Guest Post, Anthony Varallo: Least Loved Books

Books
“book sale loot” by Ginny is licensed under CC by 2.0

Do you own books that, despite their quality, reputation, significance, pleasures, virtues, rewards, and overall worthiness, are still somehow your least-loved books? Mine reside at my office, where I’ve now exiled all the titles I can no longer fit on my shelves at home. I know I should donate these books or give them away—why bother keeping them in the first place?—but even the least-loved book still casts some kind of spell, just enough to keep it out of the Goodwill box, if only for a few more months.

Mass-market paperbacks, already fading from the landscape when I began buying fiction, are perhaps the least loved of my least-loved books. I still have my dog-eared copy of Franny and Zooey, with its spare, green and white cover (I cannot accept the idea of Salinger in hardback or trade paperback for some reason, especially The Catcher in the Rye, which has always seemed to me the center of the mass-market paperback universe), along with my Victorian paperbacks, even Bleak House, my favorite Dickens, here among the least loved nonetheless. I’ve somehow held on to my high school copy of The Grapes of Wrath, another mass-market paperback that should look more worn than it does—did I skim The Grapes of Wrath? A least-loved book, flipped though again, gives off a faint whiff of guilt.

Books assigned in college fall easily into the least loved pile, many of them still wearing their university bookstore price stickers, others sporting highlighted passages no longer needed for anything, the exam long since over. Several contain my handwritten margin notes—“industrial revolution,” “death of God?” “pantheism”—in my embarrassingly bad script. A copy of Wyndham Lewis’s Tarr, assigned for a course I can barely remember, shoulders a row of other college texts, for courses also forgotten, no matter how hard I try to recall that moment in my life when, according to my highlighting, I finished Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars, or had grasped enough of Bergson’s “Laughter” to write “Charlie Chaplin, etc.” at the end of an essay. A least-loved book mocks you for how much you’ve forgotten.

Books loaned from students, colleagues, or friends join those given as gifts, and keep the other least-loved books company. Loaned books remind you that you really should have given the book back months ago, the same thought you recall having had months ago, when you still didn’t feel like reading the book, although you told yourself otherwise, smiled, and assured the book-loaner you couldn’t wait to get started. Gift books carry the expectation of a thank you and a rave—I loved it!—an expectation your most-loved books would never impose.

Accidentally acquired books define one of the lowest strata of least-loved books, these sudden guests, these strangers, these party-crashers, these mysterious visitors. Why do I seem to own a novelization based upon a Graham Greene screenplay I’ve never heard of? My other Graham Greene—deliberately acquired—remains at home, clearly most-loved, too worthy to group with this screenplay, whose title I can’t even remember now. Where did I get that book? How, too, did I end up with two copies of a memoir I’d be too embarrassed to admit owning one copy of, not to mention reading, which I didn’t—still, the book remains, least-loved, but not yet donated, no matter how many times I’ve thought, I really should donate that one. Another layer of least-loved-ness: they remind you of everything else you’ve been putting off lately.

Sometimes, though, when I’m at home searching for a book, a book that feels just out of reach—I know it’s here somewhere, etc.—I’ll wonder if it isn’t really at my office, there with the least-loved titles? But no, it couldn’t be, I’ll think. Not that book. No way. But then it occurs to me that it must be there, since I’ve been searching for it, and since an exiled book occupies a place in the mind nonetheless, as if it were loved after all.

Anthony Varallo

Anthony Varallo’s latest collection, Everyone Was There, is the winner of the Elixir Press 2016 Fiction Award. He is the author of three previous collections: This Day in History, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award; Out Loud, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize; and Think of Me and I’ll Know (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press). Currently he is an associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and serves as Fiction Editor of Crazyhorse.

9 thoughts on “Guest Post, Anthony Varallo: Least Loved Books

  • October 6, 2014 at 2:42 pm
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    I am certainly accumulating those books required for college classes! Three semesters heaving with lit classes will do the trick. I doubt I will party with them, though. Maybe I’ll gift a few, who knows. You know how you can read a book and be mid-sentence and know just who would love to be reading that line? I have a few set aside. Maybe once the tests are done…

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  • October 11, 2014 at 8:25 pm
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    So last week I moved into the house I just bought and I was sifting through the three bings of books I have. I was pulling them out, some of them cradling in my arms and others – put back in. I only put out the books I could fit on my shelf and loved dearly, but the books that I didn’t love so much were left in the dark.

    I was thinking of donating them to the library, because well, someone is bound to love those books, eventually. But I have to figure out if I’ll ever need them again because I have this fabrication in my mind that maybe one day, I’ll read them again?

    A few of my titles are “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret”, “Brave New World”, and “The Jungle.”

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  • October 13, 2014 at 2:42 pm
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    “Grapes of Wrath” is one of mine. It’s still on the shelf from when I read it (sort of) in high school; I’ve contemplated bringing it to Bookmans, but it seems like the literary gods would smite me. That, and “Moby Dick.”

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  • October 13, 2014 at 5:23 pm
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    I tend to splurge on hardcover books for two reasons. First, if anything, books make great for great decorative pieces. More importantly, I have an accumulated a collection of great books and terrible ones. The terrible ones are my trophies. They remind me that I have made it through difficult things. Seriously, some are just so hard to get through it is a major life accomplishment reading that last sentence. The Human Stain is probably my least-loved book, but most favorite trophy.

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  • October 14, 2014 at 3:39 pm
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    I definitely have a collection of books I haven’t read, or books I’ve meant to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. Among them are college textbooks. I think I still have a Norton anthology somewhere that I know I’ll never touch again, yet haven’t gotten around to selling or donating it.

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  • October 14, 2014 at 8:26 pm
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    I am a book hoarder. Every book I ever owned was in my book shelf. Eventually after that, I had to buy another! There were books that had been given to me, and I just thought that one day I would read it. Those that I started to but really disliked, I still kept because I might actually like it when I’m older. At least that is what I tell myself, because I haven’t read a book I haven’t liked yet! I have a whole box of textbooks right now from my science fiction class that I will probably still keep and not try and sell, just because I created memories with that book and I actually enjoy some of the stories in it. Oh, the life of a book reader!

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  • October 15, 2014 at 11:33 am
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    I don’t tend to keep books I hated unless I finished them and they are classics. I have some I didn’t like as much, but since I only have one bookshelf, it’s filled with my favorites or ones I will be reading soon and need easy access to. I do have quite a few storage containers filled with what I would classify as the “least-loved” of all the books I own.

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  • October 19, 2014 at 3:30 pm
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    My first thought after reading this article is that I’m so glad other people do these things too! I think some of our reluctance to get ride of much-lauded, reputable books is that we’re a little ashamed that we don’t like them more. If they’re so beloved by the writing community, what right do we have to hate them?

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  • October 19, 2014 at 9:12 pm
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    I am glad this blog was written, because I hate being the only one who dislikes a certain book or movie. It seems like all the “classics,” are liked by so many people because they are deemed as “classics,” but honestly, there are plenty of them that just do not seem to appeal to me.

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