People sometimes act as though owning books you haven’t read constitutes a charade or pretense, but for me, there’s a lovely mystery and pregnancy about a book that hasn’t given itself over to you yet — sometimes I’m the most inspired by imagining what the contents of an unread book might be.
According to my goodreads.com list, I’ve read 305 books in my life. (But who can remember every book they read?) I am 41 years old. Let’s do the math (English major math)….305 books in 41 years….I own over 2,500 books…i have an amazon.com wish list of books with another 600 books….I have three or four books I’m waiting for from the digital download library…..that’s a shit load of books…If I live another 41 years and can only read 305 of them, I think it’s high time I start making smarter, more selective, reading choices.
Granted…there is the chance I could read more books in the future than I have in the past. My list thus far isn’t all inclusive because there is the absence of the (at least) 100 romance novels I read in high school. I can’t remember the title of any of those….Nor can I remember the books from my childhood that earned me certificates and ribbons for having read 100 books that school year. I remember going to the mobile library and getting some…I remember a stack by the couch. But I don’t remember the books.
And maybe that is par for the course for me. I think to this day I surround myself with stacks of books, remembering more about where I bought them and how they feel and what I think they’re about then I devote to actually reading them. I’m like someone with a butterfly collection. I just like looking at them and anticipating how great they’ll be when I get around to them…so it’s no wonder I remember the book mobile more than the books….
What I’m left with, in looking at my goodreads “read” list, is this disappointment, not only in the low number of “read” books but also in the quality of the books. There are so many “great” books that I’ve not read yet. So many sitting on my shelves that I push to the side in order to read some current suggested book or something that catches my eye in a review or something overly hyped online or something I THINK I can read very quickly, but usually can’t.
So….with this mind, I am looking ahead to next years goodreads.com challenge. Every year it seems I keep trying to up my goal in numbers. I started the first year with 20 for my goal for the year…then moved it up this year, the second year, to 40 (was 50 but I couldn’t do it)….and at first my temptation was to up it to 75 for 2013. Logically that seems idiotic considering 50 wasn’t reachable in 2012 but that’s the point in creating challenges for yourself…extending your reach….However, after looking at my past reads, I’ve decided on a new course for my 2013 goal….Instead of focusing so much on improving my numbers, I want to work on the quality….It’s too easy to set a goal of 50 books then read the shortest books (or even graphic novels) that you can find…It gets to the point that I’d even count a restaurant menu just to up my numbers….SO this year numbers be damned….my reading goal is going to be FIVE books. Only FIVE. BUT (and this is a big but)…the FIVE “greatest” novels of all time.
So what are those?
Who’s idea of best or greatest do I go with?
TIME magazine has a list of the 100 best since 1923, but they list them alphabetically, not from highest to lowest.
Modern Library has the top five as follows:
1. Ulysses by James Joyce (a novel I’ve avoided for a long time)
2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (read this one)
3. A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (read part of this one)
4. Lolita by Nabokov (read this one)
5. Brave New World by A. Huxley (want to read)
I like the list from Novel 100: Ranking the greatest novels of all time:
|1||Don Quixote||1605, 1630||Miguel de Cervantes||Catholic|
|2||War and Peace||1869||Leo Tolstoy||Russian Orthodox|
|3||Ulysses||1922||James Joyce||Catholic (lapsed)|
|4||In Search of Lost Time||1913-27||Marcel Proust||Jewish Catholic|
|5||The Brothers Karamazov||1880||Feodor Dostoevsky||Russian Orthodox|
But I think what’s really interesting is the 100 best novels, as voted by 125 authors….They list the top ten books of the 20th century as:
TOP TEN WORKS OF THE 20TH CENTURY
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
- Ulysses* by James Joyce
- Dubliners* by James Joyce
But I’ve read Lolita…and The Great Gatsby…so maybe I will replace those two with the top two from their top ten of the 19th century list:
- Anna Karenina* by Leo Tolstoy
- Madame Bovary* by Gustave Flaubert
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- The stories of Anton Chekhov
And what about the rest of the 19th century list? I am more interested in it personally than the top five:
6.Middlemarch* by George Eliot
7.Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
8. Great Expectations* by Charles Dickens
9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
10. Emma* by Jane Austen
And what about the books I think might be great to me? What about the works of Maugham or Fowles? What about all those Graham Greene novels I haven’t read yet? What about the big French existential stuff? What about….ugh….Okay…let’s do this…let’s just pick from the ones listed above a top five…here’s what I’ll read:
1. Ulysses (because it comes up a lot and I’d love to say I’ve read it but I might not survive trying to read it)
2. Moby Dick (because my friend S. Craig Renfroe loves it and mostly I trust his judgement…mostly…)
3. Crime and Punishment (I’ve started it a few times….I love the writer…I think I’d love the book)
4. Madame Bovary
5. In Search of Lost Time (because I’ve always wanted to read it since supposedly Proust can change your life, but am intimidated by how it goes on and on and on)
So…is this even possible? Just looking at this list scares the shit out of me. I’m not sure what order I will read them. I am most afraid of Ulysses. I am most looking forward to Crime and Punishment. I’m sad to think of all the other books I’ll have to overlook this coming year in order to read these two ton giants.