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Dinsdale
08-31-2001, 10:53 AM
The mention of Joyce and Proust in another thread got me thinking, what is the author - or specific work - that is referred to far more than it is actually read?

For example, I recall reading that Proust's ROTP/ISOLT was the author/book most often cited in the Chicago Trib over the course of a recent year. But I bet I don't know 5 people who have even read part of it.

Similarly, how many people refer to Joyce, even using "Joycean" as an adjective, who have never read anything by him?

Or has any book been bought more and read less than Hawking's Brief History of Time?

(Guess a cynical person might include The Bible...)

pldennison
08-31-2001, 11:15 AM
I would bet that most people who use the phrase, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" have not read a single page of Voltaire.

Maeglin
08-31-2001, 11:17 AM
I've read my share of Voltaire, but I have no friggin' clue where he supposedly said it.

Or whether he was being ironic or not.

Dinsdale
08-31-2001, 11:28 AM
I may well be wrong, but my understanding was that tho this is often attributed to Voltaire, it does not actually appear in his writings.
Which, upon re-reading, does not necessarily run against anything in pl's post. For example, I'll bet most people who say "Would you like fries with that" have not read Voltaire either. :)

obfusciatrist
08-31-2001, 11:32 AM
Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville would be my nomination.

Dinsdale
08-31-2001, 11:57 AM
How bout Macchiavelli?
And The Prince is only, what, 50 pages long?

lucie
08-31-2001, 12:01 PM
And Dante. How many people have ready any of the Divine Comedy (or think it is a John Waters film)?

Confession - I've read very little past "Inferno", although it's on my list of things to do.

WEW
08-31-2001, 12:04 PM
(Guess a cynical person might include The Bible...)


I don't think of myself as cynical, but that probably is pretty high on the list.

Akatsukami
08-31-2001, 12:06 PM
Originally posted by Dinsdale
How bout Macchiavelli?
And The Prince is only, what, 50 pages long?
Possibly related to the fact that more than 95% of Machiavelli's work is unknown except to academic specialists.

gobear
08-31-2001, 12:08 PM
(smacks self on forehead)
What an idiot I am! I went ahead and read Ulysses, In Search of Lost Time, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Divine Comedy (OK, it was a college assignment, but I read it). I shoulda just faked reading them!

Maeglin
08-31-2001, 12:08 PM
Possibly related to the fact that more than 95% of Machiavelli's work is unknown except to academic specialists.

...and 95% of his work is generally believed to be of much higher quality than The Prince.

Pyrrhonist
08-31-2001, 12:10 PM
Originally posted by Dinsdale
The mention of Joyce and Proust in another thread got me thinking, what is the author - or specific work - that is referred to far more than it is actually read?

For example, I recall reading that Proust's ROTP/ISOLT was the author/book most often cited in the Chicago Trib over the course of a recent year. But I bet I don't know 5 people who have even read part of it.

Similarly, how many people refer to Joyce, even using "Joycean" as an adjective, who have never read anything by him?

Or has any book been bought more and read less than Hawking's Brief History of Time?

(Guess a cynical person might include The Bible...)


Well, I've read Swann's Way from ROTP. I think it was Harlin Ellison who said, or least he was quoting someone else, “You have to be over forty to enjoy Proust.” I was thirty-five or –six, but I can nonetheless highly recommend it. If you’ve read all the volumes, then that is quite an achievement. I know nobody who has done it.

As for Joyce, I’ve read Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses. Finnegans Wake is more problematic. Who knows if I’ll ever attempt it.


A Brief History of Time is rather easy to understand for all the complex issues it deals with. It was written for the non-physicist, after all.

I haven’t done so well with the Bible. Genesis, Amos, and Ecclesiastes for the OT. Just John for the NT.

Originally posted by pldennison


I would bet that most people who use the phrase, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" have not read a single page of Voltaire.


Are you excluding Candide? Isn’t that still a standard?

Originally posted by obfusciatrist

Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville would be my nomination.


:eek:

I’ve cracked the cover in Borders once, then put it back on the shelf.


For a little light reading, I think there are two heavy-duty German novels that not many folk read:

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann and The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. (Actually, I read the first 60 or 80 pages of MWOQ before setting it aside.)

Mighty Maximino
08-31-2001, 12:15 PM
Hmm, I'm not sure if this is what you're after, but I think Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. I see references to it in many scholarly-type articles, but I know only a very few people that have ever finished the whole thing.

Akatsukami
08-31-2001, 12:20 PM
Originally posted by Maeglin
Possibly related to the fact that more than 95% of Machiavelli's work is unknown except to academic specialists.

...and 95% of his work is generally believed to be of much higher quality than The Prince.
Much higher quality? Well, I don't know about that. Higher quality, certainly, although I don't know that we can say that much about Mandragola (we'll start a new thread for the debate over whether Machiavelli is to be mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare and Molière, yes?).

