Picked up a book/pamphlet at McNally Jackson today titled What We Should Have Known: Two Discussions. To summarise things briefly, basically, n+1 sat down a panel that discusses books and reading, and the members of this panel start off by talking about books in three categories: “The first is books that you read too late. The next is books that you mistakenly read instead of reading other books. And the third category of regret is the lack of certain information, which might have come from books and might have come from life, that would have changed some decisions that you made.”
I’ve only read so far as their discussion in the first category, but it’s making me laugh because I’ve got my own list of such books and some of them have been mentioned. Topping my own list are J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (which is mentioned) and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar — I read both books in my early twenties, which meant I hated — hated — The Catcher in the Rye and didn’t find The Bell Jar nearly as compelling as I probably would have had I read it as an adolescent. Other mentions in the discussion, which also goes on to include novelists the panelists think they read too young, include Michael Foucault (it’s a good thing I didn’t seriously read Foucault until last year in my class on theory), Philip Roth (I’m glad I didn’t read him earlier; one panelist goes so far as to say, “Philip Roth is the person I’m most sorry I read when I was young. It ruined my life” — not because Roth is a poor novelist [because he most certainly is not] but because of the influence Roth had on him at the young age of thirteen), and Henry Miller (I’ve actually yet to read him; I’ve never even picked him up to skim yet). Romantic British poetry has been mentioned as something that should have been avoided in younger years (I’m actually pretty glad I’ve routinely avoided poetry since elementary school and have only picked it up again recently — and, even then, just barely so). One panelist also says, “I wish … I’d read more French 19th-century novels for a dose of healthy French cynicism …”, and, all in all, I find discussions like this interesting because, well, for one, I love serious book talk and, for another, it’s interesting how we all react differently to literature.
As for the other two categories: I should’ve read other books instead of slogging through Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, but I guess that wasn’t exactly a mistaken act because I loathed that book so much that I was determined to finish it for the sake of saying that I’d read The fucking Fountainhead all the way through and absolutely, unequivocally despised it and Ayn Rand in connection (you can’t separate Rand from her books, not like you might be able to create a divide between some authors/artists and novels/art; Rand deliberately permeates her work to the point of oversaturation)*. After I shoved my way through Rand, though, I’ve found myself capable of dropping books that fail to hold my interest when, before, I might have held on and tried to finish everything I started — or, at least, I would’ve held onto the illusion that, one day, I’d come back to these unfinished books.
As for the third category, no book pops automatically to mind.
* However, I will admit that I don’t regret making myself read/finish The Fountainhead, even if my reasons for doing so were, uh, twisted to put it one way. Ayn Rand is, whether I like her or not, a huge figure in American literature, and I do think any serious reader has to be at least familiar with her because of that, because she is a significant literary reference (and, you know, there are certain books/authors I think you do have to read — or at least try or, now, read their Wiki entries — simply for that very reason) — and that really was why I picked up The Fountainhead initially, but The Fountainhead was enough, and I will not go near Atlas Shrugged with a 50-foot pole, nope.