Last night I had a dream that, like my lit grad program at DePaul, here at Columbia we had to take a comp exam before we could finish our degree instead of writing a thesis. The problem was, the entire exam was multiple choice and based on Proust's Remembrance of Thing's Past. Having never read this book, and knowing not all that much about it, I struggled to answer the 100 questions in the time alloted and ran out of time at around question 25. I kept thinking how stupid I was never to have read this book that seemed so important. Wondering if I could bluff my way through the exam, while everyone else who was taking the test had no problem and breezed right through it. Apparently it was like the Bar exam and there was a limit to how many times you could take it and fail.
I had a conversation with one of the student workers about important books and how I'd never been able to get through the first 10 pages of Ulysses and he'd mentioned Proust, so I think that's where this oddness came from. It all taps into how I always feel like there's too much I haven't read, too much I've missed, and how now, I'm so damn stubborn about what I read. And that's with two degrees in literature (BA, MA) and a third in specifically poetry underway.
As an undergrad, I was reading much more broadly. But in grad school it focused in on specifically women authors. So I've read alot Chopin , lots of Jane Austen, the Brontes, Cather, Wharton, Gilman, Woolf. And a few poets: Dickinson,Sexton, Plath, Millay, Parker, Loy. My contemporary fiction reading gravitates toward authors like Margaret Atwood, Alice Hoffman, Lorrie Moore, Isabel Allende and others like them. From my undergrad senior sem I know alot about Milton, and am pretty good with Shakespeare and drama, thanks to several theatre history and dramatic lit classes I gravitated toward. I pretty well aquainted with big-figures like Hawthorne, Poe, Hemingway and Faulkner, a little Steinbeck. I developed a predilection for Henry James and EM Forster on my own. So there's alot of 20th Century books by male authors I have no famliarity with. I've read Joyce's more reader-friendly books--Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners--but never DID get through Ulysses. No Proust. No Maugham. I tell myself I'll read this stuff someday, but it isn't likely.