Partly you're excused by the issue of time. In the early 19th century, it might just have been possible for a sprightly reader with bags of leisure time to whizz through all the great novels that had ever been written. In the early 21st century, it's an impossibility. Mainly though, you're excused by the fact that there's no novelist out there so essential that an unfamiliarity with his work represents a crime against taste and good judgment. All I mean is that once you've had a reasonable grounding in sufficient "proper" literature to form your taste, you should never again read a book out of duty. Far too many of the (depressingly few) novel-readers I know do, though. They feel compelled to read the must-read new literary prizewinner; the must-read new, vibrant-insight-into-remote-foreign-culture novel. They have this idea in their heads, instilled from having to revere the classics at school, that literature is a lofty thing, that the best writing is fine writing or stuff they don't quite understand or feels slightly hard work. But if you don't read any must-read books, I promise you won't be missing anything. First, it's because must-read books .. are just never, ever, EVER as good as the critics say they are. Second it's because there is no such thing as a perfect novel.
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