The 100 Books Project, Part I

My name is Andromeda, and I haven’t read…

War and Peace by Tolstoy.

Moby Dick by Melville.

Lolita by Nabokov.

ANYTHING by Joyce Carol Oates, Ayn Rand, Saul Bellow, Salman Rushdie, the list goes on and on. (The shame, the shame!)

Nor even the relatively recent bestseller Cold Mountain by Ian Frazier. (Even though the book has been staring me in the face from my living room shelves for several years. I haven’t even seen the movie, fergodsake. I don’t want to spoil the book!)

No this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. Or maybe it is — but the point is, I am the April Fool. Oh, friends, the list is long, and it is hard, and beyond the books I haven’t read there are books I did read but couldn’t appreciate at the time. (I know I read Faulkner in high school. I just wasn’t paying attention.)

As mentioned before, I am a big believer in remedial self-education. And an even bigger believer in lists. Which is why I started a list at the end of 2008 (one of my anxiety-triggered December birthday lists) of the books I wanted to read, plan to read, really should read, in the next 5 years. Including classics. And contemporary prize winners. And books I already bought that are shooting me lasar-beams of guilt every time I walk by them. And books recommended many times by family and friends.

I composed a list of nearly 100 titles (still adding) and mentioned on Facebook, I believe, that I wanted more recommendations. The idea went into hibernation, but it just popped up like a nasty boil this week on another blog, and is now threatening to go viral (don’t I wish). But before we talk about the “100 Books Project” as it now seems to be called, I want to ask you:

What book are you ashamed you haven’t yet read?

What book do you think, once read, might make you a better person? (Better reader? Better writer?)

What book do you think you might want to read, but fear will turn out to be a dreadful bore? (Hint, its initials are M.B. No, I’m just kidding. Come up with your own answer here.)

What major doorstop did you recently finish reading and was it worth the effort? (I just finished Anna Karenina. See, I’m trying to fill those gaps.)

Give me some feedback, and tomorrow I’ll unveil my almost-completed 100-title list and tell you what other crazy people are doing to spread this latest literary virus around.

17 thoughts on “The 100 Books Project, Part I”

  1. [in chorus] Hi, Andromeda!

    myyyy 16 cents:

    I’ve read a lot of Saul Bellow… and none of his famous ones. Ha! AUGIE MARCH is on my list. It’s mammoth. But it’s probably his most famous. HERZOG is on my list, too. You could read either of those with me, if you’re so inclined. I wouldn’t specifically recommend RAVELSTEIN or MORE DIE OF HEARTBREAK, which I loved but with which I have rather personal associations.

    Salman Rushdie–the only one worth reading, literally, is MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN. One of my aunts would disagree, but I’ve tried a BUNCH of his and found them all insufferable. MC meanwhile is awesome.

    ATLAS SHRUGGED is on my list, and I’m already preparing myself to skim.

  2. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Hi Moonrat! Herzog (already sitting on my bookshelf) and Midnight’s Children (a book I plan to read for an upcoming book club) are both on my list. More details tomorrow and I want to hear from others out there!

  3. I admit I haven’t yet read (in my fifty years) the Old or New Testament. I tried to read the Quran and the Torah but stopped after a few chapters…
    I haven’t read Das Kapital or Mein Kampf.

  4. I’m embarrassed because I like science fiction and HAVE NEVER READ 1984. D: Also, is Ender’s Game on your list? That is a must read.

  5. I don’t have a list, but I am choosing books and reading from our library based on recs mostly from online pals. So far, they haven’t given me one I loved, but it’s been interesting. I’m also choosing some based on how often they are requested/read by our library patrons. (I work at the local library.) I’m tracking every book I read (or partly read) on one of my super secret blogs and will open it to my list on Jan 1, 2010.

    So far, I’ve been impressed by the Young Adult books more than the adult books.

    I did spend a summer in my teens reading a raft of classics like Moby Dick and David Copperfield and enjoyed many of them. I hope you’ll consider including something by one of my favorite authors like Conrad Richter, Pearl Buck or Edna Ferber.

  6. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Ah, the New Testament. Yes, that would be a great one to add and read in full. (I’m more familiar with the Old T; and I also bought the Quran but haven’t actually read it.)

    Ender’s Game. How weird! My first reaction was, “Of course I’ve read that…” and then I realized, “Wait! Maybe I only recommended it to my kid several times. I don’t think I have read it!”

