Posted by: Nathan | December 2, 2007

“Have you read…?”

I love to read, and I try to read a lot. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to peruse a number of quality books, stories, and poems in my life. Naturally, I like to talk about books. But instead of conversing with others about good reads and talented authors, I usually get into the “Have you read…?” conversation.

In order to discuss a given work, say Wharton’s The House of Mirth, it’s natural that my conversation begins with, “Have you read House of Mirth?” Then I answer, “Yes. Great read.” Here we are! Now we can go into what we liked, disliked, thought of the plot, the characterization, et al.

However, 95% of the time my counterpart says, “Oh. Well, have you read War and Peace?” Well, no, I haven’t read that Tolstoy epic yet. “Oh man, now there’s a great book. You really should read it.”

You see what’s happened here: what looked to be an interesting exchange about a book we both have read has devolved into a competition. “I’ve read something the literature guy hasn’t read!”

The problem with this ever-occurring situation in my life is not that others have read books I haven’t. I will never read everything that is good. I’ll do my best, and that’s all I can do. Yes, I’m getting my M.A. in Literature, but why does that mean I’ve read everything? Even more, I’m glad you’ve read War and Peace even though I haven’t. I love it when people read!

The trouble is that discussing books is usually only a conversation of what I haven’t read but should. I know what I haven’t read, and it is so enjoyable to compare notes on a work we have in common! I can say, “Did you like…” and you can say, “No, and this is why…” It’s productive; it’s fun; we both learn about each other and the work in question. This is the sort of chat I want to have.

I’ll save every one in the world time by saying this: I haven’t read everything you’ve read. I just haven’t! It’s also possible that I’ve read works you haven’t encountered, but I don’t want to talk about those (except to give a recommendation). If we’ve both read something, let’s compare notes! If our talk turns into a listing off “holes” in my reading resumé, that’s not a chat worth having. I love recommendations, but there is a difference between advice and one-upmanship. I think you’re great already. You don’t have to prove it to me by finding a book I haven’t read.


  1. Have you read “Anna Karenina”? I haven’t.

    I’m glad to see you draw the proverbial line in the sand. Hey, at least you know this conversation won’t happen with that one guy who shares your first name. 😉

  2. Have you read “The Sound And The…” oh, I see PK already joked with something like that. Well, I’m sure I’d be annoyed by situations like these you’ve described. I always hate a wasted opportunity for real, interesting discussion instead of small talk (unless that discussion involves inevitably violent disagreement). Nice Nate dig, PK…although you know he’ll never read that either.

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