Confession time: even though Stephen King is my favorite writer, and the inspiration and reason that I put words to paper each and every day, I haven't read every book he's written. I'm two books shy, and to be honest I don't know that I'll ever get around to reading them.
I'm talking about Danse Macabre and The Talisman.
I think I'd get a pass from most people on the first one. Danse Macabre is a respected piece of work, but it is nonfiction, and I get the impression that many don't consider an author's nonfiction work to be an integral part of his output. I'm not saying that I agree, but I do get that impression from readers and fans I've spoken with over the years. So, I don't exactly feel guilty for not having read it. I haven't even really given it a solid try, and I own three copies of it – a battered hardback, a better hardback, and the paperback anniversary edition from a while back. I bought that thinking it would be the push I needed to go cover-to-cover. Nope. I scanned it and shelved it, just like the other two copies.
The Talisman, on the other hand…that one might get my membership in the Stephen King Fan Club revoked.
Don't ask my why I haven't read it. I don't have a good answer. I've tried, but for some reason it didn't reel me in. There are other King books I can say that very same thing for – Rose Madder and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, for example – but I plowed on through those. I've never pushed myself the same way with The Talisman.
I read its sequel, Black House, and loved it. Just can't get into Talisman, though, and again, not sure I'm gonna try.
There are other books littering my to-be-read pile that I "should" have read by now but haven't. Books that are considered classics, must-reads, genre definers – I've picked them up based on their reputation and haven't looked their way since. There are so many of them, it's almost too daunting now.
From where I sit in my office writing this, my to-be-read pile is on a shelf to my right. If I look over there I can see some of the books I'm talking about. Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons. Swan Song by Robert McCammon. Ghost Story by Peter Straub. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
These books, and a dozen others that maybe aren't considered "classics" but are, nonetheless, books I bought in a fever of anticipation only to never quite get around to cracking their spines, haunt me from their places in the stacks. Every time I buy a new book and start it instead of grabbing one of them off the shelf, I feel a pang of guilt. Every time the review deadlines pile up and I have to let necessity guide my next read instead of personal choice, I feel a pang of guilt.
Back to King for a second. I have a friend who has never read The Shining. He's read a good bit of King, including all of the Dark Tower books, and he loves Kubrick's movie. But he won't pick up the novel. I gave him a nice hardcover copy of it years ago as a gift, and he still won't read it. His tastes have mutated over the years – he's more into obscure foreign authors and nonfiction stuff now, so the battle is getting harder, but I fight on. "You've gotta read it," I tell him. And every time I argue with him, the voices of Danse Macabre and The Talisman mock me from their unread places on my shelf.
Having a huge backlog of stuff you want to read is part of the fun of being a reader. There are always new titles, new authors, and undiscovered works waiting to be discovered and experienced for the first time. When I look at that list of unread books, I get excited because I know that they are going to be great experiences when I finally get around to them. And maybe that's why I keep putting them off – because once you've had your first time, you don't get to have it again.
So what about you? What classics have you avoided, either by choice or circumstance? Which books are you ashamed to admit you haven't gotten around to yet? What's haunting you from your to-be-read pile? Here's your chance to admit it to the world.
Believe me; I won't hold anything against you.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.