Last Monday, a friend introduced me to someone who read Ulysses twice. My friend was really glad about this, because during literary discussions I could always shut him up by saying “Well, at least I read Ulysses”. Now I can’t do that anymore and that sucks.
I have this wonderful book called 1001 books you should read before you die. Every year around my birthday I go through it to see how I scored that year. It’s motivating to see how many books I’ve read, but it can also be confronting to see how many great books I still have to read. Every day thousands of books get published, and although I don’t want to read all of them, I do want to read a lot. I’m pretty sure I already own books that I’ll never get to read, because it’s just too much.
I think most bibliophiles have this need to read every book written. I’m a quick reader, and I do what I can, but sometimes we just have to face that it’s impossible. I read between 60 to 80 books a year. Let’s take the highest number, 80 books. Let’s say I become 90 years old, that means I can read only 7200 books in my lifetime, and in this case I have to keep reading until I’m 90 and I didn’t even calculate the years I couldn’t read yet. Thousands of books get published every day, and I’m never going to be able to keep up. That’s hard to realise.
So I have to make choices. No Young Adult. More classics. But on the other hand, I was so glad to curl up with Diana Gabaldon after I finished Ulysses. It’s not only an intellectual interest, it’s also a hobby, it’s something to relax with, and sometimes I have trouble balancing those two.
I can be a pretty competitive person, and it can be hard to realize that there’s always someone who reads more, or who reads better books, or who understands them better. As a student of literature I feel this pressure to have an opinion about every book and know everything about it but hey, that really not a realistic goal.
So I was feeling a bit insecure about this and my friend gave me some great advise: I should make a list of some of the books that I am really, really proud of. It doesn’t matter for what reason. Just books that put a smile on my face because I read them. So here’s my list:
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov – especially because of that beautiful scene at the end between Stolz and Olga. If I have only two more weeks to live, all I’m gonna do is reread that scene.
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs– Because it was hard to read but so beautifully raw.
all about love by bell hooks – Because it changed my definition of love.
À Rembours by Joris-Karl Huysmans – Because I hated it while reading but I’m learning to appreciate it more and more.
Ulysses by James Joyce – Because it was so hard but I stuck with it.
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak – Because I thought it was going to be so hard but it just turned out to be beautiful.
Le Livre de la Cité des Dames by Christine de Pisan – Because it was the foundation for my feminism.
Midnight’s Children – Because I had so much trouble getting through it.
Le rouge et le noir by Stendhal – Because I love the psychology of it.
Music Hall by Paul van Ostaijen – Because I love Dadaist poetry.