Last year I did a monthly discipline challenge tackling some of the things that I want to change about my life theoretically (stop spending, exercise daily, be on time) but that I had previously never actually made an effort towards.
I learned a lot about myself with the monthly challenges. I learned that some disciplines matter and others do not. I learned that it’s harder to quantify “success” and “failure” than I would have thought. And most importantly I learned that I am goal-oriented. If I have a goal that I’ve stated publicly, I’m much more apt to follow through with it. Imagine that.
After years of thinking about it, I’ve decided this year to read more classic literature. I read a lot. I love to read. But about 90% of what I read is purely entertainment. I mean I won’t read dumb stuff. But I read what I want to read, following my own interests. It’s fun to be an adult.
Still, some of the best sentences ever written floated by my eyes when I was a teenager. When I was in classes that forced me to read classic literature. I didn’t hate it, but I haven’t done much of it since. So for awhile now I’ve been meaning to re-read some of the classics, and finally to pick up those that I skipped.
I asked friends and family and Secret Post readers for suggestions on which classics one should definitely read, and immediately I hit the first dilemma. What is a classic? There are so many definitions, and many strong opinions. I decided to define a “classic” work of literature as something generally accepted as well-written, and that has permeated culture. But that still adds up to hundreds and hundreds of books across continents and genres.
In the spirit of Start Where You Are, I made a big list of things I should read and those that I want to read and cross-referenced. That narrowed it down considerably, but there were still dozens of titles to choose from. I eliminated a few from sheer length. I took three of the most suggested from the Secret Post subscribers as definites. And then I filled in the rest with books we’ll be glad that we read. When choosing these books for us to read together I considered:
- Relevance to our culture and to our lives. There are books that are so constantly referenced that often we don’t even know their original source. See Shakespeare (who was not on my final list). I want to examine why a work was relevant then and now, and while this argument can probably be made for any works that fall into the vague “classic” category, I thought about it when choosing.
- Entertainment value. If it feels like a chore, I’ll loathe doing it, which is not the point of this exercise. This is (hopefully) just a starter list, and it’s easier for everyone if we go in with the possibility of loving what we’re reading. I didn’t want to read Moby Dick, so Moby Dick is not on this list.
- Length. Most of us are big readers around here, so we all have current To Read lists stacked high. I’m not ready to commit to 1,200 words of Atlas Shrugged (yet) and I certainly wasn’t going to ask you to. So yes, I looked at length. You’re welcome.
I’m new to the online book club thing, so it might be trial and error at first. But here’s how I think it’s going to work: I’ll write a post when we start the book and based on length and time of year, I’ll give a date for when we’ll have the discussion on it. We’ll schedule the discussion and I’ll host it either here on the blog or possibly in another forum (I'm still researching the best way to have a group chat, any suggestions are welcome). Jump in on the books you want to read, skip the ones you don’t. I'm posting the list in its entirely below so people can read ahead if they wish. This is going to be fun!
The list as it stands now, in chronological order:
(1813) PRIDE & PREJUDICE by Jane Austen (279 pages)
(1960) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee (324 pages)
(1937) THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neale Hurston (256 pages)
(1939) THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck (496 pages)
(1925) MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf (216 pages)
(1957) ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac (307 pages)
A few notes: many of these are available for free on kindle, so make sure and check there. Also, the best translation for Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground is the one linked above. There are less expensive versions, however. Just know that they will be a bit different.
I'm using the hashtag #HHreads or #ReadGreatBooks on social media, and please make sure to tag me if you post about what you're reading!