Tuesday, November 10, 2009

12 books/9 months

Everyone who knows me in real life understands that, while I may be a reader, I'm not much of a reader-of-classic-books. An old college professor once said I had an impressive breadth of knowledge of contemporary fiction and it's true - at the expense of the classics.

And that's always been fine with me. I could recite Baudelaire in French at 18, tell you the important American literary contributions of the 1930s and I once studied a blackboard in a classroom for 5 minutes then said "huh, I wonder whose class is reading Owen Meany..." And I'd kinda had enough of other people telling me what to read, so I went to college somewhere where I could pretty much do what I wanted and avoid reading the classics. A class in Victorian lit here, a little Romantic poetry there but pretty much unscathed.

I'm taking a break from all that now. I've set an ambitious reading project of 12 books to read by my next birthday, which is a big one. They're 12 great books, or 12 books by great authors and while it's certainly not an all inclusive list it does address some of the larger gaps in my education. I can't help but think of David Denby's book project, taking lit 101 classes at Columbia in his adulthood and feeling filled with the ideas of Machiavelli, Locket, Socrates, etc. etc. Will I feel anything differently reading these great texts? Will I come to understand our present time (writingwise or livingwise) in a different fashion? Will I still be the type of person who dislikes reading great books? Am I a type?

The list, in no particular order:
1. the canterbury tales/geoffrey chaucer
2. something by vladimir nabokov
3. middlemarch/ george eliot
4. walden/henry thoreau
5. a room of one's one/virginia woolf
6. don quixote /cervantes
7. ulysses/james joyce
8. anna karenina/leo tolstoy
9. something by william faulkner
10. something by charles dickens
11. moby dick/herman melville
12. robinson crusoe/daniel defoe


Calantha said...

Great Expectations is by far one of the best Dickens novels! I recommend it over all his others. Oliver Twist or David Copperfield would be my second recommendations. He has such a marvelous and poetic way of illustrating internal contemplation.

Julia said...

Your list is totally impressive. I would suggest Dubliners instead of Ulysses if you've never read either. It gets you used to Joyce's style without doing the research to understand his references. Faulkner is one of my favorite authors, and I would suggest Sanctuary or Absalom! Absalom! Both are very moving. A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite Dickens, but David Copperfield is good if you read it quickly. Also, Nabokov's Lolita is haunting and worth a read. Good luck, and if you want a 13th book, Flannery O'Connor's Wiseblood or anything by Eudora Welty are worth trying.

Anonymous said...

ambitious but EXCELLENT goal! some of my favorites on here (I'm totally the opposite, classics nerd only recently catching up on contemporary stuff).

Middlemarch is on my deserted island list, not only because it's so long (!) but because I truly respect George Eliot's breadth of composition, vision, & the social commentary she nestles into everything.

can I recommend Tale of Two Cities (if you haven't read it) or Great Expectations for the Dickens, and then Speak, Memory or Lolita for Nabokov?

okay, I'm totally geeking out here :) can't wait to hear more about this project, though...I'd love for you to post a parallel list of "contemporary classics," so I can edify myself likewise.

so much cake so little time said...

Thanks for all the support. Tales of 2 Cities and Great Expectations are each tied with 2 votes. Need a tiebreaker.

I have read Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist (for Joyce) and several Nabokov books (was thinking of Speak, Memory tho) and am a big fan of Flannery O, Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers (totally underrated in my mind).

I am also happy to post a list of 12 books/authors I might prefer to read in a given year to illustrate what a *stretch* this is...

MB said...

That's so fun! The only book I've read on your list is A Room of One's Own (I am the product of a liberal 1970's highschool education). I was 19. It was a life-changing book. In fact, I read some of it while working as an attendant at a change room of a department store....