Victory! and it only took 12 years...

Back in 2010 when I started this blog, I found a lot of "Must Read" and "100 Best Novels of All Time" and "Best (English) Novels of the 20th Century" lists. They introduced me to a lot of great authors and their books, but I needed to make a list of my own, one for all the books I felt I should have read at some point in my life but hadn't. These were books I'd heard a lot about over the years but had never gotten around to reading, and every time I read a reference to one of them somewhere I'd kick myself again for procrastinating. The result of all that angst was a "Guilt List" of 100 books I wanted to read enough of to at least find out what all the fuss was about. 

Well, it turns out that most of them were not difficult or dull or any of the other things that caused me to put them off, and I am pleased to say that after 12 years I have finally reached the end of my Guilt List. One hundred titles tackled, some more than once, and most finished. And what a sometimes fun, sometimes tedious, mostly interesting, gratifying experience it has been! 

I read authors I'm now embarrassed so say I had never read before: Atwood, Faulkner, L'Engle, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, DuMaurier, Maugham, Ishiguro, Ibsen, Woolf and more. I look back now and can't believe how much I'd been missing all those years. I've been catching up though, enjoying more and more of their not-on-my-list titles.  

One result of this experience has been to learn what kind of reader I am. The rich, beautiful writing I discovered in some of these books has made me less satisfied with those that are less well-written or edited. And I've learned that I read for many different reasons - escape, education, comfort, entertainment, and sometimes simply to challenge myself with something I know will be difficult. But I've found that in all of it, it's the writing that makes the difference. If I don't enjoy the way the author puts words together I won't like the book regardless of the story or the characters, but if the writing is beautiful I won't care so much if there is a hole in the plot or a flimsy character. My favourites are the ones I find myself putting down often to absorb a beautiful phrase or perfectly worded sentence. Those moments are what make reading magical for me.        

Some on my guilt books earned a place on "My Favourite Books" list: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Patton, The Bridge at San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, A Christmas Carol (seeing a dozen film adaptations isn't the same at all) by Charles Dickens, Silas Marner by George Eliot, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

And, of course, there were some I just flat out didn't like: 

 - Ulysses by James Joyce: I got half way through and quit, angry with Joyce and frustrated with myself for having read so much of it just to prove I could. But I tried Dubliners later and thought it was great.  

 - Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe: I abandoned this one about half way through, too, because I was not enjoying the experience. 

 - The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: I mean, everybody reads that and loves it, right? I tried - twice - and couldn't get interested, but it's so popular that maybe I'll attempt it again one day.

 - A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is another one I attempted twice, but I strongly disliked the characters and found it slightly ridiculous. 

 - Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust: Seven long volumes and I lost interest in the early part of Book 1.

 - 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - I tried, I really tried, but I just didn't get it. 

 Getting to the end of the list was both satisfying and quite a relief, but I no more than finished the last one when I found myself thinking about other books I "should" be reading. The temptation to make a new list was strong, but I talked myself down and I think I'm finally done reading "shoulds". I'm enjoying my new freedom so much I might remove a few books on my tbr shelf that I've been avoiding for years, though the thought of actually doing it is still slightly horrifying. I did once want to read them after all. 

For now, I'm going to celebrate this small victory in my life. Probably by buying more books.  


Brenda said...

Well done! I enjoyed reading this and am glad you accomplished your goal. There are so many good books to be read! I agree with you about some of the ‘duds’. As I’ve gotten older, I give up on books sooner if they’re just not cutting it…my TBR list is so long … I just don’t have time for duds.

Interesting that you’ve been able to define who you are as a reader. That helps you to choose going forward.

I see you’ve read some Dickens and like him. May I suggest his novel ‘Dombey and Son’? I recently finished it and I think it’s a masterpiece. I had never heard of it before my reading group suggested it. It is definitely one I hope to re-read.

Are you on Goodreads? I find such good reviews there (although I’m not a great review writer). But my Goodreads friends are part of the reason that my TBR list is so long. They introduce me to books and authors I’d never heard of. I like broadening my horizons.

Thank you for sharing your reading adventure.

Brenda Acker

Ordinary Reader said...

Thanks Brenda, I've just added Dombey and Son to my list and look forward to reading it. And yes I am on Goodreads. I check their reviews often before starting a new book. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

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