Confessions of an overeducated cultural illiterate

There are things we “should do” in life. That list has a general component – things that everybody ought to do – and depending on our vocation and some other factors, there’s an additional specialized list. If you’re a baseball freak, you really aren’t complete without a trip to Cooperstown. There are movies we should all see, and the list is longer and more nuanced for movie critics and self-proclaimed film buffs. Etc.

Pretty much nobody has the time to do all the things that ought to be done. Frankly, the list of compulsories is just too freakin’ long. sirpaulsbuddy, in an English class back in high school, once said that Milton had probably read everything ever written in English, Latin or Greek. Literally. Everything. Of course, in Milton’s day not as many books had been published, and there are countless folks alive right now who have read more than Milton ever had the opportunity to read (for better or worse).

Still, at times I’m painfully aware of all the things I should have done that I haven’t. Some of these things are forgivable, but others will probably come as a huge surprise to those who know me. I have seven letters after my name, and two of them signify an MA in English, so that means I have probably read a lot of books that everybody with a grad degree in English should have read, right?

For some odd reason, I want to set the record straight, and to that end I’ve decided to post a sort of cultural illiteracy confession. Below is an expansive list of things I feel guilty about, and maybe it will help the esteemed reader, who has a few voids in his/her résumé, feel better about some of the things that have been on the to-do list for a long time.

So, on with the show.


  • I haven’t read 87 of the books on The Modern Library’s list of 100 Greatest Novels of All Time.
  • I did a little better with Time Magazine’s list – I’ve read 16 of their picks.
  • I haven’t read Moby Dick, Animal Farm, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, 1984, or anything by Joyce (although I have seen the 1984 movie).
  • In my defense, there are books on those lists that I tried to read, but simply couldn’t. Naked Lunch? Please, bitch. Burroughs makes no attempt to communicate, so why should I beat myself up over it? The problem here is how this stream of unconsciousness got on the list in the first place. I gave Gravity’s Rainbow the best shot I could, too. Oddly, Pynchon and Burroughs were hugely influential for some writers I love, like Gibson. Go figure.
  • While I own all of Shakespeare’s plays, I haven’t read half of them.
  • I’m a poet, but I don’t often read poetry, and very rarely do I read contemporary writers. I’m going to hell for this one, I know.


  • I’ve seen fewer than 30 of AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.
  • The list of films I should have seen but haven’t includes The Godfather (all three of them, in fact), Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, It’s a Wonderful Life, Psycho, The Maltese Falcon, High Noon, North by Northwest, West Side Story, King Kong (although I saw Peter Jackson’s remake), The Birth of a Nation, Taxi Driver, Rebel Without a Cause, Vertigo, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, American Graffiti, Modern Times, and Yankee Doodle Dandy. I have seen bits and pieces of some of these films, but haven’t sat through the whole thing. (As a side note, I’m appalled that there’s no Buster Keaton on AFI’s list.)


I could go on forever here, but a couple of the lowlights would include:

  • I’ve never listened to any Dylan album end to end in one sitting. (I’ve heard most of his pre-‘70s songs at some point or another, but not in context.)
  • I’ve never listened to Revolver end to end in one sitting.
  • I never saw the Stones live. Same goes for The Kinks, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Dylan, INXS (with Hutchence, anyway – saw them with Jon Stevens once), Van Morrison, or Bowie.


  • I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, even though I lived near there for a year.
  • I’ve never been to Mt. Rushmore.
  • For that matter, the two Dakotas are included among the nine states I haven’t visited (also: Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska).
  • I have only been to two countries other than the US: Canada and Italy (unless you count Texas). And even with Canada, I’ve only been to Toronto.
  • Even though I lived in Colorado for a decade, I never visited Telluride or Steamboat. I also never climbed a 14er (I did Mt. Ward, a 13er, once; given the state of my knees, I doubt I’ll ever get this one checked off the list).
  • I’ve never visited the capitol building in my native NC.
  • I’ve never been to the White House. Given the tone of many of my past blog entries, it seems unlikely I’ll be invited to remedy this oversight before 2009 at the earliest.
  • I haven’t been to Cooperstown, Springfield, or Canton. I’ve driven past Yankee Stadium, but never saw a game there.

I’m not terribly proud about any of this, and since I’m still young I have time to address some of my shortcomings.

I just felt I should get it off my chest.



2 thoughts on “Confessions of an overeducated cultural illiterate

  1. I’m another with an M.A. in English. Just for the sake of comparison . . .
    On both of those book lists, you’ve read one more than I have. I have read Animal Farm, 1984, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and some Joyce, though.
    I’ve seen 52 films on the AFI list. I am also appalled at the exclusion of Buster Keaton.
    The only Dylan album I’ve listened to straight through is Blonde On Blonde. I have seen him once, I saw INXS with Hutchence twice, and I’ve seen Ray Davies a few times but not the Kinks.
    You’re better traveled than I am. There are many states I haven’t visited, and the only other countries I’ve been to are Canada and Japan.

  2. Niagara Falls a must see. In fact I like to call the American side “Little Compton” It’s amazing the 3’d world city that surrounds one of the greatest natural wonders in the world. Don’t forget to visit Love Canal. The Canada side of course is spotless. Dakotas are awesome however Mt Rushmore was kind of a let down, the Crazy Horse memorial is really cool although it’s not finished. When I went I missed the Corn Palace. My best friend and lead singer watched all AFI top 100 movies and he also knows who won all the best pictures as well as numerous awards. I actually only watched the God Father Trilogy 2 years ago and was completely underwelmed, they were good but not great, of course its’ true what they say about the third one, it was a pile of shit. I do need to read 1984, I actually read the others you listed and I’m shocked. I will however try and read “to Kill a Mockingbird.” I also want to read the book of mormon and Dynetics. My main goal was to hit all 50 states and I have 2 left. I also have 3 of Canada’s Provences to hit. After that I’m hitting Europe. Of course I watched all 3 original Star Wars trilogies back to back to back, and i’m planning the perfect day to do all 6, the only question is wheather to do it chronologicy accourding to story line or do episode 4 first.
    Oh yeah I have to hit Yankee stadium before they tear it down in 2008.

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