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Reader’s Guilt; Toadstools

April 8, 2011 | by

I always tell people that my favorite book is Infinite Jest, and even though I haven’t gotten halfway through it, it’s still the best half of a book that I have ever read! Do you have any guilt from unread books floating around?

Hmm. You mean books I’ve started that, if the title of one should happen to come up in conversation, I’d nod, implying—without ever explicitly stating—that I’d read the whole thing? I can think of one or two. The Man Without Qualities, The Magic MountainUlyssesBlood Meridian, Molloy, Jane Eyre, Being and Nothingness, Being and Time, American Pastoral, The Recognitions, Gravity’s RainbowV.Vanity FairThe Education of Henry Adams, The Beautiful and Damned, The Satanic Verses, Underworld, The World as Will and Representation, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Hopscotch, Tristram Shandy, The Long Goodbye, The Hobbit, ShikastaContemptScaramouche, Watership Down, The Three Musketeers, and William Faulkner (pretty much opera omnia) spring to mind.

Dear Mr. Stein,

I have lately searched in vain for the right collective noun for toadstools and, in the absence of any viable candidates, have opted for sect, e.g., “a sect of toadstools.” May I in good conscience proceed? I trust your judgment. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Angus Trumble

We are not prescriptivists, here at The Paris Review. Over the years our house usage has wobbled between OK and okay, et cetera and its abbreviation—even (in the old, hot-type days) between one typeface and another ... in the space of a single issue. If you want to call a bunch of fungus by your own private collective noun, who are we to say no? Go crazy with that! I only worry that the plural may cause confusion.

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  1. Tyler Bigney | April 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Always entertaining.

  2. Evan | April 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    If it’s a collection of fungi that you want to label, perhaps you should call them a “party” as in “a party of toadstools.”

  3. Kevin R. | April 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I have a Shakespeare collection that I’ve never got around to reading.

    Lots of guilt there. Lots.

  4. Adam | April 10, 2011 at 2:53 am

    I’ve been working on “The Recognitions” for years, as well as “Doc” Humes’ “The Underground City.” I love them both though.

  5. josep rosanas | April 11, 2011 at 5:30 am

    In my case I could ask myself : What about the Bible ? Total guilt there and I am afraid a very common case…

  6. Georgia | April 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    For Angus Trumble’s question, I have two suggestions. The first is that, because “toadstool” is a catch-all word for many, many kinds of fungi and mushrooms and whatnot, there might not be a specific collective noun of the type you are hoping for. (Botanists don’t distinguish between toadstools and mushrooms even.) But the individual toadstools you wish to describe often have names good enough to not need a collective noun: Melon-hood, earth-puff, wolf’s-fist, man-fungus…I could go on.

    The second idea would be to follow Robert Browning, who favored “freaked fawn-colored flaky crew of toadstools”:

    By the rose-flesh mushrooms, undivulged
    Last evening—nay, in to-day’s first dew
    Yon sudden coral nipple bulged,
    Where a freaked fawn-colored flaky crew
    Of toad-stools peep indulged.

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