience, but his plots – whether biographical (Alfred Kinsey! the wives and lovers of Frank Lloyd Wright!) or environmental – tend to attract me. My husband has actually become the bigger fan, so has read 3–4 of these that I haven’t.

 

W. Somerset Maugham: 7 (Ashenden, Christmas Holiday, Creatures of Circumstance, Liza of Lambeth, The Magician, The Razor’s Edge, The Summing Up)

I read four of Maugham’s novels between 2014 and 2020. He’s an unappreciated author these days. Back when we had a free bookshop in my local mall, I volunteered weekly and most weeks came away with a backpack full of goodies. One week it was a partial leatherbound set of Maugham, which I’ve since supplemented with other paperbacks.

 

Robertson Davies: 6.5 (The Salterton Trilogy, The Deptford Trilogy, The Cornish Trilogy)

I loved Fifth Business and The Rebel Angels, read for subsequent Robertson Davies week challenges run by Lory, but made aborted attempts at both ‘sequels’, so the rest of his three major trilogies remain unread on my shelves.

 

Barbara Comyns: 5 (The Juniper Tree, The House of Dolls, Mr Fox, The Skin Chairs, A Touch of Mistletoe)

I blame Liz for this one: after I read Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead during Novellas in November last year, she passed on her Comyns stash in a lovely Christmas parcel. Most are short enough to suit a future #NovNov, but I have The Juniper Tree earmarked for 20 Books of Summer (flora themed) and A Touch of Mistletoe for Christmastide.

Wendy Perriam: 5 (Absinthe for Elevenses, Breaking and Entering, Cuckoo, Michael, Michael, Sin City)

Again, mostly Liz’s fault. (Though two others came from my Hay-on-Wye haul in September 2020.) I’ve still only read the one novel by Perriam, The Stillness The Dancing, but it was great and made me confident that I’d enjoy engaging with her repeated themes.

 

Richard Mabey: 4 (The Common Ground, Gilbert White biography, Nature Cure, The Unofficial Countryside)

Considering that Mabey is the father of modern British nature writing, it’s kind of shocking that I’ve never read anything by him. I’ve put Nature Cure on my bedside pile to start soon.

 

Virginia Woolf: 4 (Between the Acts, The Waves, The Years, a volume of her diaries)

I’ve tried The Waves and The Years and didn’t get further than a few pages; I find Woolf unreadably dense in a way I didn’t in my early twenties, when I studied To the Lighthouse (go figure). But there’s still this compulsion to have read them so that I can be a well-rounded literary person.

 

Kent Haruf: 3 (Plainsong, Eventide, Benediction)

Our Souls at Night topped my backlist reads in 2020, but an attempt at reading Plainsong soon after failed. I think it was more involved, with more strands, than I was expecting after the simplicity of his novella. So the trilogy, acquired piecemeal secondhand, has languished on my shelves. I’ll try again with Plainsong this year.

 

Elizabeth Jane Howard: 3 (Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off)

I loved sinking into The Light Years, the first volume of The Cazalet Chronicles (read for a book club meeting last January), and even read the first 60 pages of the sequel, Marking Time, but then tailed off – you can see I’m terrible about continuing with series. But I’d like to get back into this one and, when I do, I have Books 2–4 out of five awaiting me.

 

Mary Karr: 3 (The Liars’ Club, Cherry, Lit)

Karr was key to the resurgence in popularity of memoirs in the 1990s. I’ve read her book about memoir (as well as a commencement speech she gave, and a volume of her poems), but not yet one of her actual memoirs. I found them all free or secondhand on trips back to the States. I don’t know whether it’s important to go in the chronological order listed above, or if I should just jump in with whichever, maybe Lit, about her struggle with alcoholism.

 

Sue Miller: 3 (The Lake Shore Limited, While I Was Gone, The World Below)

After I read Monogamy in December 2020 and it ended up on my Best-of list for that year, I scurried to get hold of a bunch of her other books. I’ve since read The Senator’s Wife, which was a big disappointment, but I’m looking forward to trying more.

