Monday, 2 July 2012

An Ambitious Reading Project

I am an avid reader.  There, I went ahead and said it.  As I have clearly defined my poker playing as a job in a previous post, it is fair to say that reading is my most time consuming hobby.  I read a lot at work in between chores, tasks and socializing with the guys.  I prefer reading to mindlessly watching television, unless the program is one of the dozens of sports that I closely follow.  I haven't always been an avid reader.  In fact, for a long period from about age 13 to age 26, I hardly ever picked up reading material unless I was visiting the porcelain throne, or scouring an advertisement, or required to read for a school assignment.  It was a classic case of not knowing what you were missing out on.  As a reader, quite frankly it feels good to be back.  I returned to the realm of nerdom back in 2010, haphazardly picking up books I found in thrift stores, the public library, and of course my dad's personal library.  He has too many books and mom is always looking to have him reduce his collection.  My dad has great taste, so many of his books appeal to me.  He reads mostly from the non-fiction genre, focussing on politics and sports.  When I first returned to reading, I was reading mostly non-fiction including narrative style sports books, political commentary books, and of course autobiographies.

Starting in 2011, I have kept a list of the books I completed.  As I scour the list, I see many books that I really liked, and others that have left me wanting.  Many of the books I read, I would heavily recommend to others.  I wrote a lengthy post about "Water For Elephants", complete with literary orgasm for a novel that is widely considered a "girly book".  My focus during the past 18 months of reading has been unfocussed.  I have read 50 books since January 1, 2011 and I am happy to report I enjoyed the majority of them.  I suffered through so poor books, partly due to my self torturous rule that I can no abandon a book once I have started it.  I feel like I must commit myself to a work completely, often books suffer in parts, but the sum of the parts end up being something much better.  Occasionally, I am very wrong and the whole book ends up being unappealing swill.  From what I have noticed, the books that fall in this category are often autobiographies about people who have no business writing an autobiography.  The well written autobiography needs a unique subject, someone who has lived a little, has had unusual things happen to them.  It has taken me a while to realize it, but with so many misses in the genre, I am likely to stay away from autobiographies in the future.  My time is better spent elsewhere.  Now, the whole point of this post was to outline a reading project that I have been contemplating for some time, but I think I will start with a short review of the books I have read over the past 18 months.  Perhaps I can provide some reading suggestions for others, and save you some valuable hours of your life on books you should avoid.  I will attempt to organize said books into loose categories as well.

Current Novels

The Sentimentalists - Johanna Skibsrud (9/10)
Half Broke Horses - Jeannette Walls (9.5/10) 
Zeitoun - Dave Eggers (9/10)
Snow - Orhan Pamuk (8/10)
Breath, Eyes, Memory - Edwidge Danticat (8.5/10)
Monkey Beach - Eden Robinson (9/10)
Giraffe - JM Ledgard (8/10)
Pound for Pound - F.X. Toole (7.5/10)
The Beekeeper's Apprentice - Laurie R. King (7/10)
Alexandria of Africa - Eric Walters (4/10)
Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen (10/10)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz (9.5/10)

Older Novels

Sawbones Memorial - Sinclair Ross {1974} (7/10)
Doctor Rat - William Kotzwinkle {1976} (6/10)
Papillon - Henri Charriere {1969} (9.5/10)
Into The Abyss - Jules Verne {1889} (7.5/10)
The Danube Pilot - Jules Verne {1908} (7.5/10)
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck {1937} (8.5/10)

Sports Biographies

Heart For The Fight - Brian Stann and John Bruning (7/10)
Open - Andre Agassi (8/10)
A Champions Mind - Pete Sampras and Peter Bodo (5/10)
Man In The Middle - John Amaechi (7/10)
The Devil and Bobby Hull - Gare Joyce (5/10)

Sports Non-Biographies

The World is a Ball - John Doyle (8/10)
Got Fight? - Forest Griffin (7/10)
Touching The Void - Joe Simpson (8/10)
The Way of Baseball - Shawn Green (7/10)
The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn - David Roberts (9/10)

Entertainment Biographies

Call Me Russel - Russel Peters (3/10)
They Call Me Baba Booey - Gary Dell'Abate (8.5/10)
Superdad - Christopher Shulgan (8/10)
Roseannarchy - Roseanne Barr (3/10)
Cheech and Chong: The Unauthorized Biography - Tommy Chong (7/10)
Nerd Do Well - Simon Pegg (8/10)
Bossypants - Tina Fey (9/10)
Last Words - Gearge Carlin (9/10)

Political Works

This Child Will Be Great - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (8.5/10)

Letters to My Torturer - Houshang Asadi (9/10)

Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town - Christopher de Bellaigue (6.5/10)
Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary's Life - Joshua Rubenstein (8/10)

Crime Works

A New Kind of Monster - Tim Appleby (7/10)
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit - Mark Seal (9/10)

I hadn't planned on compiling that list but I enjoyed the chance to look back at what I have been reading.  Some of them made me shake my head (see: Roseanne and Russel Peters), but others I look back at fondly.  Recently my reading focus has moved towards the classics.  Now, classics don't have to by old per se, but they are novels that universally recieve positive reviews from those that read them.   I have developed an obsession with the modern library list of "100 Best Novels", that was compiled with input from a number of top scholarly types.  It appears to be one of the most universally accepted lists of this sort.  A few things to note.  As I did most of my reading in my youth, and my reading in the past 18 months has been without direction and all over the place, I had read exactly 1 of the 100 novels on the list prior to resuming my reading hobby.  That novel was "Lord of the Flies", a standard high school read that I took care of in grade 11 english. 

There are 100 novels on this list, hence the "100 Best Novels" moniker.  Many of them are extremely difficult reads, and often the novels are long.  It will take me a lot longer to read these selections then it did to plow through biographical garbage material.  I really like that these books generally hold some historical significance.  "Invisible Man" covered a period of black history that was extremely tumultuous, and provided considerable insight into New York City in the early 1900s that I was completely unaware of.  "The Sound and The Fury" by William Faulkner was the most challenging novel I have ever read, with a number of stylistic changes and jumps that were difficult to follow.  It took an extreme amount of patience to carry through with the reading, but the reward for completion was significant.  As we speak, I have completed 8 of the 100, and have enjoyed all of them.  I like that I can pick up any of the books on the list and enjoy the novel.  I am tired of suffering through bad writing.  Many of these novels are ones that I had heard of, and I had that feeling that I was missing out by not having read them.  All this rambling leads me to my goal, my piece de resistance if you will.  I plan, over the course of a few years, to read all 100 books on this list.  Every single one.  Why?  Because I love reading, I like that all of these novels are significant pieces of literary history.  I am almost 10% of the way to my goal already, and I don't regret reading any of the novels so far.  Now that I have finally spit it out, I best get back to reading.  I am going to have a busy 5 years or so, as no doubt a few other books will sneak their way into my reading que.  I leave you with a list of those I have read so far, and I will periodically add to this list as I finish novels.

The Modern Library Top 100 Novels

2) The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
5) Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (1932)
6) The Sound and The Fury - William Faulkner (1929)
10) The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (1939)
13) 1984 - George Orwell (1949)
18) Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
19) Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison (1952)
31) Animal Farm - George Orwell (1945)
35) As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner (1930)
64) The Catcher In The Rye - J.D. Salinger (1951)

1 comment:

  1. I go through phases where I read and then others where I just can't get into anything.
    I started keeping track of the books I read but my collection is nothing compared to the above