Free-Floating Hostility

Friday, September 23, 2005

In which I Evaluate my Performance as an Autodidactic Autodidact

A few months ago I realized I was about to read Book #100. The count started when I graduated college; I figured it was my only measure of how well I was educating myself. I believe I took the idea from Virginia Woolf, who was of course not allowed by her father to attend school, and so kept intimidating lists of the books she had read on her own. My list doesn't look anything like hers.

Anyway, I mentioned this milestone to Jeff, and he suggested I should blog my reading list. I haven't until now because I decided that I shouldn't be allowed to count books I had read before, or books that were obviously frivolous, i.e. Harry Potter and mysteries Erin describes as "the kind with puffy writing on the cover." So I axed 27 books off my list, and that put me back quite a few months. However, the list is now complete, and I present it for you to peruse or ignore as you see fit. Some notes on my inclusion and exclusion criteria.
  1. Some of the non-frivolous books on this list are quite awful. Their inclusion does not garauntee their value as much as my honest attempt to read something valuable. To avoid confusion, I have included my brief opinion of each.
  2. Why choose the unit of the book? Convenience. I haven't included any articles, or poems, and short stories have only been included when there's a whole book of them. I have likewise omitted the various manuscripts of novels, biographies, short stories, screenplays, poetry collections and outlines for peace in the Middle East submitted to me by my talented friends and family during this time. Or anything I had to read for school.
  3. The number 100 says very little about the quantity I've read. The diminutive Of Mice and Men barely broke 100 pages, whereas Hermione Lee's biography of Virginia Woolf clocked in at 761. It may not be the longest book I've read since graduation, but it was definitely the heaviest.
So where does all this get me? I seem to be reading more than some people I respect (i.e. Jeff), and less than some people I don't (i.e. Harold Bloom). On our visit to Seattle, Scott made fun of me for reading a book by Patricia Cornwell, and I bristled. "I have read 98 non-frivolous books since graduating college," I informed him, "And am more than entitled to my 28th frivolous book." "Fuck you," he pithily replied. I trust many of you will share the sentiment, but that's what being a blogger is. We're the pie-in-the-face people of the new millenium, if you will.

The List:

Atwood, Margaret. Alias Grace. (Not her best)

Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. (Excellent)

Baldwin, James. Giovanni's Room. (Excellent)

Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. (Required Reading for Humans)

Barry, James M.. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. (V. interesting except when he digresses on the history of early American medical men instead of the history of the disease.)

Bentley, Toni. Sisters of Salome. (Enh)

Bohjalian, Chris. Midwives. (Give this a miss.)

Borges, Jorge Louis. A Universal History of Iniquity. (Lovely)

Brontë, Charlotte. Villette. (VG)

Byatt, A.S.. Possession. (VG)

Cantor, Norman F.. In the Wake of the Plague: the Black Death and the World it Made. (A real snoozer, and probably wrong about a lot)

Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. (VG)

Cather, Willa. Lucy Gayheart. (G)

Churchill, Winston. History of the English-Speaking Peoples. (VG, unless you know something about history, which I don’t)

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. (G)

Crouse, Timothy. The Boys on the Bus. (Highly entertaining)

Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. (G)

de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine. Wind, Sand, Stars. (VG)

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. (Required reading for Humans, but not entertaining)

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. (Required Reading for Humans)

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. (RRFH)

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. (Ok, so this is kind of cheating, but it’s literature, it’s taught in English classes and shit.)

Dumas, Alexandre. The Three Musketeers. (G)

Dunant, Sarah. The Birth of Venus. (This is a truly awful book. Give it a wide berth.)

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Criticism: an Introduction. (Deathly dull, but glad I finished)

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. (G, don’t really see why the hoopla)

Eliot, George. Middlemarch. (G)

Ensler, Eve. The Vagina Monologues. (Excellent)

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches you and you Fall Down: A Hmong Girl, her American Doctors, and the Collision of two Cultures. (Excellent)

Fielding, Helen. Cause Celeb. (Just barely makes it into the non-frivolous category b/c it deals with famine, but very light reading)

Fielding, Henry. Tom Jones. (VG)

Finlay, Victoria. Color: A Natural History of the Palette. (VG)

Fisher, M.F.K.. How to Cook a Wolf. (G)

Flaubert, Gustave. The Temptation of Saint Anthony. (snoozefest, and creepy)

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Everything is Illuminated. (Excellent)

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. (Excellent)

Frayn/Burke, Michael/David. The Copenhagen Papers. (Highly entertaining)

Friedman, Thomas L.. From Beirut to Jerusalem. (I just decided I had to know what I was talking about at least a little. Who knows if I picked the right one.)

