This is an official reaction to Linda Holmes’ blog article: The Sad, Beautiful Fact that We’re All going to Miss Almost Everything…

Hi, Linda Holmes…let me introduce myself. My name is
Elisabeth Kinsey. The first book I read without pictures was James and the
Giant Peach when I was six. I remember it so well, the frightening spider and
the dark nature of the Peach.  I also read Treasures of the Snow by Patricia M. St. John while I was reading Marguerite Henry’s series of horse books.   Needless to say, I snorted books as fast as I could get my hands on them, or nostrils on them.  Why am I telling you this?  To quote your beginning sentence, “The vast majority of the world’s books, music, films, television and art, you will never see. It’s just numbers,” I wonder at the use of this statement?  Also, when I was still wondering at your angle, I shared it with the gentlemen working at Alabaster Bookshop in the lower East side – he called your article an anti-intelligence movement.  I agreed and found the statement to be ridiculous instead of its intimidating goal.  Why go directly to the extreme, overwhelming and fear inducing statement?  Was your goal to challenge people daring to read (which is active hope and joy) to give up reading? I can tell you are not one of the readers whose goal is to read with joy, and as a side product become accidentally well-read. Your goal “to become well-read” or as you put it: cutting out giant,
enormous swaths of literature, … willing to write off thousands of years of writing in an effort to be reasonably well-read” is for the end product, not
the lovely and soul-fulfilling journey.

Many of my “well-read” colleagues would not associate themselves with your statement and ridiculous goal to gain the end result: being “well-read.”  I
take offense at this accusation.  I run a blog naming the beautiful passages that  fill my life with splendor as an active reader and writer.  These passages, no
different than the emerging water lilies Monet intended as the onlooker stepped
backward from his dabs of white and pink, are what hold a reader in that pattern of needing more, turning the page to find out what happens next, or advancing by clicking on an arrow, to get to the denouement, the intention or message from the author.  This goal is not an end product, stagnant, like a pile of books unopened, but an ever moving, eye-roving relationship between reader and writer.

Your goal to be “well-read” with the thought of surrendering, giving up a notion that there is a “supposed to read” list imposed on all “well-read” persons and that we must submit to defeat is for you, alone.  Please don’t include me, or any of us whose by-product for the joy of reading is being well-read.  Ebert, himself, in the article you quote has his goal set “to enjoy reading” and only poses the
question, “Does anyone want to be well-read?” because he is of my ilk, re-reading
cherished books only to turn down others. He poses the question that is the focus of your article…does anyone read with the goal to be “well-read?”  Obviously, because you assume it is, you are one of those.

May I quietly support Ebert in my counter argument that I don’t brood about all the books on my grandmother’s shelf that I won’t be able to read, nor do I rifle through the Booker prize list with the unsettling fear of death ripping my eyes from some last page.  Like that of London by Edward Rutherford, coincidentally my well-read grandmother’s last book, bookmark still jammed on the 253rd page, not her dying wish to finish but to perpetuate her own joy of reading.  I look often on lists as I finish another grand book. This morning at 6:OO AM, I turned the last haunting page of Consider This, Senora by Harriet Doerr.  Now, I am viewing my grandmother’s list she sent me while I was sixteen, asking her for
her opinion of what I should read to prepare myself for college.  She sent me this written in her slanting, intelligent scrawl, “Here is a partial list of books all literate persons should read…not in order.”  Eva T. Weymouth

The list follows verbatim:

(*Summer Reading)

*The Bible
The Aeneid
Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann
*Doll’s House – Hendrik Ibsen
*Daisy Miller – Henry James (any)
The Dynasts – Thomas Hardy (any)
Anna Karinina – Tolstoy (any)
*The Apostle – Sholem Asch
Abe Lincoln on Illinois – Robert
Shakespeare – All
Arrowsmith – Sinclair Lewis
An American Tragedy – Theodore
*Barchester Towers – Anthony
Ben Hur- Lewis Wallace
Beowulf – Unknown
The Black Arrow – R. L. Stevenson
Antigone – Sophocles (any)
*Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathon
The Bridge of San Luis Ray –
Thornton Wilder
Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogal
*Green Mansions – W. H. Hudson
The Greek Tragedies and Comedies
Dragon Seed – Pearl S. Buck
The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
The Duchess of Malfi – John
Plato’s Republic
Candide- Voltaire
Camille – A. Dumas
Crime and Punishment –
Dostoyevsky (any)
*Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn
Brave New World – A. Huxley
*Giants in the Earth – O.E.
Dickens – All
Captain’s Courageous – Kipling
Kim – Kipling
*Old Wives Tales – Arnold Bennet
Jack London – Any
*Jane Austen – Any and All
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker
– Tobias Smollett
Steinbeck – Any
Saroyan – Any
*Tristram Shandy – Sterne


I will not go through and asterisk the ones I’ve read because that is not my goal.  My reaction to your article is on a level of an enthusiast and one who ignores overwhelming thoughts like, “I’ll never get to see all the plays I want to see in this life.”  What good is dwelling on that?  It takes away from precious time while we are seeing the play by Thornton Wilder, again and again, for its mastery and
brilliance.  Is it so bad to be in support of those qualities?  Faulkner commands earnest writers to, “Read, read, read. Read everything– trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.”  Can we just support this notion as writers…and as readers, certainly we would want our writers to be informed, talented and well-practiced.

You say about the readers who don’t cull (judge an entire genre and refuse it from their lives) that the ones left are surrenderers.  These surrenderers see the trees, not the forest.  You call it a cup when you write, “But what we’ve seen is always going to be a very small cup dipped out of a very big ocean, and turning your back on the ocean to stare into the cup can’t change that.”  I am grateful for the ocean and how vast and far it goes.  I love the fact that I won’t get through everything.  I roll and envelope myself in its wonder – the fact that all that writerly brilliance exists.  Even Ebert re-reads Whitman, still.  Thank God for Whitman.  For me, my small cup is half-full, and I am grateful.  “I swim in it, as in a sea.”

Linda, my name is Elisabeth Kinsey.  I am a reader.  I write.  And I am grateful for this life that allows me to continue reading words.

2 responses to “

  1. If she is right, then I am doomed. Still, I have given up forcing myself to finish a book that I’m not enjoying. That was a gift to myself because there are so many wonderful books to read. Thank you for inspiring me to read your post, as well as the ones by Holmes and Ebert.

  2. I agree, 2kop. I put down a book that gets dull or is just not creating a joyous reaction in some way. Sorry, Tracy Chevalier, but I did not like your Lady with the Unicorn and put it down after chapter two.

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