Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Did you say it? Make a plan. Set a goal. Work toward it. But every now and then look around.

Sometimes I feel like there are so many books that I haven't read. And sometimes I feel like all the books that I haven't read are big books -- not big as in size but big as in big deal. Sometimes this really embarrasses me, because I feel like as an English professor, I should definitely at some point have read all of the big deal books.

Combine that feeling with the feeling that I get sometimes that I don't read fantastic books. -- Don't get me wrong! I read some fantastic and amazing books that I have certainly loved. -- But sometimes I read 2 or 3 or even 4 sort of duds in a row, and I start to feel like wow, I just want some good books in my life.

And so, not fully knowing where to turn, I start seeking out lists. Lists of the top 100 books, lists of the books you should read, should have read, everyone has read, etc.

On Smart People Podcast, I heard an interview with Kevin Smokler who wrote a book called Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School.

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I checked out the book from the library and decided it would be a good place to start, because it has all kinds of big deal books that are commonly taught, but he's also chosen ones that still have some kind of resonance or value for adults. So I went through the book and made a list of all the books he highlights that I have never read. This book list is now my goal for a while.

I'm including the list below. Obviously I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing as I post my reviews. If you see something on the list that is absolutely not worth my time, please please please let me know.

The List:
1. Candide -- Voltaire (Click here for my review)
2. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter -- McCuller
3. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings -- Angelou (Click here for my review)
4. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven -- Alexie (Click here for my review)
5. Autobiography of Malcolm X
6. The Age of Innocence -- Wharton
7. Surfacing -- Atwood
8. The Handmaid's Tale -- Atwood (Click here for my review)
9. Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Dick
10. Labyrinths -- Borges
11. The Bell Jar -- Plath
12. Portnoy's Complaint -- Roth
13. Cannery Row -- Steinbeck
14. And the Band Played On -- Shilts
15. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again -- Wallace (Click here for my review)
16. Master Harold... and the Boys -- Fugard
17. Fahrenheit 451 -- Bradbury (Click here for my review)
18. The Metamorphosis -- Kafka (Click here for my review)
19. The Phantom Tollbooth -- Juster
20. Camp -- Sontag
21. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction -- Benjamin
22. Understanding Media -- McLuhan
23. The Stranger -- Camus
24. The Lottery -- Jackson (Click here for my review)
25. Bastard Out of Carolina -- Allison
26. Leaves of Grass -- Whitman
27. Emily Dickinson (Yeah, Smokler doesn't give something specific here, so I'll probably just go with a "Collected Works" or something. Needs more research).
28. The Day of the Locust -- West
29. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek -- Dillard
30. The Things They Carried -- O'Brien (Click here for my review)
31. Animal Farm -- Orwell (Click here for my review)
32. The Crying of Lot 49 -- Pynchon
33. The Remains of the Day -- Ishiguro

These are in no particular order, and I'll read them in any order. For the moment, I've started just by looking at the beginning of the list and searching to see what I can check out as an ebook from the library. So I'm starting with The Handmaid's Tale and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.


  1. Hmm there probably is a lot of pressure as an english professor, but you should rest assured you have easily read more books than probably 98 percent of the population and I would consider you a pretty good go to source on popular and classic literature.

    I've only heard of about half those books, and probably only read about 5 on the list. So, I'll be intrigued to see which are the stand outs.

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