 

Howard Norman: 3 (Devotion, The Northern Lights, What Is Left the Daughter)

I’ve read six of Norman’s books; he’s an underrated treasure of an author. I have no idea why I haven’t read these yet. Two are marooned in America, but The Northern Lights could make it onto a reading stack anytime. I just need the right excuse, it seems.

 


I’m thinking back to 2020, when I realized I had four unread Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie books on my shelves. Through various challenges – doorstoppers, summer reads, short stories, novellas – I managed to read them ALL that year, followed by another two in 2021. I don’t usually enjoy binging on particular authors in that way, but her books are different enough from each other (and just so good) that I didn’t mind.

I can’t promise to try the same tactic with these underread authors this year, but I can at least resolve to read one book by each of them, to reduce the backlog.

Do you have particular authors you own a lot by … but fail to read?

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41 responses

  1. With you absolutely on Howard Norman and I’m relieved that you’ve decided to give Plainsong another try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s so little known in the UK. I mentioned one of his books to ‘my’ bibliotherapist when I went into the School of Life some years ago and she’d never heard of him.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a shame. I particularly loved The Bird Artist.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, that’s a great one. I also especially loved his memoir I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place.

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  2. You have reminded me to read more of Kent Harouf. Thank you I hope your new home has plenty of space for bookshelves!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kent Haruf is the big winner on this post! It’s a slightly bigger house than our current rental, yes. Initially we’ll be bringing all our bookcases across, but the idea is to gradually replace the Ikea Billys with built-in shelving, which holds more books overall and looks tidier.

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  3. I freaking LOVE W. Somerset Maugham, I don’t think I’ve read him at all since I’ve started blogging but he’s one of my all-time faves. I also have a couple unread books by him on my shelves that I’ve been thinking about trying to read this year. The only one of yours that I’ve read is The Razor’s Edge and I highly recommend it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad to see that younger people are still reading Maugham 🙂 I’ll have to make The Razor’s Edge my next from him.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahaha I am having a crisis about turning 30 next month so thank you for counting me as younger people! Anyway Of Human Bondage is my mom’s favorite book of all time so I was indoctrinated at a young age

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      2. Awww, 30 is nothin’ (she says, looking back from 38.5). Of Human Bondage was my first from him and I adored it.

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      3. I’ve also read On Human Bondage! I enjoyed it but don’t remember much about it. I think I read it in my early 20s.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I don’t think of you as reading classics much, or at all. But maybe back then you were trying to read the canon? 🙂

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  4. When we moved back to England and downsized,we HAD to get rid of books – hundreds of them. We took our time and tried to think it through. But hardly a day goes by without our regretting one loss or another. So if you can, give all those books a chance. …. especially Kent Haruf!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh don’t worry, these are all keepers! I have culled some books during the packing process, but perhaps only 20-30 so far. (For instance, I realized I’m never going to read A Suitable Boy — I struggle so much to get through a book of 500 pages; how would I ever read one of nearly 1500?!) These I put out in boxes at the end of our path on weekends for people to help themselves to.

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      1. I hope people do help themselves! What fun!

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      2. A few do go that way. It also allows me to be lazy and have to carry fewer to the charity shops in town 😉

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  5. I daren’t even look at mine! I’ll buddy read Plainsong with you if you want… (Yes I’ve acquired a handful of Haroufs). I’d love to read more Comyns, but actually don’t think I have any of hers on the shelves, which is odd.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure, let’s read Plainsong together at some point. When suits you?

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  6. Plainsong is so good. You’ve inspired me to reread it. I think I might just go ahead and read the whole trilogy (I never read Benediction for some reason.) I’ve been wanting to do deep dives with authors this year, which is something I don’t usually do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lots of love for Haruf here! I’ll see how I get on with Plainsong. Maybe I could read the whole trilogy this year too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Rebecca,
    our library app tells us that from 12.000 books in our private library we have read only 8.500. Do we need to get depressed? 😉
    Well, we are going on reading but getting new books faster than we can read. Our editor and publishers send us “books we have to read” and at our free bookshelves we get interesting books all the time. You see, we can’t win.
    Well, we love to read but we must strive not to let it escalate into work. It should remain a pleasure after all.
    All the best
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! That is a lot of books! I would estimate that I own 1200, of which roughly half are unread. And yes, one does seem to accumulate books all the time, in all sorts of ways…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Rebecca,
        first of all we are two and we are much older than you are. At least we think we could be your parents. As we wrote and worked for big publishers like Random House we got all the new books send if we wanted to. In our time as editor we got even more books. Most of them we donated.
        Our dear Master’s parents and grandparents were book collectors as well. He inherited their libraries. But we only kept rare books and books of topics we are interested in.
        Keep well
        The Fab Four of Cley
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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      2. How do you have the space to store them all? 🙂

