Do you ever get the nagging feeling: You know, it’s really pathetic that I’ve never read that book.
I do. And lately, I’ve been feeling that way more and more.
Welcome to my Mid-Life Reading Crisis.
I’ve been seized by the fear that I will be lying on my deathbed one day with the knowledge that I haven’t read certain books that are must-reads for anyone who considers himself or herself to be anything close to a semi-well-educated person in the liberal arts.
So I’ve made a list, and I intend to finish it. Some of these must have been skipped over and not read even though they were on syllabi. But, from what I can recall, not many of them. Most of them, I think, were, in fairness, never on any of my syllabi for some reason.
I’m putting this out there because A) it’s like announcing you’re running a marathon — if you don’t actually run it, it’s pretty lame B) so that other people with similar literary transgressions can feel it’s also OK to admit their wrongs and make them right and C) this is just so bad it feels like I should be confessing it, so that maybe my soul will be clean even if I happen not to finish the entire below list (because, you know, I’ll probably finish it, but, of course, anything’s possible, heh heh, right?)
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read plenty of what you’d find on lists of must-read classics — White Fang, For Whom the Bell Tolls, On the Road, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, Dracula, My Antonia, etc etc.
But some I just never got around to reading.
So I’m going to try to make right with them.
This list was not generated in any way scientifically, or very artfully for that matter. I consulted a few of those must-read type lists, but I could have generated most of it just off the top of my head; I’m all too aware of the gaps.
Most here are books that through the years I’ve kept coming back to as ones I was pretty sure I’d enjoy and was pretty sure were ‘must-reads,’ so much so that they’ve become almost sentimental non-reads, unread books I’ve come to regard with a particular fondness.
They needed to be at least about 50 years old. You might consider the un-read American Pastoral, say, also a must-read, but this isn’t about catching up on contemporary ‘classics.’
The list was whittled down from a slightly larger field to a Top 10. I picked 10 because I needed a limit, lest I cave right away due to futility. I ranked the books on ‘importance,’ ‘interest,’ and ‘regret,’ meaning the level of regret I’d feel if I were to end up never reading them.
So importance matters, but it’s not the only thing. This does raise the question: At a certain point in one’s life, should ‘importance’ count at all? Should ‘interest’ be the only thing that matters?
Anyway, bring on the embarrassment. Feel free to mock (I deserve it). Or commiserate (I need it). But do bring support (otherwise you’re just an asshole).
This is my Mid-Life Reading Crisis Top 10 List, in ranked order:
1) The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
2) Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
3) Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
4) Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
5) The Stranger, Albert Camus
6) Animal Farm, George Orwell
7) Moby Dick, Herman Melville
8) Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
9) Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank
10) Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen