I saw my reflection in the mirror presented by the letter of a child. In Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Circle of Quiet she writes of a letter she received from a girl who really poured it on.
“Dear Miss L’Engle, you are one of the greatest writers of all time,” and so on, fulsome phrase after fulsome phrase. She signed her name and then wrote, “P.S. I have not yet read any of your books, but I am sure they will be good when I do.”
That P.S. parallels my experience with Russian authors. For years I was convinced that I would love the work of a handful of Russian authors — Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak, Nabokov, Chekhov, Turgenev. In fact, I can remember praising them to others, quoting them, and even sharing analysis of their work.
The problem? I had only limited exposure to them. What I found when I actually started to read them in depth was that I much preferred excerpts from their novels, relevant textual quotations, and commentary upon their corpus of work to the experience of actually reading them. I had been like the little girl who wrote to L’Engle “I have not yet read any of your books, but I am sure they will be good when I do.”
Okay, I’ve entered the literary confessional and shared my embarrassing experience as part of my academic penance. Now, it is your turn. Check out some of the titles on the following lists and see if you have been guilty of praising some of the titles included without having actually read them.
Share your confessions in the comments below. You will feel better after you do.