Media Clippings

Most people who still read magazines and newspapers love articles that feature surveys — and the more outrageous the question, the better. The Webzines have exploited this sure-fire technique of the old journalism, and a most entertaining example appeared last week on Slate.

Five years ago, the editors asked critics to discuss their "greatest literary omissions" — "the most important books they'd never read."

"Norman Podhoretz confessed that he'd tried, and failed, to finish Bleak House. The New Yorker's Alice Truax said she was particularly weak on American novels: Moby-Dick, The Grapes of Wrath and Sister Carrie."

Because this year's survey kicked off the site's fall fiction issue, the editors decided to tap a different group: contemporary authors. "It turns out," it was noted, "that professional writers find it just as hard to get through the classics as the rest of us. Never managed to finish Ulysses? You're in good company."

This time around, the editors said that they weren't looking for "sins of omission." "What's your guiltiest pleasure?" they asked. Some contributors used the opportunity "to drag skeletons out of their literary closets."

The authors contacted included Amy Bloom, Stephen Carter, Curtis Sittenfeld, J.D. McClatchy, Myla Goldberg, Jonathan Ames, Lucinda Rosenfeld, Margaret Atwood and John Crowley.

Bloom admitted that she'd never gotten around to finishing Moby-Dick, but, unlike other works she's given up on, gladly — Beowulf, The Faerie Queen — she "planned to continue chasing" Melville's white whale of a work.

Stephen Carter took the question more literally. He said he's never read any Harry Potter. As for guilty pleasures, for a long while he had a thing for Robert Ludlam. But the real answer, he confessed, is Gone With the Wind.

Other people mentioned not getting around to any Harry Potter. And lots of others cited failed attempts with Ulysses.

One entry I particularly liked, generally because it matched my sentiments, was from Jess Row, a short-story writer. He acknowledged that he has yet to finish a single novel by Norman Mailer, Robert Coover, William Gaddis, John Barth, John Hawkes, James Purdy or William Burroughs.

But I liked the wording of novelist Jim Shepard's confession best, though I do hope that he reads some of the writers he mentions: "I never got through Finnegan's Wake — that's the one everyone feels ready to confess to — but what's my excuse when it comes to Paradise Lost? Parade's End? The Waves? Tristram Shandy? Beloved? Then there are whole stretches of work by writers whom I claim to hugely admire — Henry James, Jane Austen, Hart Crane — whose work I keep peering over at and intending to read. And what about those writers of whose work I've read almost nothing? Jean Rhys? John Donne? Gertrude Stein? Orhan Pamuk? And then there are all of the books that haven't even come to mind yet. This is depressing. I'm going back to bed."



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