“If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.” — Sherman Alexie
Walking through Barnes & Noble one day (several years ago now), I stumbled across the coffee-table series 1001 (fill in the blank) Before You Die. As a book lover, of course, the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die caught my eye. I later copied down all of the titles into a small notebook and have been checking them off ever since. While the overall plan for my blog remains sharing my creative writing and love of books with the world, as I being to get freelance work editing and writing as well as continuing on longer creative writing projects that I hope to formally publish, I don’t want to abandon my blog entirely.
So I’ve decided that this mission to read through all 1001 books will become part of my regular posting. I’ll post my responses to the books I’ve already read (148 out of 1001 at the time of this post) and when I’m caught up, I’ll just add my impressions as I finish new books on the list. Some will get a full review but others will just be a few sentences of reaction. I’m going off of the 2006 edition of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. If/when I get through them all (which, if my math is correct, I’m on pace to finish at age 169), I will consider all the additions and subtractions in the new editions that have been (and will have been) released.
Now, here are the first of my reflections and impressions…
I will forever associate the classic Dickens tale with the Muppets. So many adaptations on stage and on the big screen and yet it comes down in my mind to Kermit and Gonzo singing “If they gave a prize for being mean, the winner would be him.” This past Thanksgiving, I was able to take my niece to see it on the big screen and was undeniably more invested than she was. In middle school, our class went to see the play performed at a theater-in-the-round and the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present brushed me as he walked past to make his entrance. However, I never actually read Dickens’ original text until senior year of college. I took a Dickens seminar and this was the last piece we read (both because it was so close to Christmas break and it was one of the shorter pieces, a relief at the end of term). The previous weeks had already shown me the wonders of Dickens’ style, but even so, the way he wove this particular tale continues to amaze me.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
This novel was my introduction to Hemingway’s novels (we all read his short story “Hills Like White Elephants” earlier in high school but that was undermined by the student who was sure the story was about breast implants and relentlessly tried to bring the rest of us around to his view of things). It was one of the last books we read my senior year of high school. I remember my teacher showing up copies of Hemingway’s manuscripts with the different versions of how to end the novel. It was amazing, seeing that little fragment of someone else’s writing process. And not just anyone but Hemingway. I also remember that my classmate listed Frederick Henry as one of the students who needed to come down to the office during morning announcements as a senior prank.
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
I love satire and Jonathan Swift will always be one of the greats and A Modest Proposal will always be one of the best examples. It was part of my inspiration when writing my “The Last Laugh” essay. Keeping in mind that many readers took Swift’s Proposal literally, I knew I had accomplished my objective when a friend began a serious debate with me on the points in my paper.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I first read this after a friend recommended it to me (a friend who absolutely adores and frequently re-reads it). Of the John Irving I have read, it remains my favorite of his as well. I did spend a while at first thinking how familiar it was but then realized (and verified) that part of the novel was used as the inspiration for the film Simon Birch , which I had seen when I was younger. I read the novel over the summer while I was nannying. The younger boy I watched was just learning how to read and he saw my book sitting on the counter-top. He came over to me and asked why I would want to read a book about someone who was mean.
Aesop’s Fables by Aesop
We did a unit on Aesop’s Fables when I was in the fifth grade. I only remember a handful of them (don’t know why but the tale of the fox and the sour grapes is the one I remember best). What sticks out most is the substitute teacher we had during that unit who spent a while instructing us on the proper way to pronounce “Aesop” (he was the same sub who had instructed our second grade health class on the pronunciation of “vegetable”).