Back in the 1990’s I hosted an online reading group dedicated to providing a more in-depth and literary approach to authors and themes from around the world. Reading suggestions were generated every three months to allow the time needed for reading five or six books. The first list to study was David Lodge. Someone in another group had complained that Lodge required more attention than was allowed in a book-a-week reading group. Thus the Literary Study Group was born.
Over the first few study periods I recognized numerous opportunities for deeper study and began mapping out a reading future for the group. One day I realized I was out of control. My reading lists were being filled with hard-to-find and out-of-print books. I had projected a syllabus too far into the future and shamefully admitted that I had no knowledge of what to read far in the future. Would the reading group even exist in 2014?
That’s the problem with suggested reading lists: they are usually unrealistic.
So here we are in 2021 and thinking back to my disbelief that a reading group would ever last very long, I must admit that this weblog, in all its versions and variations, has been pottering away for around twenty-five years.
Although I am very happy with WordPress hosting this most recent version of A Celebration of Reading, I have to point out that changes to the system have forced me to make changes to this weblog on several occasions. Recent changes in the editor provided by WordPress have given me the opportunity (not all wished for) to make minor updates and tweaks to older pages and posts on the site. While doing so I also can dig down through the layers of books, exposing the hits and misses of the evolution of my reading. Sometimes I find an old reading list which cries out for updating my successes; other times I find an embarrassing list that pleads for attention.
The more I read, the more I want to read. This is good to keep in mind: Reading begets reading. One book cries out to another book. The library is always full.
Looking back at the last ten years—years that gave us 9/11, the Iraq war, and the recent Republican insurrection—I created a reading list by popping the top two titles off of my annual conclusions. Note that for the last two years I have been avoiding known classics in my lists since being classics, we all know they must be good and certainly will contribute to our pleasure and edification.
So my lists are seeking more contemporary, possibly unusual, works from around the world. Thoughts?
- How German Is It — Walter Abish
- Waiting For Godot – Samuel Beckett
- The Adventures of Augie March — Saul Bellow
- The Master and Margarita — Mikhail Bulgakov
- The Western Lands — William S. Burroughs
- The U. S. A. Trilogy [The 42nd Parallel, 1919, The Big Money] — John Dos Passos
- The Years — Annie Ernaux
- The Sound and the Fury — William Faulkner
- Absalom, Absalom! — William Faulkner
- The Forsyte Saga [A Man of Property, In Chancery, To Let] — John Galsworthy
- Submission — Michel Houellebecq
- Women In Love — D. H. Lawrence
- Independent People — Halldor Laxness
- The Golden Notebook — Doris Lessing
- It Can’t Happen Here — Sinclair Lewis
- Under the Volcano — Malcolm Lowry
- The Man Without Qualities — Robert Musil
- La Vie mode d’emploi – Georges Perec
- The Radetzky March — Joseph Roth
- Wind, Sand and Stars — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- The Obstacles — Eloy Urroz
- The Republic of Wine — Mo Yan
3 thoughts on “Ten Years Later”
I must admit that I have a penchant for older classics and history. “War and Peace” and “Moby Dick” are two favourites. However, I run a readers’ group at our local museum, or did until restrictions here in the UK began. Each member, mostly retirees, has a say in what we read each year. We read a book per month, meet together and discuss. The group likes worthwhile modern works from around the world, so we have have read several of the books on your list. I always feel this is good for me, yet enjoyable. Once a year we usually read a classic, Hardy, Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot, Austen and also Russian, French or American classic authors.
As for over ambitious reading plans, I too am guilty your honour.
The time comes when you’ve read most of the traditional classical titles and more contemporary literature begins to fully take over our reading lists. Oh, I have plenty of classical works to brighten my future (from your list, Trollope is a major gap) but I still crave the newness of contemporary literature. It is unfortunate that so much that seems new to today’s reading public is so often an uninspiring chain of hackneyed prose. It often reminds me of the television sit-com which rushes to copy last years’ success.
Back in the late 1950s Western dramas were all the rage on television but, since they were all relying on a dozen stock plots, they each relied on some unusual aspected to differentiate one show from another. Mad Magazine did a great piece predicated on each Western hero using a different weapon—the Rifleman, the Buntline Special, the Mare’s Leg, the Bowie Knife—but being a humor magazine, carried the trop to it’s ludicrous end with Matt Meringue who threw pies, or pea-shooters, etc. Sometimes the newness of contemporary novels is as silly as was the piece in Mad Magazine.
You are absolutely right about contemporary fiction. I think there is so many bad books put into print that it is hard to find the good stuff.