A crash course in literature

Because I’m attempting to make up for years of lost reading (and a wasted college education that included no literary theory or world literature classes – no reading whatsoever aside from ancient Greek texts and education primers) and because I’m both incredibly anal and incredibly forgetful, I’ve been compiling a list of authors that I need to read in the next couple years.

I’m doing this for two reasons. One, I hate not knowing about an author that is apparently a big deal. Jonathan Franzen, for example, or Dostoevsky. I have huge gaps in my reading experience and I want to fill them fast.

Two, I like to read, and I’d like to have some sort of background – some measuring stick – to gauge other writers. I’d like to know first hand if Charles Dickens is worth the trouble. (And, as the first project on my list, I found he isn’t – he’s too wordy and incredibly complex. I enjoyed it, but who has the patience to wade through all of those superfluous commas? If I wanted to do that, I’d read my own writing.)

So, with that, I’ve scoured a series of sources: a co-worker who actually has some sort of degree in reading or literature or English or something, a handful of lists ranking the most important/best novels of the century/ever, a great book borrowed by the co-worker mentioned above called The Salon.com Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Authors, and a memorized selection of authors that I always thought I should read, but hadn’t.

All I’m looking to do is dabble in these authors’ works. Thankfully, I still have the Penguin Pockets 70th Anniversary Box Set – a collection that will give me a short 54 page snippet of many of these authors. But, regardless of what I read through that, I still have a list of novels – the best of the best, or the best of the suggested.

I plan on reading at least one per month. The reason for this schedule is that there are still books I want to read that won’t fall under this list. I’ll still end up with a group of 14-day loans that I’ll need to expedite my way through. But one a month – that’s doable. If I read three books a month, that leaves me two wild cards. I can read another from the “Required” list, or I could opt to read something different. That’s the beauty of it. This month (aside from the aforementioned Charles Dickens tome) will be the exception, as I’m finally finishing the Penguin Box. I’m killing two birds with one stone, I guess.

It will probably take me at least 3-4 years. But hey – I’ll never wonder “what should I read?” anymore.

Keep in mind – these are the authors (and the novels recommended/desired) that I haven’t read that I need to catch up on. If they’re not on this list, there’s a good chance I’ve read them already.

The Essentials – The Authors/Books I Need To Read

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
Jane Austin – Pride and Prejudice
Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot
Saul Bellow – Herzog
Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights
John Cheever – Falconer
Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness
Don DeLillo – White Noise
Philip K. Dick – Ubik
Feodov Dostoevsky – Notes from Underground
Ralph Ellison – The Invisible Man
Louise Erdrich – Love Medicine
William Faulkner – As I Lay Dying
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter
Ernest Hemmingway – The Sun Also Rises
Victor Hugo – Les Miserables
Henry James – The Wings of the Dove
James Joyce – Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Jack Kerouac – On the Road
Ken Kesey – One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
D. H. Lawrence – The Rainbow
Jonathan Lethem – Motherless Brooklyn
C.S. Lewis – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Sinclair Lewis – Babbitt
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude
Cormac McCarthy – Blood Meridian
Henry Miller – Tropic of Cancer
Toni Morrison – Beloved
Hakuri Murakami – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle
V. S. Naipaul – An Area of Darkness
Joyce Carol Oates – Will You Always Love Me?
Marcel Proust – Swann’s Way
Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow
Philip Roth – American Pastoral
Salman Rushdie – Midnight’s Children
Zadie Smith – White Teeth
Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace
John Updike – Rabbit Redux
Voltaire – Candide
David Foster Wallace – Oblivion
Tom Wolfe – The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test
Virginia Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway

This was lovingly handwritten on October 8th, 2006