Awhile ago, our Melanie came up with a thoughtful reading plan to take herself systematically through several classic novels.
Full of more enthusiasm than common sense, I vowed to join her. I was already absolutely swamped with activities and other reading commitments that year, which is doubtless why the idea of reading for pleasure made me so giddy.
I succeeded in reading exactly zero (naught, nil, nada, zip) books off her list, and provided exactly zero (naught, nil, nada, zip) support to her in this exciting endeavour.
I'm sorry, Melanie. I know better than to make emotion-fueled promises (My favorite authors! A friend! Books! Yes! Whatever you just said, a thousand times, yes!) but I still do it sometimes, anyway.
Last week as I lay in bed reading People magazine on my cell phone while Bob slept soundly next to me, I realized two things:
(1) For the first time in years, I do not have any existing reading commitments, and
(2) Without a reading plan in place, I might fritter away my entire year reading celebrity gossip. (Reese Witherspoon had her baby!)
So I've done gone and got me a reading plan. Yep.
What I did was to start perusing the three following "Best Novels Ever" lists:
The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time by Robert McCrum at The Observer
100 Best Novels by The Modern Library (I used both the Board's List and the Reader's List)
All-Time 100 Novels since 1923 by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo at Time
I didn't choose these lists because I believe it is possible to come up with an objective, empirical list of "best novels ever". I also didn't choose these lists because I agreed with them. I chose them because when I Googled "best novels" these came up in the first (credible) results. They gave me a good framework and some boundaries to work with.
Each list is flawed in its own way, but it was interesting to see how many novels landed on all three lists: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and To Kill a Mockingbird come to mind.
As I thought about how to organize my list, it dawned on me that there are 26 letters in the alphabet, and 52 weeks in the year.
So these were my first tidy thoughts:
(1) I would only choose books off the three lists referenced above, because that gave me some boundaries and assured I wouldn't only read books by Jane Austen and the Brontes. :)
(2) The list would be in alphabetical order by title, and I would read the books in that order.
(3) My list would consist of 52 books, with two books beginning with each letter of the alphabet (26x2=52), and I would read at the mathematically pleasing pace of one book per week.
(4) I would not read any book I'd already read.
I quickly realized, however, that this plan was not realistic, and therefore doomed to failure.
I cannot read a novel a week. Some books are long (hello, Count of Monte Cristo) and some weeks are busy (hello, Christmas).
Some letters of the alphabet are short on classic book titles (X and Q, although you could cheat and call Don Quixote a "Q", but I didn't want to start cheating because that's a slippery slope, although I did kind of cheat with To Kill a Mockingbird, because that's technically a "T" since "To" is not an article, but I made it a "K" anyway ... are you following me? Hello?)
And although I've read several of these books before (I have Jane Eyre, Emma, and Wuthering Heights memorized, for instance, while Watership Down, Gone with the Wind, and Robinson Crusoe are vague memories from my teens and twenties), I should reread some of them, precisely because I really love them, or because I don't remember them, or because I kind of remember them but want to see how age has changed my perceptions.
Also, I felt strongly that I should WANT to read every title ... no "shoulds" because they were "important" or because they started with a trickier letter (I'm looking at you, Ulysses).
So then I came up with a more realistic plan:
(1) The list is in alphabetical order by title, and I will read the books in that order. (Some letters have more than two titles, to make up for the dearth of options when you get to the end of the alphabet.)
(2) I only chose books off the three lists referenced above, because that gave me some boundaries and assured I wouldn't only read books by Jane Austen and the Brontes. :)
(3) I have given myself two weeks per book. Some will take less time and some will take more time, but the plan is to finish the list in two years.
Here's my list of 52-books-in-2-years-God-willing-and-creek-don't-rise.
Feel free to join me if you mean it, and also if you don't mean it. (My favorite authors! A friend! Books! Yes! Whatever you just said, a thousand times, yes!)
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Dune by Frank Herbert
Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Emma by Jane Austen
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Lord of the Rings (#1-3) by JRR Tolkien
Light in August by William Faulkner
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Native Son by Richard Wright
1984 by George Orwell
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparks
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
The 39 Steps by John Buchan
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Ubik by Philip K. Dick
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Yarrow by Charles DeLint
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
I should mention that we're reading The Hobbit out loud as a family right now. But that isn't daily.
If this works, I will do it again, but use different lists next time. I've made a little form so that I can do a little book review on each book for you. :) And I'll make a little list of them over in the right sidebar. Alrighty, All the King's Men. Ready, set, GO!