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Stuck on my bookshelves

The WaPo book blog had something I thought interesting. What books remain on your shelves that you’ve never read but continue to keep even though you’ve weeded out lots of others over the years?

Underworld by Don DeLillo immediately comes to mind. It’s been on my shelves for close to a decade but I never get around to reading it. Methinks the size (800+ pages) is largely responsible.

There’s also a number of history books and biographies I’ve held on to with the greatest of intentions. The history books in this group tend to be ones on the Middle Ages, World War II or Nazi Germany because I fear they may repeat books I’ve read previously.

One that isn’t in that category is The First Casualty, Phillip Knightley’s book about war correspondents. The title comes from the 1917 comment by U.S. Sen. Hiram Johnson: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” Unfortunately, I’ve held on to mine so long that it only goes through 1975. The current edition has four more chapters and goes through March and April 2003 in Iraq. Thus, it may be time to weed it out in favor of the most recent edition.

While it’s not quite a history book, Tina Rosenberg’s The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism has been picked up a couple times to read. For whatever reason, I got distracted each time. I really should read it as it won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Length is the issue with the biographies sitting on the shelves. I started Alan Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives when I bought it. But there remains a book marker at page 320, which is still in the 1933-34 time period.

I can’t say the same for Philip Short’s Mao: A Life. I ordered it through a book club and by the time it arrived, my lust for the book had disappeared. Thus, the 600+ page work sits on the shelf unread.

Sad to say, those certainly aren’t the only unread books on the shelves. I think, though, they may be the ones that give rise to a bit more guilt.


I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.

Anna Quindlen, NYT, Aug, 7, 1991

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