We all lie. We all like to thing we’ve done things we haven’t and when it comes to claiming we are well versed in the greats of literature we like to lie even more than usual. So you read the Beowolf did you? And all seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past? Well we don’t believe you. Here’s ten books which we have all read at some time or other…allegedly;
1) House of Leaves; Mark Z. Danielewski’s
Even for those who’ve read it, describing House of Leaves is nigh-on suicidally difficult. You hear people who definitely haven’t read it saying things like ‘it’s a book within a book within a book’. Hmmm.Whatever it is, it’s fiendishly impenetrable to understand-House of Leaves is a maze of diaryesque jottings, convoluted footnotes, appendices, poems and letters, and general literary subterfuge. It reads like a nightmare but you haven’t read it.
2 Moby Dick; Hermann Melville
“Call me Ishmael.” With these three words,probably recited with pride and smugness, you know someone’s lying if they say they’ve read it. Another giveaway is a well-rehearsed speech on the whale being a metaphor for all kinds of crap. An epic tale, woefully under-read, reading Moby Dick is like reading the New Testament of grand moralizing.
3 Dead Souls; Nikolai Gogol
‘it’s this clever, satirical, witty book about corrupt officialdom and peasantry..it’s about life more than death in fact…’ Few have read it. Gogol’s only novel, Dead Souls concerns a young man who travels around Russia buying up “dead souls” – that is, peasant workers who have died, but who are still registered as living in the census records. Hugely satirical, strictly a name-dropper.
4 Middlemarch; George Eliot
No you haven’t-you say you have but actually you haven’t. Eliot uses a small, fictitious town as a model for civilisation in general. Apparently it’s superb; epic in its scope and vision. Virginia Woolf later called it “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”
5 War and Peace; Leo Tolstoy
An obvious one and of course you haven’ read it. It’s a long old book, covering an outrageously wide cast of characters in 19th Century Russia during the Napoleonic invasion. The conflict on the battlefield is compared to the squabblings and intrigues amongst Russia’s elite. More of an event than a book, it remains desperately under-read
6 Madame Bovary; Gustave Flaubert
Flaubert was an outright nut but, with madame Bovary, he produced a heroine of lasting literary stardom. She is a flawed and pathetic creature, caught up in the whiffiest of French pretensions but ultimately madame Bovary is perhaps the most sympathetic character in all French literature. A brilliant story of adultery, social mores and the need to keep up appearances, few have read it despite its palatable length and easy style.
7 Crime and Punishment; Fyodor Dostoevsky
Are those cheeks still blushing? Another classic which is left on the bookshelves for all eternity, Dostoevsky’s message is beautiful and clear; ’humility sanctifies whilst humiation damns’
The novel itself tells the intense tale of a young student who sees himself as above the law. He decides to commit murder but later becomes sick with guilt and shame whilst the noose around him tightens.
8 Dracula; Bram Stoker
Criminally under-read and no it isn’t just about Transylvania and silver bullets ….Dracula actually spends most of his time in London. Dracula certainly isn’t elegant but it was released to instant critical acclaim. Stoker’s prose uses diary-style jottings which recount the frantic pace of Dracula’s evil doings. It swithches between characters and perspectives, and boils with menace. The original, and best, vampire story.
9 Finnegans Wake; James Joyce
‘Yeah it’s like the hardest book i’ve ever read, really experiemntal prose and ….’ Written over 17 painstaking years in Paris, scarcely anyone has read Finnegans Wake and for good reason. Ulysses is difficult enough as it is. FW mixes up words, and jumbles prose styles; its sentences come flying off the page on parachutes of apparent nonsense. a masterpiece..we are told.
10Paradise Lost; John Milton
The expulsion of mankind from the Garden of Eden its a tale of Christian morality. And that’s about that.