Good lord! This book is over 1500 pages long. I want to read it, which is why I borrowed it from the library. But I’m not going to finish it in 2 weeks, or 4, or even 6. This is a PROJECT, this book. Why, you ask, would I want to read such a thing?
Well, I’ll tell you. A while back I ran across The Guardian’s list of the 100 Best Novels in the English Language, or some such thing. Being a sucker for lists, I checked it out and found that I had read shamefully few of these alleged ‘great’ books.
Further googling uncovered a similar list from a decade earlier. Most of the books on each list were also on the other, and mostly in the same order, but when I got them all put together on a spreadsheet (data!), I discovered that I now had a list of the 149 best novels of all time.
So I decided to read the ones I’d missed. In chronological order. Yippee, a mission…let’s GO!
First up: Don Quixote, Cervantes, 1605. That is a remarkably long time ago, and this was a remarkably enjoyable book. I’m guessing that if I could read Spanish, and I tried to read it in the original, I might hate it almost as much as I did the next couple of moth-eaten old wrecks, but luckily for me, I’m illiterate in all but my native tongue, so I was able to like the hell out of this story.
#2: written in 1678 by John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress is the story of a man’s search for salvation. Or something.
Oh fuck me running, I TRIED, I really did. The language was tough, but I knew to expect that, and I’m not afraid to stretch myself, so I thought I could do it. Wrong. It wasn’t just the language…the story was so…. fraught… with such heavy-handed Christian symbolism, it made my teeth ache. Am I closed-minded? Am I shallow? Maybe so…but I. Just. Couldn’t.
#3 (don’t panic, I’m not doing all 150 right now): Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe (1719). This was slightly better, but this time the language DID get to me. I couldn’t focus on it, couldn’t parse my way through it; I gave up. It was also partly that I just wasn’t interested in the story. Skip.
#4: Gulliver’s Travels. FINALLY! Apparently, by 1726, the language had evolved enough that I could enjoy it (oh, yeah, those 7 years made all the difference ;-)). That Jonathan Swift can spin a riveting yarn, I tell you what. Little people, big people, and all of them with social and political foibles just like us!
Which brings us to the screeching halt that is #5, Clarissa. (Samuel Richardson, 1747-8) Written in the form of letters, some between our heroine Clarissa and her BFF Anna, others between other people (haven’t got past 3rd page yet, please forgive vagueness), it is a classic, a masterpiece, a triumph. That may be so, but it’s also freaking HUGE. I think I saw somewhere, the LONGEST novel ever.
It encompasses 537 letters written over the period 10 January through 18 December… which gave me my idea for a PROJECT! I’m going to read it in real-time, next year.
So I’ve ordered it from The Book Depository, and I’m going to start it on 10 January and read the letters on (or close to) their dates! (Who’s with me? Anyone want to do an online, year-long, book club for a 260-year-old book? Read all week, then maybe something like a Facebook page where we talk about it every weekend? No? Ok, just thought I’d ask.)
In the meantime, I’m still planning to slog through the rest of the list, and I’ll be sure to keep you all posted. (Oh YAY, is what I hear you all not quite saying aloud.) Next up: Tom Jones. Oh wait, I read that one years ago. SKIP. Next up: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence Sterne, 1759; currently on hold at the Next Town Over Public Library.