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  8. Mwahahahahah. And I have approx 2,500 books in the house so now I’m shocked I have more books than you!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’ve had an extra few years to collect them 😉 I’m not sure on the numbers and haven’t been counting as I pack boxes. The 500 unread is pretty accurate as of 2020-1, and I’m estimating at least that number read, then throwing in an extra 100 of each in boxes in America.

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  9. I used to binge-read authors (and therefore binge-buy) but have really tried to read what I have before buying more of one author.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Supremely sensible! Most of these authors I’ve stockpiled I’ve at least read and enjoyed SOMEthing by, but I should probably have a rule of not acquiring any more until I’ve read all, or maybe all but one, of the current stash.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I dare not count my books!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your collection seemed pretty under control to me. Then again, I didn’t see upstairs!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is a bit more chaotic at the moment! I need to read a pass on a load

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I have much the same problem – even when I haven’t even started a book that I have picked up somewhere along the way, if I see more books in the series, or even just by the same author, in a charity shop, I have to buy them – just in case.

    I have read all of the Cazalet novels several times, they are some of my very favourite books and I do hope you go back to them one day! There’s also a DVD of the TV series, which sadly only covered the first book, but is, in my opinion, excellent and well worth watching.

    I really struggle with Virginia Woolf – I have tried and tried and she just annoys me too much. And I have to admit I also found Richard Mabey disappointing – or at least his own reading of Nature Cure on BBC Sounds. I thought I’d love it, but hmmm. I do have a paper copy but the audio version put me off, maybe I should try again.

    I have The Salterton Trilogy – unread! And also lots of unread Somerset Maugham. But i was listening to the excellent Mookse and the Gripes podcast the other day, and somebody said they saw all their unread books not as a perpetual guilt trip but as wonderful promises of adventures to come – so I’m trying to do the same!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is an excellent way of thinking about unread books. I also remember Nick Hornby describing one’s personal library as a portrait of who you are and want to be. I’m lucky to have plenty of space for books here and in the new house we’re in the process of buying, so apart from shedding ~30-40 as I pack, there’s no real pressure to downsize.

      I must find the just-right time to sink back into the Cazalet Chronicles.

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  12. I have quite a few unread stockpiled books by the same author. The only one I have in common with you, though, is Robertson Davies. I wish I had a bunch of Howard Normans… I only have one.
    I actually like to binge read authors, even though I rarely do it. I like comparing the books to each other while they’re fresh in my mind!

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    1. I’ve never forgotten that Jeanette Winterson’s strategy is to read the complete works of an author, in chronological order, and then move on to another author!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ohhhh, I did not know that. Or, I wonder if I once DID know that, adopted the practice from her, and have forgotten where I got the idea. Heheh (Not that I always do so, but I would love to make it a habit instead of an occasional practice.)

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      2. Wow – I don’t know if I would want to do it *all* the time!

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  13. I plead guilty to “collecting” Emile Zola – my excuse is that I’m trying to read all 20 books in his Rougon-Macquet cycle. Progress is glacial shall we say. But I love the covers of the Oxford Classics edition so I enjoy looking at them even if they are not actually getting read

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had collected all of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles but then read the first one, The Warden, and wasn’t keen, so realized the whole series wasn’t going to happen.

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      1. I enjoyed he first two more than the later ones – Trollope is very wordy. I’m currently reading the final one in the chronicles…..Slow going so far

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The only other things I’d read by him were Phineas Finn and his Autobiography, both for my master’s programme.

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