You Want Me to Read What?

One of my professors offered me a rather interesting and lofty challenge when I sought advice on how best to prepare myself for graduate study. We were sitting in his office, talking about my grad school aspirations, when I asked him for his suggestions. He folded his hands and placed them gently on his desk, leaned towards me, and simply said, “Read everything.”

Now just to clarify, I know he didn’t mean that I should actually read EVERYTHING. I dare say that Dr. G wouldn’t exactly congratulate me for reading all the Sweet Valley High books. I know he’s talking about those books that scholars would consider important books. You know, Literature. With a capital “L.” Okay, that’s all fine and good, but just how am I supposed to go about this task? Do I proceed chronologically? Geographically? Thematically? Stylistically?

When I graduated in December, I decided that I would get started on this task. And I read exactly three books in three months. That is not what I call making good progress. I realized my problem was too many options and not enough direction. It’s like being a kid in a candy store: with so many choices, it’s impossible to make a decision. I ended up wandering the aisles of Barnes and Noble with a glazed look in my eyes, mumbling to myself.

I needed to find a better way.

And that’s when it hit me that I should make a list. It’s the best way for me to get organized when I start a project. I made a list of the books I owned—both read and unread—and thought that would be a fine place to start. But then I realized that I wasn’t satisfied with simply reading the books in my collection. My collection doesn’t even come close to everything, not even by a long shot. I knew that there were many things my own book collection left to be desired, so that wasn’t going to do the trick. I decided that I would borrow someone else’s reading list as a jumping off point.

I consulted a Newsweek article, “Newsweek’s Top 100 Books: The Meta-List,” published June 29, 2009. Newsweek gathered titles from a variety of other book lists to make one, giant, mega…well, meta-list. Since I didn’t want to take on War and Peace immediately—it’s Number 1 on Newsweek’s list—I decided to use a randomizer to pick out the first title I would read. I know what you’re thinking: for someone who is approaching this endeavor so thoughtfully, it seems kind of random to choose a book that way. Well, all I can say is that I am a complicated woman. Don’t try to figure me out: many have tried, most have failed. As luck would have it, the first selection is a book I already own: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Saves me another trip to the bookstore.

Here are my ground rules:

 I must read a MINIMUM of 50 pages per day. As an English major, that should be a piece of cake. The fact that I am currently studying for the GRE and the teacher certification exams is not an excuse.  

No Sparknotes or Wikipedia allowed. No offense, but I’ve always felt that consulting these sources is a form of cheating AND it deprives one of the sense of accomplishment that goes along with seeing something through to the end.

After I finish reading the book, I will post remarks within 48 hours of completion. That gives me time to ruminate a bit about what I’ve read, and it gives me a self-imposed deadline for sharing what I think about what I’ve read.

Not bad, right?

Faulkner’s work is 265 pages (my copy, which is by Vintage), including the editor’s notes, so that puts my ETA for finishing the novel at about 5 days; this means that my remarks will appear here in 7 days. Sounds like a plan!

Oh, I almost forgot: I have no idea what I will read once I make it through the meta-list. I’ll open the floor to suggested titles or other book lists to work with. I’m thinking the Newsweek list is going to take me a good long time, so I think I’ll leave those decisions for a much later date. Besides, the list I’m working with has some pretty intense titles on it: Go ahead, check it out.


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