Books for 2009


I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lists lately. I’m kind of obsessed with them. I think there’s a part of me that thinks if I could ever finish a reading list, then I’d really be able to say that I was educated, that I’d really read some books.

(Technically, I’ve read all the books that won Pulitzers for fiction, through 2005. When I read Gilead I couldn’t find the notebook I’d kept all my reviews of the other books in, so I never wrote it up and stopped reading there for some reason. I should really read that one again and catch up.)

When I was in junior high or high school (probably high school, I’ll bet it was one of my AP English classes) a teacher distributed a “college prep” list of books to read. It was mimeographed, three pages long, and I’d probably read a dozen books on it before I went to college.

I still have the list. Right now, I’ve read 40 of the about 140 books on the list. Some of the ones I haven’t read are still pretty embarrassing (none of the Dickens, Twain or Faulkner, for instance) and there are lots of books on there I’ve always wanted to read (Black Like Me, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and 1984 to name a few others I’m pretty surprised I never had to read in school).

Part of lists like this makes me wonder what they were making me read in school if I wasn’t reading this stuff. Admittedly I did read some of these for school, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Stranger. I read The Catcher in the Rye and just about everything else by J.D. Salinger for an AP Lit project, and in AP Language and Composition, while the other classes were probably reading Brave New World, we were reading A Prayer for Owen Meany (bless you, Mrs. Cox, for introducing me to John Irving).

But when I’m done feeling intellecutally inferior (I have read almost all the Pultizer books, after all, and that’s got to count for something) I see reading lists as a goal to aspire to. I think that “college prep” list may be my life list, and if I ever read them all I’ll get to feel like I really accomplished something. And then I can move on to the rest of the lists in that file, in my head and elsewhere that I’d love to read.

In the spirt of getting some books off the to-read list, I thought I’d participate in the 9 Books for ’09 challenge. Of course reading nine books in a year isn’t much of a challenge, but these are nine specific types of books, and they should already be in your house:

  • Long: longer than books you normally read
  • Free: something you didn’t pay for
  • Dusty: in your house three years or longer
  • Used: from the used book store or a hand-me-down
  • Letter: a letter from your name or your blog’s name must be in the title
  • Strange: a genre you don’t normally read
  • Cover: a book with a pretty or ugly cover
  • Awards: a book from an author who’s been nominated for an award (alternatively, this one can be an author who is no longer alive)
  • Distance: a book where the setting, or the author’s home, is 1,000 miles or more from where you are

Fun, right? Of course all of my books fit in multiple categories here, but we’ll see if I can narrow it down:

  • Long: Tempted to go with War and Peace (my copy of which would also fall into used, dusty and distance), but then nine books really would be a stretch. I’d go with George RR Martin (also strange for me) but I think my sweetie lent out the first book in the series. So how about The Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, edited by Tom Grimes. It’s also strange for me (short stories) and I’m pretty sure it’s been on my shelf longer than three years. And it’s 766 pages.
  • Free: I’m reading a free book right now, Knit Two by Kate Jacobs, which I got as a review copy. Not doing a great job coming up with one here, so how about The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, a book about submitting manuscripts to publishers. I got it as a word count prize when I did Nanowrimo a few years back.
  • Dusty: Clearly most of my books are dusty, but I’m going with another short story collection here, The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. I think it’s been in my house about since the turn of the century.
  • Used: In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist. She’s a local author who I love, and this was her first book. It’s been in my house a long time, too.
  • Letter: The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I’ve actually been there, and I bought the book (also used) I think the summer I was in that area (which was eight years ago) but never read it. Seven starts with S, just like Sarah.
  • Strange: The Watchmen by Alan Moore. Never read graphic novels, or anything even remotely close to whatever genre you’d call that. (This one’s also free, because someone gave it to my husband.)
  • Cover: Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham. (Also used, dusty and an award winner, though not for this book.) It’s a strange cover, a guy with angel wings, orange clouds, lots going on. Makes you wonder what it has to do with the book.
  • Awards: 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley. She won a Pulitzer for an incredibly distrubing book (A Thousand Acres) but I like her anyway.
  • Distance: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Also used and dusty. Set in England, and I think he also wrote it in England, which is very far from Arkansas. I saw him speak a few years ago and he’s just so funny I really want to read his books. But I think I need to read the Koran again before I tackle this one.

This post has gone on incredibly too long already, so maybe some other time I’ll write about the books I want to re-read this year.

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