1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Challenge: 126-130

“A trusty comrade is always of use; and a chronicler still more so.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

When I was applying to grad school and preparing for the GREs I knocked off a few of the titles from this 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list… but nowhere near enough of them. It felt like for every book I read that did appear on the exam there were six that I missed and two that I didn’t need to have read at all. There are so many compiled lists of recommended reading for those kinds of exams, it’s impossible to get to everything in time—I much prefer this list where I can take as much time as I want, where the deadline is not completely in my hands. Okay, that was a bit more morbid than I meant it to sound.

Anyway, thinking back on the GREs and the literature test in particular, what I remember most are the few who woefully underestimated how intense the exam was going to be: the students who chose not to go to the restroom before the three hour testing period began; the one who looked about ready to cry by the end of the exam and proclaimed that she’d taken the MTELs and they were so much easier; the ones who made no marks for the first ten minutes because they were still trying to wrap their minds around the idea of 300 questions on an exam that only lasted for 180 minutes. I still remember the point in the session when I chose to skip through to the end and move backwards, passing over anything related to poetry entirely (poetry always was the bane of my academic existence). I remember that my best friend and I had signed up for the same test center and went to lunch afterwards where we quietly compared notes, consoling ourselves over the ordeal by celebrating each answer we knew we got correct.

Even now almost five years later, I still believe the GRE test for literature was the biggest waste of time and money and a completely inaccurate way to judge a literature student’s knowledge after graduating college—you can’t have an evaluative test like that without and essay component (and yet… they did/do). But, the GRE had to be endured in order to apply and attend graduate school—where I read way more of the titles from this list and which are going to be rounding out most of the rest of these recaps. Continue reading

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1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Challenge: 71-75

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

So, I’m still a few away from achieving my New Year’s Resolution goal of 160 books on the list, but that’s the only one where I’ve come up short. Room to improve for next year, I guess. I will be finishing these recap posts before too long (then I really won’t have any excuses for not making more progress with this self-imposed reading challenge). For now, onto the recap.

9781909399051_p0_v2_s260x420 The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The first version of this story that I ever encountered was the Wishbone version (I owe so much of my love for the classics to that show). It’s the only Sherlock Holmes story I have a second copy of, having bought one of the Dover Thrift editions before acquiring my copy of the Complete Sherlock Holmes (which is something everyone with any affection for mystery stories should have along with a healthy helping of Agatha Christie books). I don’t remember much about when I read the story itself other than being frustrated that my second hand copy had so many ridiculous notes written in the margins. Sometimes used copies with notes are full of interesting insights or humorous comments; other times they only underline and note the obvious.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham9780312243029_p0_v3_s260x420

I had seen the film adaptation a few years before I had this book assigned in one of my undergraduate lit courses. My enjoyment of the book was (unusual for me) a mirror to how I’d enjoyed the film. I loved the Clarissa and Virginia Woolf portions of the story but had little patience for the Laura storyline. Can’t really pinpoint why. I did enjoy it enough to look forward to reading the other Michael Cunningham books that appear on this 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, but not enough to go out and read them simply for their own sake.

9781593081539_p0_v1_s260x420 The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

This might be my favorite Edith Wharton novel (which, given its rather depressing subject matter is perhaps a little sad). Where I have never had much patience for Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence, there’s something about Lily Bart that demands to be listened to. It might just be that I’m more attuned to the way Wharton uses Lily to emphasize the injustices of women’s places in society, regardless of the level they inhabit. The story told is not altogether unlike Carrie and George in Sister Carrie, but there’s a level of authenticity and believability that make Lily’s plight more readable and sympathetic. Wharton captured the way that set functioned so much better on the page than Dreiser did (at least, in my strong opinion).

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne9781593082314_p0_v1_s260x420

One of my favorite things to do in college was twist assignments in such a way that I could use books I’d been meaning to read for ages into part of my homework. The House of the Seven Gables was one of those books. In my junior year of college when I decided to add history as a double major, I had a required history class that was designed to teach us about how to write. As an English major already, I walked in dreading what sounded like it would be a boring class on something I was already rather adept at. While that aspect of the class was as basic and unnecessary as it sounded, the professor and his approach were fantastic. He decided that we would do the writing assignments and approach the required text through a very specific subject in history: witch trials. For my final assignment, I examined transcripts of historic witch trials and compared them to later romanticized novelizations of those same trials, including The House of the Seven Gables as part of the texts I used for material. One of my favorite college assignments ever.

9780156012195_p0_v3_s260x420 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I must admit, I don’t remember much about this classic story (I should probably re-read it at some point). What I remember vividly is my third grade teacher reading it to us. She was one of my all-time favorite teachers and introduced me to many wonderful stories. She read aloud to us for a little while almost every day. If we behaved well, we would get to watch an hour of a movie on Fridays. She loved the Oz books (there was a complete set in our classroom and she let those of us interested borrow them whenever we wanted) and our class created a large map of Oz. She also was the first to introduce me to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I remember that when we began The Little Prince she had taken time to recreate the cover in chalk on the blackboard so that we could all see it. Best teacher ever.