Reading skeletons…are those books and writers that make you ashamed of yourself. Like Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, which I read one hot and beach-blanketed summer to impress a California girl. Or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the philosophical pretensions of which amazed me when I was a pretentious college senior. All of us have skeletons in our reading closets. We do not confess to them, because we do not want to be arrested. We want to move on with our reading lives.
It happens that I never got around to reading either of the aforementioned books. For my generation, I suspect that Catch-22 may well be the ultimate reading skeleton. I thought it profound in high school and now wince at the thought of ever having to crack it again. Nor do I plan to revisit The Catcher in the Rye, Good Times/Bad Times, or A Separate Peace in my middle age, any more than I’d care to repeat my freshman year in high school, though it doesn’t embarrass me to admit to having read and liked those books in my adolescence–or, for that matter, to having listened with pleasure to, say, Crosby, Stills & Nash. To be young is to be…well, young.
As far as my adult reading goes, I incline to agree with Our Girl, who says that “I feel as though I can justify reading any book that keeps my attention.” This includes, needless to say, such noted purveyors of what H.L. Mencken called “homicidal fiction” as Elmore Leonard, Rex Stout, and Donald Westlake, all of whose novels are variously pleasing to readers with well-tuned ears.
On the other hand, I’ve never been one to bother with contemporary commercial fiction, no doubt because I find it all but impossible to read a book that isn’t stylishly written. To be specific, I’ve yet to read a single word by any of the novelists whose works appear on the latest New York Times list of paperback mass-market fiction best sellers (except for John Grisham, whose The Firm I read in a weak moment a number of years ago). This incapacity has been known to work to my disadvantage–it’s the reason why I’ve never been able to get anywhere with Theodore Dreiser, or with the vast majority of academic biographies–but I’m mostly grateful for it.
Your turn, CAAF.