Now, I'm not one for resolutions, never have been. I've always thought it was a little silly to put off starting something new until an arbitrary calendar date. I mean, what if you got hit by a bus on December 29th? Maybe if you had started jogging earlier, you would've gotten out of the way. But I digress.
This is about starting something new by reading more than a few old things. I find myself looking at 2008 with a resolution in mind. Well, let's call it a plan. That sits better. So, the plan, then, is to read one “great” book a month for the entire year and write about them as I go.
Of course, that begs a question, doesn't it?
While ‘great’ is a ludicrously subjective word, I mean to look at books set squarely in the western literary canon. I'm looking for books that I haven’t read, with either an author or a title whose name you say in capital letters. You know, SHAKESPEARE, DICKENS, DON QUIXOTE, books that we were all assigned to read in school and for which most of us promptly went out and bought the Cliff’s Notes.
Nevertheless, there are just certain pieces of literature that you have to say with that sort of emphasis. I am fully aware that I will most likely end up spending the year in the confines of the Dead White Man’s club, but something about certain books has created a reputation which has elevated the work beyond the everyday. I think that's what I'm most curious about in this project. How did ‘great’ books become that way? Is the reputation still deserved? After all, if a piece of art no longer speaks to an audience, is it worth keeping around?
Another motivation for this plan is the slightly nagging feeling that I can’t really consider myself literate if I have at least taken a crack at the traditional stuff. Generally speaking, my tastes run towards the esoteric, in both modern and ancient literature. I prefer swimming in the quiet tributaries and back bays rather than the main stream, as it were. My scholarly studies took me into the realm of ancient hero stories, while my reading these days has more to do with imaginary worlds or odd corners of history than anything else. The problem with this preference is that it leaves me feeling somewhat out of the loop. As both a student and now a teacher, my life is something like working at a movie theatre and never seeing a Spielberg or Jerry Bruckheimer production. Hence, the plan.
Something by Dickens
Machiavelli's The Prince
The Picture of Dorian Grey, by Oscar Wilde
Something by Voltaire
Something by Hemingway that's not the Old Man and the Sea (read it)
Something by another American (not Steinbeck, Twain or Harper Lee. Faulkner, perhaps?)
* * *
It's a rather paltry affair, isn't it? As you can see, this is neither complete nor set in stone. I'm hoping that, as with most things, a little help and a little inspiration will sort it all out in the end. If you, dear reader, have any suggestions, please let me know. I would welcome too, any thoughts on what make great books great, and whether what I'm reading qualifies. In some ways this may be as much an experiment in the nature of reading as it is an exploration of literature.
Either way, at the end of it all, I should be at least a little better off. Unless, of course, I do treat it like a resolution and fall off the treadmill some time around the Superbowl.