Well, She Reads ClassicsDecember 4, 2008 at 6:23 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 14 Comments
If there’s one thing I admire, it’s the snappy comeback. When I’m on the receiving end of a cutting remark, my reaction is awe, gratitude, and relief – awe at the lightning delivery and its brilliance, gratitude that the person possessing this rapier wit cares enough to bestow such a gem on me, and relief that I’m not the one who made the remark. The majority of the time when some sharp statement has sprung out of my mouth, it’s popped out before I realized I was saying it, and I’ve landed in some pretty hot water because of it. I’ve made a major effort to try to keep my big mouth shut more often, which is part of why a certain amount of sarcasm slips out into the blog here. But I digress.
My good friend Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? got me with a good one yesterday. We were talking about my new inspiration/rival/hopefully new best friend over at 200 Books. I gloated that I’d read that many books by mid-July. She snapped back, “Well, she reads classics.”
It burns! It burns!
Now, I truly could not care less that I’ve read more books than someone else. It would be awfully lonely if I only hung out with people who read as much as I do, or only the same books. A party of one, most likely. I think I had that figured out back in grade school. So my reaction upon hearing that another gal is reading 200 books this year was pure excitement. Her website is gorgeous, she writes beautifully, and quite frankly her life story is more interesting than mine. Mainly, though, she was smart enough to choose a list of books she wanted to read this year and methodically go through it. I didn’t even put together a blog until July, and that was only because Trish talked me into it. To sum up, Mandi = cool, Jessica = needs improvement.
That being said, the arrowhead still penetrated. I felt like suddenly I had something to prove. Sure, I could have read Harlequin romance novels all year, and if I had, I might have hit 500 already. I could have grabbed a couple grocery stacks of them out of my mom’s closet and been off to a great start. Though I hadn’t made any sort of reading plan this year, I believed I had been reading worthy books, and sometimes even challenging books, like Finnegans Wake, East of Eden, and Tree of Smoke. I felt a little crushed, and regretful that I hadn’t made better use of my reading time. I wanted to know what an organized, persistent person might have read in the same 339 days that I’ve had so far this year.
The famed 200 books are from the Everyman’s library. Again, I bowed to my superior, as she bought her books and supported the publishing industry while I cadged mine from the library, supporting… my habit. I copied and pasted the list into my spreadsheet (about which no more – it’s embarrassing) and highlighted the titles I’d read. To my surprise, I hit 47%. I smacked my forehead over a few titles, wondering why on earth I hadn’t read them yet. (Busy reading stuff like Twilight, I suppose). Some of the titles seemed somewhat arbitrary to me, though; why did David Copperfield make the list and not A Tale of Two Cities, which I’d read? Or Dubliners instead of Finnegans Wake? The Mill on the Floss instead of Middlemarch? This Side of Paradise instead of The Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night? I felt like I’d been reading all the wrong books by all the right authors.
I also felt like I had to meet this person. Obviously we both cared about keeping the classics alive and promoting cultural pursuits. We both loved to read and wished we had more time for it. We both wanted to make the most of our reading experience. She was just doing better at it than I was.
So this is in the nature of a little wave hello – and an offering, in case any of these lists look appetizing to others besides me. (You can look through my LibraryThing list, but if you did then you’d see how many self-help books I’ve read over the years).
The Modern Library 100 Best Novels, Board’s List: 35%
The Modern Library 100 Best Novels, Reader’s List: 47%
The Pulitzer Prize (fiction): 18%
The Man Booker Prize: 14%
Booker Short List: 11%
The National Book Award (fiction): 7%
NBA Short List: 10%
100 That Shaped World History: 41% (scroll to the bottom)
Entertainment Weekly New Classics (Books): 34%
Oprah’s Book Club: 26%
And in the spirit of self-mockery, here is a little couplet by the inestimable Robertson Davies:
Art and snobbery, art and snobbery
Go together like a highway and robbery.