Monday, October 30, 2006

39 for 39

I love making lists, especially reading lists. For years I have kept an impossibly long list of books to read. Reviews, word-of-mouth, a favorite author's body of work, bookstores' new release tables and booksellers' shelf-talkers, all inspire me.

In 2004 and 2005, I wrote lists of authors I wanted to read, which I thought would give me more latitude in my reading, but still allow me to set some goals. And, I managed a few, but I find it's hard to only read off the list—so many books, so little time, you know?

Recently, I have been inspired by a few bloggers and book forum participants who make reading lists—and read off them. As a result, I have decided to make a list for the new year that begins with my birthday. 39 books for 39 years, in no apparent order:

A Small Death in Lisbon, Robert Wilson
recommended by father-in-law, a publicity blip in '06 renewed my interest
Memento Mori, Muriel Spark
part of the Muriel Spark Project
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
I'm only slightly ashamed to admit I'm a 39-year-old P&P virgin
The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky
represents the literary side of my love affair with oysters
The Keep, Jennifer Egan
strong early reviews
Look at Me, Jennifer Egan
Charles Baxter recommended it; 2001 National Book Award finalist
Heat, Bill Buford
read excerpt in the New Yorker
Nasty Bits, Tony Bourdain
Bourdain rocks
A Year in the World, Frances Mayes
a travel must-read
Poet of the Appetites, Joan Reardon
big fat biography of M.F.K. Fisher
11. something by M.F.K. Fisher
Consider the Oyster
is a possibility
12. The School at the Chalet, Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
a Chicklit recommendation
13. Daughter's Keeper, Ayelet Waldman
the only Waldman I haven't read
14. a Ripley book by Patricia Highsmith
a classic
15. Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
a classic
16. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, John le Carre
a classic by a master
17. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
started before Oprah chose it for her book club; would like to finish
18. Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
award-winning Shields
19. The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon
not yet published, but highly anticipated
20. The 5th Business, Robertson Davies
you've got to start somewhere
21. The Whole World Over, Julia Glass
reading for '07 Conversation with Books
22. The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke
previewing for the children
23. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo
inspired by summer '06 trip to Paris
24. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
catching up with Atkinson
25. One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson
she's hit her stride
26. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
a classic I missed as a child
27. Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
started on Paris summer vacation, need to finish
28. Specimen Days, Michael Cunningham
three linked stories, Walt Whitman, why not?
29. Time Travellers Wife, Audrey Nieffenneger
it's never too late...
30. Places in Between, Rory Stewart
outstanding front-page NYT book review
31. The Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford
all self-respecting Chicklit-er seems to read Mitford, and this was the first book I found locally
32. A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews
it's slim
33. The Know-It-All, A.J. Jacobs
Chicklit recommendation, token nonfiction
34. White Ghost Girls, Alice Greenway
read strong reviews for this too
35. Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler
Fowler is one of friend Krista's favorite authors
36. My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk
2006 Nobel Prize for literature winner
37. Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier
honors for the book I've checked out most from the library this year
38. Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen
classic Matthiessen
39. Feeding a Yen, Calvin Trillin
recommended, and short

Making lists is fun, but problematic—where to start and where to end are conundrums. The above list largely represents books that I already own—some having been shelf-sitters longer than others. Some authors have been nagging at me for years (John le Carre, Calvin Trillin, M.F.K. Fisher, Robertson Davies, Peter Matthiessen), while some books have been nagging very persistently for a shorter time (The Brief History of the Dead, The Places in Between). The list also includes a book that has not yet been published (The Yiddish Policeman's Union). And, it does not include any books that I might read for book groups (on- and offline) or that I might pick up while browsing at a bookstore or the library, nor does it include anything in the ongoing Muriel Spark Project.

A few books have even made a reserve list:
Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright
In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
Spies, Michael Frayn
The King of Infinite Spaces, James Hynes
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
Salt, Mark Kurlansky
1968, Mark Kurlansky
something by John McPhee (Oranges)

1 comment:

Caryl said...

I love your list, Jen. And what a good idea to come up with 39 titles for 39 years. (I'm turning 40 this February and may have to copy you.) You've already finished a few of these, and I bet that feels good! Great choices, by the way.