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