    And to KenaiQueen — interesting suggestions, and I may just go look up “Edna Ferber” because I know I haven’t read her…

    Good thing I have spots open on my list. I have many more books than 100 that I want to read — I’m prioritizing the “shouldas” and the ones I’ve kept on my shelf unread for far too long.

  7. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    P.S. Maybe I should call that latter category the “dusties” — i.e. books I bought 6 months to 3 years ago intending to read, but keep leaving on the shelf.

  8. It’s funny because although I don’t have a formal list, I realized as I was reading your blog that I have been keeping a mental list and slowly checking them off. I recently finished my first Virginia Woolf novel as well as Lolita, Crime and Punishment, Beloved, and Middlemarch. Some of these I’ve read as part of my book club, and those are the ones I’ve gotten the most out of because of the discussions. There are many more, though, that I haven’t tackled yet — Proust, Rushdie is on there, as well as Philip Roth, John Updike, Henry James, David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Iris Murdoch … Try as I might I’ve never been able to get through A.S. Byatt’s “Possession,” though many people rave about it, and I’m not sure I’m compelled to go after Moby Dick, but “Ahab’s Wife” was a terrific novel. In the meantime, new books keep coming out that I have to add to my must-read list, so I know I’ll never catch up. What a wonderful problem to have!

  9. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of “Ender’s Game’ because as much as others love it, I hate it!

    A lot of Edna Ferber’s books got made into movies which is why she probably sounds familiar. (Giant, So Big, Cimmeron, Show Boat, etc.) Some of her stuff is available on the free ebook sites.

  10. Wow. Lots of reading and thinking about reading going on out there. And always fun to see how widely we differ, despite a shared fondness for books.

    I majored in English and my masters is in the Humanities, so I’ve spun through quite a few of the classics. Dostoyevsky but no Tolstoy or Nabokov. I got so saturated with Bellow, Faulkner, and Hemmingway that I doubt I’ll ever willingly read any of their work again. But I liked MB. Old and New Testaments – yes – not easy reading but there’s a richness of language that permeates one’s style, which is mostly what secures a slot for a book on my markedly shorter list.

    Recent disappointment – and I feel very much the AA backslider here – is Arctic Dreams. Admire, applaud – yes. But I wanted to love it, and I don’t. And the older I get, the less patience I have for spending time with a book I don’t love, a stance that is neither Edifying nor Literary…and I do hope it doesn’t get back to too many of those poor students who slogged through books they didn’t love because I told them they had to.

  11. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Oh Deb, that's very funny (re: your students). But you know, learning to leave a book in the middle — for the right reasons — is something that happens with maturity, I think. We're aware of how finite time is, we know our tastes and our needs. I have read everything by a certain contemporary author, an all-time favorite of mine, but he has one thick book I didn't finish — at no point was it working for me, and I stopped around page 300 or something. (Of course, it does nag at me a little.) I have another contemp favorite who I've dropped twice — and felt encouraged to do so when he himself said, in an article, that if a book didn't grab him right away he didn't proceed. (Well!) With classics, I usually try to slog a little longer, because in addition to whatever is happening in the book itself, it has created ripples in the culture that I still want to understand.

    I do hope I'm not giving the impression that classics are a chore. On my list, I have another Dickens, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh etc because I ENJOY those authors already and just want to expand what I know by them. (And then there are others like DH Lawrence & Bellow that I haven't read at all.)

  12. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    To kenaiqueen — oh wait! Edna Ferber is the “Ice Palace” author. Nancy Lord reviewed that book for this blog. I knew the name was familiar! But based on Nancy’s review, I’m probably not going to add her to my personal list…

  13. In response to kenaiqueen. I also work at a library on the peninsula and have found the Young Adult fiction that I’ve read recently to be more memorable than just about anything else I’ve tackled. My favorite of late is THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie.

    I’d love to know some of your YA favorites.

    And my confession of the day is that I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice. For shame.

  14. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    I’m going to nab Sherman Alexie for my list. Always meant to read that book. Thank you.

  15. I’m putting the Alexie title on my list of TBR’s, Sundrose. My favorite YA title right now is “Lucy the Giant” by Sherrie L. Smith. I think it’s a terrific read.

  16. I’m so glad YA has come up. It’s a relatively new genre, but there are already some very fine titles. White Darkness, which won last year’s Printz, I believe, is a wonderful, textured book of depth, as is (in a very different way) Alexie’s book, already mentioned here.

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