Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Well read.

I don't know about you, but when it comes to reading, I go through phases wherein I either read everything I can get my hands on, or practically nothing at all. A few years ago, I was in the "read everything" phase, and discovered some books that become all-time favorites. Books like A Confederacy of Dunces, The Known World, The Life of Pi, Atonement, Middlesex, The Corrections, and everything by Jane Austen (especially Sense and Sensibility), Then, for whatever reason, I stopped reading anything other than the occasional magazine or article discovered online.

My reading picked up a bit last summer - Cormac McCarthy's The Road was incredible, Everyman was enlightening in it's way, and Gilead felt like a Fourth of July Iowa picnic. But once the holidays came around and other interests grabbed ahold of me, reading fell again to the wayside.

Lately, I feel my phase is shifting back into reader mode. A friend recommended Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth to me a couple of months ago, and it kick-started my dormant need for literary stimulation. The novel itself is over a thousand pages long, and I think that's partially what helped get me going - if I could read this, after so long a break, I could read just about anything I damn well pleased. Once I started reading the story of 12th century people with dreams of building a cathedral, I didn't want to put it down. Some parts were a bit melodramatic, and I wouldn't give it any awards or anything, but all and all, it was a good, fun, interesting read that I'd recommend to anyone who likes historical fiction mixed with soap opera.

I followed that one up with Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Ah, now this was a book. You know how there are lines in some books that make you want to grab a pen and underline them because they are so great, or meaningful, or poetic, or just plain good? Nearly every line in this book was like that for me. It was like reading poetry in novel form. On top of that, the story was beautiful, the characters were both real and fantastic, and - the mark of all truly great books for me - I was sad to have to leave the characters when it was over.

But leave them I must, and have since turned my attention to March by Geraldine Brooks. Confession time: I honestly can't remember if I read Little Women, or if I just saw the movie. I have the book, I know the story and the characters, but Winona Ryder and Claire Danes keep seeping into my brain. Anyway, this one is the story of Mr. March, the absent father from Alcott's original tale, and of his struggles as an abolitionist, chaplain, and vegetarian in an age where everything is coated in bacon grease. I'm almost finished with it, and so far, it's very enjoyable.

So - I'm back in reading mode, and have been fortuitous enough to come across a list of 1001 (fiction) Books That You Must Read Before You Die. To accompany it, I've discovered the 1% Well-Read Challenge, the goal of which is to read 10 books in 10 months from the list. Here's what' I've read from the list thus far:

  • The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan

  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel

  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  • The Cider House Rules by John Irving

  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

  • interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Keesey

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin

  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens

  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau

  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

  • Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

  • Persuasion by Jane Austen

  • Emma by Jane Austen

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

  • The Interesting Narrative by Olaudah Equiano

  • Candide by Voltaire

  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

  • Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

Wow - I've read more of them than I thought.

I should finish March tonight, and when I do, I'll start on another one from the list. Decisions, decisions...

P.S. I'm including Little Women in my list because I'm more than 50% sure I actually read it.

P.P.S. I'm sad to see that my all-time favorite stories from childhood aren't on this list: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeon Burnett and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Those are so worth reading.


  1. Thanks for showing me that awesome list of books to read! Now I have to figure out which ones I have read and then start reading some of the others. Thanks!

  2. Great post, I'm totally going to check out the websites you mentioned. I'll be curious to see if I've read very many! hhmm.

    And, I'm right there with you about The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables. Both books made powerful impressions on me as a child. I was raised by a series of families, so I very much understood what it was like to be an orphan. Did you hear about how a first edition of Anne of Green Gables sold for nearly $25,000 last year at Sotheby's? Made be happy!