The great books we haven't read.

All about fiction.
Oct. 30 2007 11:36 AM

The Great Novel I Never Read

The Sound and the Fury, Swann's Way,and other books that novelists skipped.

Click here to read more from Slate's Fall Fiction Week.

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"Read this!" he commanded.

Back in my room, I grappled with the dense, mysterious prose, for I was eager to please. But somehow my eyes just glazed over.

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A week or so later, I met Nick. He had long golden curls and a cute beard. My parents wouldn't have liked him, either. Encountering the same obstacles, he handed me a copy of John Donne.

"Here, read this!"

And I did.

James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.

Jim Shepard What's the most important book I've never read? Well, where to begin? My experience of the canon is mostly a history made of gaps, like one of those "There Be Monsters" medieval maps of what lay out beyond the Pillars of Hercules, with vast stretches of blank space filled in every so often with an archipelago or two of what I have encountered. Of course, I never got through Finnegans 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.