British author David Lodge has made a career of satirizing contemporary academia. In his 1975 novel, Changing Places, he described an academic parlor game known as “Humiliation,” in which the purportedly well-read confess the shameful gaps in their education–the things they really ought to have read, but never have. Lodge may have named the game, but it’s one familiar to readers and book lovers everywhere.
A more recent iteration is the “Shelf of Shame” or the “Shelf of Constant Reproach” (the term is Luis Clemens’s): those books you purchased in a frenzy of interest, enthusiasm, or obligation, only to have them remain on your bedside table, still waiting to be read.
My current “Shelf of Constant Reproach” includes Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games (NYT book review here, with an interesting addendum regarding the perils of careless linguistic reference); Joseph O’Neill’s acclaimed Netherland (Chicago Tribune Review here); and Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, which I am only 1/4 of the way through.
What’s on your “Shelf”?