Our Reading Lives: Filling in the Gaps

Do you ever feel like there’s a gap in your reading repertoire? Like you’ve missed some time period or style or genre completely and that you’re being left out of a conversation because of it?

I ask because I’ve been having this weird craving lately to read or re-read a lot of the classic fiction that I, for some reason, seemed to have missed. I have an English degree, but I almost all of my upper-level English classes were writing, not reading, focused (that’s what happens when you double major in journalism).

I actually almost graduated from college having never read or discussed Shakespeare — what kind of English major would that have made me? In our program, English majors were required to take three survey classes. I took modern British literature and two surveys of American literature, skipping the Shakespeare period entirely. My only other upper-level literature classes focused on multicultural literature, science fiction, and novel narration. I finally filled in the gap as a senior when I did a three week study abroad class on Shakespeare in London. Really, that’s the only way to experience The Bard. (Wow, that sounds snobby!)

Anyway, because of my focus on writing, I feel like there are a lot of gaps in my reading that I’ve never bothered to try to fill in, the seminal books people talk about that I have just missed. At the moment, the gap I’m anxious to fill is “Modern American Classics” (although I honestly couldn’t tell you what time period “modern” counts as… so don’t ding me on that one!). Yes, I did take the American lit survey, but we read mostly poetry and short stories… I can’t remember a novel that I loved.

I’m not sure if the classics I’m craving now really have much in common with each other. I deeply want to read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, for their dystopias and modern references. (And, if I’m feeling ambitious, it would be awesome to read Erica Heller’s memoir about growing up as Joseph Heller’s daughter, Yossarian Slept Here).

I want to re-read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott. Fitzgerald and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, both books I read and despised in high school (I blame high school English class, which was my nemesis). Oh, and another book I managed to miss entirely in high school, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I read The Grapes of Wrath when I was in middle school because it was, at the time, the longest and most challenging book I could find on the shelves of my school library. But I’ve never read Of Mice and Men, which it seems like every high school student has to read.

And then there are the even more contemporary authors that are just gaps in my reading experience — Toni Morrison, John Irving, Willa Cather, Cormac McCarthy, and Alice Walker, just to name a few. They all sort of fit in this category of authors who aren’t exactly new (although many are still publishing), but aren’t old enough that they’ve made it on my reading radar as classics.

I can’t be only person missing some famous books and authors. What are the gaps in your reading life?

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