Confession TimeI was recently berating a student for not having read the short story we were studying that day when I was struck by my own failure in this department whilst I was studying my...

Confession Time

I was recently berating a student for not having read the short story we were studying that day when I was struck by my own failure in this department whilst I was studying my English degree. I remember distinctly turning up to a seminar on David Copperfield and realising, as the subsequent discussion made painfully clear, that I was the only one who had actually bothered to plough my way through the thousand-page bildungsroman. Later, I have to confess that I did not bother to read Ulysses by James Joyce for another seminar. I actually regret this and would like to read it some day.

So, what classics did you deliberately not read or pretend to read?! Do you still struggle with guilt issues over such moral lapses?!

16 Answers | Add Yours

brettd's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #2)

I didn't take a lit class in college, but there were a few of the "additional" books we needed to buy for someone's history class each quarter that I merely skimmed through, then tried to wing my way through the assignment or discussion.  It was probably obvious, and it would have been better if I had read every page, but I was working full time and going to college full time, so I never felt that guilty about it.  I often hear students in high school say they haven't read books for lit classes, and they usually don't seem too remorseful.  Of course in my college days, there was no such thing as an internet.

bullgatortail's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #3)

I seem to recall using Cliff's Notes (sorry, eNotes, but you weren't around back then) to cover my failure to read all of Melville's Moby Dick for a high school English class. Anyone who has read the novel knows that there are some might tedious stretches. I did eventually go back and read the entire novel, and I realized I missed out on some fantastic passages and philosphical messages. I guess it was a moment of high school laziness--possibly a conflict with baseball season.

lmetcalf's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #4)

My Development of the English Novel class in college had a one-novel-per-week reading load and I kept up through Pamela, Clarissa, Robinson Crusoe, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tom Jones, but I hit the wall when I picked up Middlemarch.  There was just NO WAY I could get through that one (even though I probably would have liked it better than any of the novels I had read previously in the class).  A trip to the book store for the Cliff's Notes was my only means of survival! I found since then that I really like George Eliot's novels, so I may have to try that one again.

herappleness's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #5)

I detested any assignment related to literature because, at the time I was in college, the idea of adult ADHD was not yet accepted as a psychological fact. Therefore, it was way harder for me to read "on demand" than to do it at leisure. The result was that I would end up not reading on purpose, failing the tests, and then the most frustrating thing would happen: I would read the same book I failed, at my own pace, for pure leisure.

When I see that my college kids refuse to read a story I play the devil's advocate and tell them to check out the summary online before reading it. If they do not like what the summary says, they can come to me for a list of 10 interesting facts that they need to find throughout the story. Usually by then they are interested enough to read at least half of it. However, you are correct in that we need to motivate them consistently because many of them do not understand why they need to read the classics in the first place.


kiwi's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #6)

Great idea herappleness! I confess to two things: firstly, I could not face reading North and South for my English Literature course as I was also studying Moby Dick for American Studies and I was not going to even attempt reading both novels in a week. My second confession is that when I have students who are difficult to motivate to read a text, I tell them that it is on the US Banned books list. I guarantee they are slightly more interested!

larrygates's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #7)

I managed to "not read" Great Expectations during my college days and skipped a few chapters of Moby Dick; and I at times have pangs of guilt over this and a number of other lapses of judgement. To be honest, I think we have all been there; and those who went before us were there too. The only difference in this situation is that your student's misfeasance was exposed, and we managed to hide our's. I know my students do the same thing; it is part of the maturing process that they make poor judgments and regret them later. For what its worth, I always tell them that they need to trust me on the importance of reading this material, and for my own smug satisfaction tell them the day will come when they will regret not having done so. True to form, years later they come back and tell me they wish they had done the reading.

I am more and more convinced that this is part of the maturing process. There is no magic wand or undiscovered trick that we can use to make them do that which they are not inclined to do. Again, we've all been there. All we as teachers can do is admonish and set examples. The fact that in later years they--as we--go back and read those classics on their own (bullgatortail, I also read Moby Dick much later) is an indication that we at least taught them something of its importance. Far better for a student to say "I wish I had" than for that same student to say "I wish YOU had..."

amy-lepore's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #8)

Mine was A Tale of Two Cities.  I know the opening line, of course, but I carefully navigated the discussion in my undergraduate class by listening to others' comments and attempting to take a part...this was more exhausting that actually having read it.  I eventually read the Cliff's Notes on it, but have still to this day never read the text in its entirity.  Maybe one my free time...Ha!

