Monday, 18 November 2013

2014's literary challenge

Pushing yourself in an arena that you love means that coming up with different, new challenges is par for the course. Over the years there have been plenty of them for me in terms of literature. At eleven, it was perhaps making the big leap from the Babysitters' Club series to Gone With The Wind. At fourteen, it was all about getting *that* level 8 in my English Sats despite my teacher thinking I was unable to do so, and about writing my first full-length novel. At eighteen, I was analysing work at university level for my Advanced Extension Award and praying for a Distinction. At university itself, it was about accepting the fact that I was just more of an intrinsic reader than others, and that this wouldn't necessarily fly very well in seminars (and that neither would dissing William Blake).

After this, it was more about creativity and more trivial challenges again, with me taking part in NaNoWriMo in 2010, running a junior book club, and (in multiple years) taking part in the 50 book challenge. But as my job as a teacher got busier and I focused on other new professional and personal challenges (such as maintaining two other blogs and working towards my translation certificate), these types of literary challenges gradually fell by the wayside. 

Recently, however, I've had an epiphany. While I enjoy light reading, and believe it's important to relieve the mundanity of our days with some comic relief, I've also come to realise that this often delivers little beyond immediate satisfaction. After reading, I'm in a position to enthusiastically recommend the book to others if I enjoyed it myself. But will I be able to tell them why it was good? In most cases, no - not without thinking hard, at least. And will I be rereading those same books? Again, probably not in most cases. This is where classical literature often, in my experience, has the upper hand: it may be harder and take longer to read, but it ultimately has a much greater, more far-reaching impact on the way we see ourselves and live our lives. There are reasons why these books are still talked about hundreds of years after they were written. And yet there are still so many classical works on my bookshelf that remain unread in their entirety (ashamedly, even my university studies at times required me to only read extracts from certain texts).

So this, in essence, is my challenge for 2014: read 50 classical works, and see how I feel at the end of it.

To concretise this challenge, here is the list of the books I will be reading. It's left certain things out based on what I've read before, and included certain things based on what one could consider to be important. While it seems ambitious, I'm trying to tell myself that I have no excuse. I have a long commute (around 3 hours a day) and this seems like the perfect excuse to spend less time online (although I will of course be reporting back here with reviews). If I do not possess them, I can also borrow many of these books from my workplace, or read them for free online, so it doesn't have to be an expensive endeavour either. Who knows - maybe some of you will even read along:

  1. The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot)
  2. Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
  3. The Rainbow (DH Lawrence)
  4. Tender is the Night (F Scott Fitzgerald)
  5. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
  6. The Sorrow of War (Bao Ninh)
  7. Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller)
  8. Heart of Darkness; Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad)
  9. Les Misérables (Victor Hugo)
  10. Paradise Lost (John Milton) 
  11. Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)
  12. Waiting For Godot (Samuel Beckett)
  13. Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
  14. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray)
  15. The Canterbury Tales (Chaucer)
  16. Ulysses (James Joyce)
  17. The Portrait of a Lady (Henry James)
  18. The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway)
  19. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  20. All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
  21. Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
  22. The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing)
  23. The Time Machine (HG Wells)
  24. The Prince (Machiavelli)
  25. The Histories (Herodotus)
  26. Othello (Shakespeare)
  27. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
  28. Uncle Tom's Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
  29. The Red and the Black (Stendhal)
  30. Germinal (Emile Zola)
  31. Chéri (Colette)
  32. The Trial (Kafka)
  33. The Man in the Iron Mask (Alexandre Dumas)
  34. Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky)
  35. Memoirs of Hadrian (Marguerite Yourcenar)
  36. The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  37. Around The World in Eighty Days (Jules Verne)
  38. Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
  39. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe)
  40. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Bronte)
  41. The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
  42. Eugene Onegin (Pushkin)
  43. The Three Sisters, The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard (Anton Chekhov)
  44. The First Circle (

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