Gawande, Atul. Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. (VG)

Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow we will be Killed without Families: Stories from Rwanda. (RRFH, and Excellent to boot)

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (VG)

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. (Highly entertaining)

Horwitz, Tony. Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going where Captain Cook has Gone Before. (VG and Highly entertaining)

Hugo, Victor. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (OK)

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes were Watching God. (Excellent)

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. (Excellent)

Joyce, James. The Dubliners. (G)

Kafka, Franz. The Penal Colony: Stories and Short Pieces. (Now I can say I’ve read it)

Kahn, Roger. The Boys of Summer. (OK)

Kincaid, Jamaica. The Autobiography of my Mother. (Enh.)

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. (G)

Lee, Hermione. Virginia Woolf. (Excellent)

Levi, Primo. The Reawakening. (RRFH)

Lewis, Michael. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. (VG)

Livio, Mario. The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number. (VG)

Malory, Thomas. King Arthur and his Knights: Selected Tales. (Technically I’ve read parts of this already in 8th grade, but I probably didn’t actually read most of them. Good to have under ones belt.)

Martel, Yann. The Life of Pi. (G)

Mason, Herbert (trans). Gilgamesh. (VG)

McCarthy, Mary. The Group. (OK)

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. (Excellent until they get on the boat; all down hill after that)

Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. (Another one I’ve technically read already except had never actually finished. Excellent, obviously.)

Nafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran: a Memoir in Books. (Excellent)

Naipaul, V.S.. A House for Mr. Biswas. (Enh.)

Nuland, Sherwin B.. Doctors: The Biography of Medicine. (OK)

Olsen, Tillie. Tell me a Riddle. (1st two stories OK, last two stories Excellent)

Orwell, George. 1984. (OK)

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. (Excellent)

Parkhurst, Carolyn. The Dogs of Babel. (Surprisingly good, considering. A tearjerker though.)

Pym, Barbara. No Fond Return of Love. (Give this a miss.)

Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. (VG)

Sachs, Albie. The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs. (VG)

Sacks, Oliver. The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales. (Excellent)

Schiff, Stacy. Véra: (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov). (Excellent)

Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On. (RRFH)

Singh, Simon. The Code Book: the Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography. (Excellent)

Smith, Alexander McCall. Tears of the Giraffe. (V.v. light reading, but not, I think, totally frivolous. Delightful).

Smith, Alexander McCall. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. (see above)

Spark, Muriel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. (VG)

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. (OK)

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. (Excellent)

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. (Entertaining)

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. (G)

Sullivan, Robert. Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants. (VG, not withstanding the reverse litotes or whatever it's called in the title)

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. (VG)

Thurber, James. The Dog Department. (Hilarious, and elegant)

Turgenev, Ivan. Fathers and Sons. (can’t remember a damn word of it)

Twain, Mark. Pudd'nhead Wilson. (OK)

Verghese, Abraham. The Tennis Partner. (VG)

von Drehle, David. Triangle: The Fire that Changed America. (VVG)

Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. (VG)

Walker, Rebecca. Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. (G)

Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. (hehe, so dated, but fun in MST3K way)

Waugh, Evelyn. Decline and Fall. (G)

Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome. (OK)

Winchester, Simon. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. (VG)

Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack. (G)

Woodward/Bernstein, Bob/Carl. All the President's Men. (VG)

Woolf, Virginia. Flush. (G)

Woolf, Virginia. The Voyage Out. (G)

Wrong, Michela. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Life on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo. (OK)

4 Comment(s):

  •   Posted by Blogger Jeff'y at September 23, 2005 8:51 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Did you know that George Eliot is a chick? True story.

    Sure, I haven't read a hundred worthy books since graduation, but I have a level 57 Shaman and a level 44 Hunter to support.

  •   Posted by Blogger Rich at September 24, 2005 7:34 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Don't be too impressed by Jeff's accomplishments. I had a level 60 mage a long time ago. I quit, but he has been sloaching for a long time now. On the plus side, I think Jeff had a level 100+ cockroach in his apartment. That's definitely an accomplishment.

  •   Posted by Blogger BrooklynDodger at September 29, 2005 9:32 AM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Another list of books - the 100 most challenged books, compiled by the American Library Association

    There's a bit of a challenge among public health bloggers as to how many they have read.

  •   Posted by Blogger Anna at September 29, 2005 8:30 PM | Permanent Link to this Comment
  • Very interesting list, Dodger. I've read 19, if you count Where's Waldo? as reading.

Post a Comment