Monday, August 4, 2008

My Summer Reading List

Before I begin, yes, I know it's August already. In fact, I am painfully aware that it is August already. But that shouldn't change the fact that it is never, never too late to put together your Summer reading list. Even if it means that your reading list is going to stretch into November, I still think that it is a healthy exercise in self discipline and goal setting. (As if I know anything about self discipline or goal setting...)

For as long as I can remember, which actually is not that very long, the magazines and news papers that I read have always had their ceremonial "Summer Books" issue, where someone who is (hopefully) literate and of good taste makes her or his recommendations about what it is that you should be reading during your dream Summer vacation. Of course, this all just makes me want to ask exactly why it is that Summer is the designated season for reading (just as it is also the designated season for going to the movies) and what, exactly, it is that we're all supposed to be doing during the Fall, Winter, and Spring. (Working?)
Nevertheless, countless publishers and publications continue to churn out various "must-read" lists for your beach-towel pleasure. And although it isn't exactly a "Summertime" kind of list - given that it doesn't have that "little light read" feel that I think your classic beach-read list is supposed to have - one of the most famous and consistently controversial of these lists is the Modern Library's Top 100 English Language Novels of the 20th Century. I remember when this list first came out, and also remember the heat that it took for being too conservative, favoring those novels written by dead white guys that you had to read in your English 101 class a little too heavily.

Two things struck me rather quickly upon re-reading this list: First, that it much, much better than the "Reader's List" submitted by the Modern Library's audience, and is displayed prominently next to the Board's List. Seriously, are these people for real?? L. Ron Hubbard and Ayn Rand account for seven of the top ten English novels of the 20th Century? Who on Earth gave the keys of the Asylum to the inmates? The second recognition is that I am not nearly well-read as I like to think of myself being. Of the Board's 100 novels, I have finished 12. Perhaps even more telling, I have started (but not finished) an additional 10.

So part of my Summer resolution is to knock a couple more of these novels off of my "to-read" list. I'm reading "The Golden Bowl" right now. Of course, there is a lot out there to read other than 20th Century English language novels. This is the first time in five years that I haven't picked out a Dostoevsky novel to read over the course of the entire Summer. I have fond memories of those midsummer reads; it's a very interesting thing to be reading about Raskolnikov freezing to death in his St. Petersburg apartment when it's ninety degrees outside and you're sipping an ice-cold Mirror Pond Pale Ale out on the deck.

In the same vein, R.A. has this list of "the very long book list" on her blog. The rules are simple: Bold means you've finished the book. Italicized means you started it but not finished it. You can strike through a book, if you think it doesn't belong on the list, although the only books that I feel that way about are ones that I haven't yet opened, so I guess I'll reserve judgment for now.

The Aeneid
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
American Gods
Anansi Boys
Angela’s Ashes : A Memoir
Angels & Demons
Anna Karenina
Atlas Shrugged
The Blind Assassin
Brave New World
The Brothers Karamazov
The Canterbury Tales
The Catcher in the Rye
A Clockwork Orange
Cloud Atlas
Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Confusion
The Corrections
The Count of Monte Cristo
Crime and Punishment
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
David Copperfield
Don Quixote
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Fountainhead
Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
The God of Small Things
The Grapes of Wrath
Gravity’s Rainbow
Great Expectations
Gulliver’s Travels
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
The Historian : A Novel
The Hobbit
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Iliad
In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences
The Inferno
Jane Eyre
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
The Kite Runner
Les Misérables
Life of Pi : A Novel
Love in the Time of Cholera
Madame Bovary
Mansfield Park
Memoirs of a Geisha
The Mists of Avalon
Moby Dick
Mrs. Dalloway
The Name of the Rose
Northanger Abbey
The Odyssey
Oliver Twist
On the Road
The Once and Future King
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Oryx and Crake : A Novel
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Poisonwood Bible : A Novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Pride and Prejudice
The Prince
Reading Lolita in Tehran : A Memoir in Books
The Satanic Verses
The Scarlet Letter
Sense and Sensibility
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Silmarillion
The Sound and the Fury
The Tale of Two Cities
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
The Three Musketeers
The Time Traveler’s Wife
To the Lighthouse
Treasure Island
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Vanity Fair
War and Peace
Watership Down
White Teeth
Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Wuthering Heights
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : An Inquiry Into Values

On a strangely related note, the Chicago Summer rain is now falling so hard that it is coming through our windows and causing some pretty serious water damage to some of our books, including the Aeneid and the Brothers Karamazov. I better get reading before the flood comes...

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