I will say (and I don't think that this idea is original to me) that it helps if we think of The Prince as a very long footnote to the The Discourses that (for Machiavelli's own reasons) got published separately.

Dinsdale
08-31-2001, 12:30 PM
I often see references to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, such as in books about frontier America.

Began it once but found it unreadably boring.

Podkayne
08-31-2001, 12:45 PM
How 'bout Origin of Species?

I've never read it either, except to page through bits, courtesy of Project Guttenburg.

Maeglin
08-31-2001, 12:49 PM
we'll start a new thread for the debate over whether Machiavelli is to be mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare and Molière, yes?).

Not real sure who's going to take that up. I certainly don't think he's on their level.

Higher quality, much higher quality, makes no difference to me. Just stating reported opinion.

Jeff
08-31-2001, 01:44 PM
Alexander Pope, perhaps?

I imagine few people who use the expressions "Too err is human, to forgive divine" and "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" have even the remotest clue where they come from. Most would probably attribute them to Shakespeare.

ruadh
08-31-2001, 01:49 PM
I'll put in a vote for Karl Marx.

astorian
08-31-2001, 02:10 PM
Great story that Mike Kinsley, the old New Republic editor once told: around 1986 or 1987, when Allan Bloom's "The CLosing of the American Mind" was a #1 best seller, he went to a bookstore and inserted his business card in numerous copies of that book, with a quick note promising a cash reward to whomever called him. Kinsley says he did the same thing to several other books that, he suspected, everybody was buying, and everybody was talking about, but nobody was really reading!

As it turned out, he never got a single call. I'm not surprised- I'm one of the few people who read Bloom's book cover to cover. A LOT of it is mighty dull stuff... and my hunch is, as soon as Bloom STOPPED talking about how much he hated rock music and moral relativism, and STARTED talking about Heidegger and Wittgenstein, most people just tuned out.

***

Other people who are much quoted but little read?

SANTAYANA tops the list. Everybody goes around saying "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it," but how many know ANYTHING more about Santayana? How many could name anything he wrote?

GERTRUDE STEIN. Everybody can misquote "a rose is a rose is a rose," or say "there's no there there." But how many people have actually read any Gertrude Stein?

ADAM SMITH. My fellow conservatives praise this book constantly, but I'd wager few have read it. And I don't blame them! This is a long, dry, dull, boring read. (I HAD to read it in college, and while I agreed with virtually everything Smith said, he got awfully tiresome in a hurry.)

Chez Guevara
08-31-2001, 02:14 PM
Originally posted by Jeff
Alexander Pope, perhaps?

I imagine few people who use the expressions "Too err is human, to forgive divine" and "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" have even the remotest clue where they come from. Most would probably attribute them to Shakespeare.


Pope has to be a contender. He gets 6 pages in the Oxford Dictionary Of Quotations. From whence comes this:

'A little learning is a dang'rous thing;'

An Essay On Criticism (1711)

PookahMacPhellimey
08-31-2001, 02:15 PM
Personally (and there's more people like me) I am forever quoting Oscar Wilde, but I have only read one novel and one play by him.

Then again, The Picture of Dorian Gray is almost consistently one quote after another, so I do not think Oscar would have minded too much. He kind of liked the oneliners.

One my faves (though there's lots of good ones):

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes"

WEW
08-31-2001, 02:40 PM
Mighty Maximino said

Hmm, I'm not sure if this is what you're after, but I think Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. I see references to it in many scholarly-type articles, but I know only a very few people that have ever finished the whole thing.

I've only met one person besides myself who heard of that book, let alone attempted to read it. I should find some smarter friends I guess.

I tried to read it in HS, but got bogged down in the Math about half way through.

I've been meaning to try again.

Ethilrist
08-31-2001, 03:00 PM
God.

magdalene
08-31-2001, 03:10 PM
I'd say the Bible, for starters. Lots of kids learn Bible quotes in Sunday school and have passages read to them during services, but I think few people really sit down and read the Bible from cover to cover and try to take it all in. When you do that you get a much more varied picture - rather than it feeling like "God's Lucid and Clear Word From Above" you see the incredible history and variety of writers, thinkers, and poets over thousands of years.

At my university it was a running joke that the people who had not read the book were the ones who commented on it most during class discussions. Based on those years alone I'd say John Stuart Mill, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and John Rawls are oft quoted but seldom read by political types.

I had to read On Liberty for 5 separate classes, write numerous papers on it, and 5 years later couldn't tell you a damn quote though.

Dinsdale
08-31-2001, 03:16 PM
Originally posted by magdalene
John Rawls

You'll never know
Another love like mine.

What a voice!
He wrote a book?!

magdalene
08-31-2001, 03:22 PM
Err...John Rawls the political philospher.

