Well, She Reads Classics

December 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 WakeThe Mill on the Floss instead of MiddlemarchThis 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%

Time‘s All-Time 100 Best Novels: 38%

100 That Shaped World History: 41% (scroll to the bottom)

Entertainment Weekly New Classics (Books): 34%

The Top 10: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books: 26%

Oprah’s Book Club: 26%

Amazon.com Editor’s Picks Top 100 Books of 2008: 30%

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.



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  1. I’m equal parts jealously sycophantic and arrogantly self-assured. “She reads more than me!” “My books are longer on average (425 pages)!” “She’s funnier!” “I read classics!” I think we could be best friends…I have a hard time just finding people that will read, or accept a challenge to read more. A 400-book-a-year-gal? Sounds too good to be true.

  2. “She reads children’s books!” …Wait… I read children’s books too…

    Next year I have big plans to try to read more classics. Do you want to challenge each other?

  3. Modern Library Board’s List: 26%
    Modern Library Reader’s List: 24%
    The Pulitzer Prize Fiction: 14%
    100 that shaped world history: 48% (Phew!)
    Time’s All Time 100 Best Novels: 25%

    So…you’ve read more than me! Good work on all these lists! I didn’t have time to check them all but I think it’s pretty obvious I’m behind, especially with 20th century stuff.

    I’m impressed by how much time you devote to reading. I’m pretty dedicated but more than one book a day is amazing. I’m sure you hear that all the time though 😉

    Wait…how old are you? Maybe I can rescue my self-respect by resorting to my relative youth? Maybe?

    Here’s to friendly rivalry! I’ll be working on my 2009 reading project soon…a little competition sound fun? Mutual challenge? Let me know if you have any ideas.

  4. We should chat. Are you on Facebook or Gmail?

  5. I love it. Watching your exchange has me smiling. While I’m not in the 200-books-a-year club (I’ll likely not make 100 for 2008, my first year ever keeping track), I do want to be intentional about what I read and enrich myself (and others?) by my reading. I was just musing about this, perhaps it’s time to go post it.

  6. I’m 33 as of July. I’ve always devoted a lot of time to reading because it’s my great passion in life. It helps, though, that I live alone and I don’t have a TV.

    Or internet, at home at least.

    We should totally do a mutual challenge, and we can involve our readers too. I’d be open to reading anything off any of those lists – or pretty much anything, really.

  7. Hi! I’m a fan of Mandi’s but never thought of being jealous of her! I’m a classics lover, but some of the books on her list are dubious classics. I think she would agree with me now that she’s read them. Thanks her to insightful posts I don’t have to go through the self-inflicted pain of reading them.

  8. Self-inflicted pain – so true! Sometimes it seems like a better idea to just whomp oneself in the head with a book several times than to read it. I’ll never get back the time I spent reading “The Fountainhead”…

  9. You’re so funny. If only I’d thought of the line, “You don’t eat food. You eat stuff that goes with food!”

    Here’s to witty remarks and snappy comebacks! (and while you’re much better at both than I am, I’m glad to know I can best you once in a while)


  10. Ha! You have five years on me! Now I feel better for being behind you in the “Greatest” lists. Ok…not much better…

    I’m totally up for a mutual challenge. I’ll be blogging about some of the things I want to read next year in the next day or so and after that I’ll be better able to decide on a good challenge. I’m new to the book blogging world this year so I’m just realizing how many challenges are out there. Let’s do something both fun and serious.

  11. Wow! It’s amazing that anyone in her twenties would have the time or inclination to read through the classics. I was 30 before I started reading the newspaper regularly… It seems like the impetus to read the classics is more likely to develop in the middle-aged. By the time we’re that age, we’ll have read everything already!

  12. And then we can settle down, get crotchety, and start telling those young’uns what it’s all about!

  13. “When I was young, I read in the snow, uphill both ways!”

  14. Exactly!

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