Recently came to mind, browsing in “Cafe Society” archives: Robert Graves’s historical novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Broadly, I like historical fiction: have encountered much that is very good, said / written about these novels, but have never so much as opened them. Can ascribe not having done so – precisely – to something which I acknowledge as stupid in the extreme.
At age 18, I landed up as an undergraduate at a prestigious British university, where I felt in every way unhappily out of my depth. There was a college-mate of mine there, at least a year senior to me, whom I knew slightly: he was clearly very highly intelligent, but had seemed to me a quiet, unassuming, pleasant sort. One day, though, I happened to be sitting at lunch with this guy and a few others. The conversation happened to touch on Graves, and I mentioned that I hadn’t read his “Claudius” books, and thought I maybe should. This fellow responded, in a tone of voice which positively dripped condescending scorn: “You don’t read Graves for the “Claudius” stuff; you read him for The White Goddess and the poetry.”
I was then very adolescently-self-conscious about not coming up to scratch intellectually and aesthetically; his comment made me want to crawl off into a dark corner and die – and convinced me that my even touching Graves’s “Claudius” novels, was out of the question. That was some 45 years ago, when I was a callow and impressionable kid; but for many years after that, I recoiled automatically from even thinking of opening the books concerned. I still have never done so – despite having long concluded “with my head”, that “Mr. You-don’t-read” was doing a supercilious-prick power-play, and there’s no earthly reason for me not to try the “Claudius” novels.
Am I uniquely silly / neurotic / whatever, in having eschewed this material for so long, and for so little cause; or have other participants here, behaved in a broadly similar – and similarly irrational – way, regarding avoidance of generally “well-spoken-of” fiction: individual books, or author’s entire output?