He is famous for A Theory of Justice, of which Amazon.com says:

Book Description
Since it appeared in 1971, John Rawls's A Theory of Justice has become a classic. The author has now revised the original edition to clear up a number of difficulties he and others have found in the original book. Rawls aims to express an essential part of the common core of the democratic tradition-justice as fairness-and to provide an alternative to utilitarianism, which had dominated the Anglo-Saxon tradition of political thought since the nineteenth century. Rawls substitutes the ideal of the social contract as a more satisfactory account of the basic rights and liberties of citizens as free and equal persons. "Each person," writes Rawls, "possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override." Advancing the ideas of Rousseau, Kant, Emerson, and Lincoln, Rawls's theory is as powerful today as it was when first published. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Dinsdale
08-31-2001, 03:26 PM
Yeah, but does he have his own website?
http://www.lourawls.com/final_frameset.html
(Gotta love the animated "thumbs up"!)

Katisha
08-31-2001, 04:03 PM
Originally posted by Pyrrhonist
Are you excluding Candide? Isn’t that still a standard?


Dammit! And here I thought I had carte blanche to quote that... ;)

I'd also add Paradise Lost to the list (wonder how many people learned "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven" from Star Trek? ;)), and perhaps Nietzsche and Ayn Rand.

Only tangentially related, because people do read Shakespeare ;) : there's Shakespeare's famous "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (from Henry VI, Part II), so often quoted without knowing the context: the line is spoken by a would-be tyrant (well, the right-hand man of a would-be tyrant).

Context is our friend. ;)

Sofa King
08-31-2001, 04:40 PM
Common Sense (http://www.bartleby.com/133/) and The Federalist Papers (http://memory.loc.gov/const/fedquery.html).

And, at least in my own case, the Principia Matematica.

obfusciatrist
08-31-2001, 05:08 PM
You actually walk around referencing Principia Matematica? How exactly does that come up in conversation?

I know of very few people who have actually read their copies of The Tao of Physics and Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance.

Just like everyboy alive in the 60s was at Woodstock and nobody voted for Reagan in 1984, I would say that not nearly as many people read Jack Kerouac's On the Road as claimed they did.

obfusciatrist
08-31-2001, 05:10 PM
Oh, an my personal one is Herodotus' The Histories. I wrote at least a half-dozen papers on that book in college and I've still never read more than two consecutive pages.

Wumpus
08-31-2001, 05:20 PM
I think Karl Marx would probably win the world-wide most-cited/least-read contest for the last 100 years.

He probably won't even make the top 50 in the next century, though.

betenoir
08-31-2001, 08:59 PM
Originally posted by Katisha
[QUOTE]
Only tangentially related, because people do read Shakespeare ;) : there's Shakespeare's famous "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (from Henry VI, Part II), so often quoted without knowing the context: the line is spoken by a would-be tyrant (well, the right-hand man of a would-be tyrant).

Context is our friend. ;)


Which brings to mind:

"If music be the food of love, play on."

often quoted as a joyful exhortation, when it's actually Duke Orsino totally miserable about being rejected by Olivia, and the rest of it is:

"Give me excess of it, that surfeiting
the appitite may sicken and so die."

Not exactly what you want on your Valentine anymore.

Chronos
08-31-2001, 10:54 PM
Quoth Mighty Maximino:
Hmm, I'm not sure if this is what you're after, but I think Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. I see references to it in many scholarly-type articles, but I know only a very few people that have ever finished the whole thing.Then again, most of the folks who refer to it have read it. And yes, I have read the whole thing.

Shakespeare may be more often read than Pope or the other contenders, but he's also cited far more often. I'd say that if we're looking for a ratio of cites to reads (or viewings, to be fair), then Bill's our man.

Derleth
09-01-2001, 01:00 AM
Originally posted by Mighty Maximino
Hmm, I'm not sure if this is what you're after, but I think Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. I see references to it in many scholarly-type articles, but I know only a very few people that have ever finished the whole thing.

I read the whole thing. Hell, it got to be a real page-turner, at least for a rather geeky guy like me. I still do propositional calculus whenever I have a pen, some paper, and too much free time. By the way, where do you see it referenced? I think I might want to devour a couple of those publications and/or books. :)

Originally posted by Ethilrist
God.

Who wrote that one? Was it (holy) ghost-written? I slay me. :D

Sofa King
09-01-2001, 10:45 AM
GEB: Does it count if I've read it, but don't understand it?

Lionors
09-01-2001, 06:00 PM
First choice of a work cited more than it's read would be Mein Kampf. Second would be Karl Marx's works, but that's been done.

Third, Goethe, Faust in particular.

Lionors
09-01-2001, 06:09 PM
On second thought, put me with the Shakespeare crowd, then the rest of what I had.

pesch
09-01-2001, 06:47 PM
You could expand this thread to include people who are not necessarily authors in the literary sense (that is, producing fiction.)

In the US, Thomas Jefferson gets quoted by both sides in the "Was the US founded on Christian principles?" question, and they certainly did not read anything by the man, including the Declaration of Independence.