Not Feeling Well Read

I know that I read many more books per year than the average. I've been a very active reader for over 30 years. In an average year I read about 18-20 technical books, 15-20 science fiction or fantasy novels, a couple of general fiction novels, a couple of biographies, at least one book of poetry, half a dozen or more anthologies, two or three books of essays, a couple of books of popular non-fiction, a couple of cookbooks and a couple of dozen magazine issues.

I also try to read at a couple of classic works every year. This year I read three different editions of Gilgamesh. Over the last five years I've re-read the Illiad and Odyssey as well as the Aeneid, Beowulf and others. In my teens I read Dostoevsky (some of it with the help of CBC "Between-the-Covers"), Jonathan Swift, Poe, Dickens, Mark Twain, Shakespeare and more.

For five years I spent time reading the complete Thousand and One Nights (Mathers/Mardrus translation) as well as other classic Arabic and Persian literature in translation. I've recently acquired a beautiful seventeen volume Richard Francis Burton edition of Thousand and One Nights but I think I'll save reading that for a few years.

I've been planning to embark on reading of the four greats novels of classic Chinese literature starting with The Water Margin and on into Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I learned during the period that I was reading Thousand and One Nights that being careful in picking translations and editions of these types of works is very important. It's not just a matter of picking up a copy of each and starting reading. If I had stopped at one edition for Gilgamesh I don't believe I would have understood the work as well. I found the same to be true for my readings of Beowulf and Homer. In addition to the five novels I will probably also read at least a couple of books on Chinese mythology, classical Chinese history and culture.

Ok, so I read quite a bit. Why did I start by saying that I don't feel well read? For all the reading I do, I feel like there is more that I am missing or avoiding than there is that I am reading. I've read only a very limited amount of 19th and 20th century English literature. I'm not really reading anything in modern mainstream English literature and I've read almost nothing of modern foreign literature in translation. I was rather distressed this morning when I learned that the Man Booker Prize had been awarded to an author I'd never heard of. I've also only read two titles on the "Oprah's Book Club" list. Obviously my reading has a pattern and that pattern has large gaps in it.

I'm quite certain that the answer is not for me to start reading exclusively the New York Times Bestseller list. I'm tempted to just keep reading whatever fancies me, but I doubt the feeling that I'm missing something will just go away...

Comments:

Hey Mike, given what you've said two quick recommendations. Dont know if you like short stories but I really enjoyed the Penguin Book of International Short Stories 1945-85. Although the native english authors out number the others it really is a fantastic sampling of fiction from around the world in the 2nd half of the 20th century. The other is Italo Calvino's "If on a winters night a traveller", very trippy and fun (dont read the amazon review cause it gives it away, its best to go in knowing nothing).

Posted by Barton George on June 13, 2007 at 01:57 PM PDT #

Thank you for the recommendation. I'll definitely try to pick up both of those. I'm a really big fan of short stories and often prefer them to novels. I suspect that I enjoyed Thousand and One Nights because it is structured very much as a collection of short stories.

Posted by Mike Duigou on June 20, 2007 at 04:43 AM PDT #

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