sboeman's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #9)

I'd have to admit there were a couple Shakespeare plays that I was supposed to read and didn't-I mean, c'mon, read four of his plays in just a few short weeks for an introductory lit class?  Sorry, Merchant of Venice and As You Like It, but I never read you.  I could also never stomach those Jane Austen novels; in particular, Pride & Prejudice.  Thank God Pride & Prejudice & Zombies came out so I could read that and sort of "claim" I read Austen.  Some of the more contemporary novels were rather difficult to get through as well that I was supposed to read, such as Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 or The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

I do have a brief heart-to-heart with my students about being honest about their reading habits.  I share with them my experiences, and they're often quite open with their own thoughts as well.  Do I regret not reading some of the novels I was assigned?  Not particularly.  Good question, though.

MaudlinStreet's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #10)

Like many here, 18th and 19th century British literature is my weakness. I've never read Moby Dick, but thankfully I haven't found the need to yet. I couldn't make it through Great Expectations, but I'm teaching freshman English for the first time in 4 years, & it's on the I guess I have to suck it up and do it. I have also never read Jane Austen, but I had a student who graduated this year and was constantly pushing me to read Pride and Prejudice. So it may be in my future...

bigdreams1's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #11)


Sorry, but I can honestly say that I was one of those random nerds who read everything assigned to them. I was, frankly, too afraid of getting caught unprepared and too afraid that my parents would be angry that I was unprepared or that I would get bad grades.

It is handy, though, now that I am a lit. teacher because I can honestly say that I am not making them do anything that I was not willing to do.

kplhardison's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #12)

Ok--I hope this comes across as amusing and not gaspable. I was taking a European Literature course and was in a minor car accident (drivers in M---- don't mind going when they see a clearing in traffic even if there is still someone in front of them stopped at a Yield) that gave me massive vertigo--still a HUGE problem--and a MTBI (mild traumatic brain injury). So .... Reading was a MAJOR difficulty (writing was a joke!). As a result, for Magic Mountain and Swann's Way, I read only every 3rd or 4th page!! Amazing what you gather that way. If I caught a transition or a major event, I'd go back and read one or two of the skipped pages--but not that often!!

auntlori's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #13)

Walden is my nemesis.  I did "read" it for an American Lit seminar, but I cannot say I have really read it and I only teach portions of it in my classroom. On a non-classroom-related note, I have been 62% finished with Moby Dick (on my Kindle) for more than six months. I may call it "read" very soon.

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #14)

If none of you have ck'd out the blog I write for eNotes, please do! I addressed this very topic a few months ago:


Personally, I am guilty of at least 5 of these confessions, but Middlemarch in particular is coma-inducing.

pacorz's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #15)

Return of the Native just killed me in high school. I was - and still am - a hugely eclectic and voracious reader, but that book just didn't do it and I finally resorted to Cliff's notes to pass the test. I was embarrassed to tell any of my friends, except for the one who shared her Cliff's notes with me. I know now that the teacher would probably have given me a break, because I did read everything else he assigned and I was usually chapters ahead,  but at the time it seemed like such a crisis. Thanks for reminding me about that - it's one of those things that teachers should have some empathy for, particularly when a student who is usually on top of things falls down once in a while.

appletrees's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #16)

I never used Cliff's Notes, but I did sometimes skim over things right before class if I didn't read them the night before. I was a double major, theatre and English, and often was up late at rehearsals and the reading for my English lit courses did suffer on occasion. The only thing I recall not enjoying much was the Henry James I was expected to read in a Major Figures course which consisted of James, Fitzgerald and Updike--I did grow to love Fitzgerald and Updike though. But I sure found it hard to make my way through Portrait of a Lady. Ironically I loved Jane Campion's film version and found myself wanting to read the novel in its entirety after that.

ms-einstein's profile pic

Posted on (Answer #17)

I guess I am a good girl. I never deliberately choose not to read something and never used study guides to help me. However, one semester in colleges stands out vividly in my mind. It had to the be the semester of the Russian novelists, who never wrote anything less than 800 pages, and in their eyes, that was a novella. I was taking an American lit class at the same time. One assigned book was Jack London's Sea Wolf. I simply didn't have time to read it. I went into the final exam, hoping that there would be questions I could answer that did not involve Sea Wolf. I lucked out. When I graduated from college, I read the book, which was excellent. In retrospect, however, I would have been wiser to use study guides. I would have been better prepared for the final exam and would have experienced less anxiety.

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