Anyway, the contemplation of my impending death got me all teary-eyed thinking about the many, many things I have never done in my surprisingly long life. I've never been to Rome or Paris. I've never driven a Maserati. I've never partied with Chloe Sevigny. I've never drank absinthe. I've never gotten drunk and driven a Maserati wildly through the streets of Rome, while Chloe Sevigny rides shotgun pouring me ever more absinthe. You know, stuff like that. And as I have this thing called a "job" that needs to be "held down" by going to work every day, and things like rent and grocery bills which prevent me from blowing my meager wages on booze and broads (sorry, Chloe), well, realistically many of those things may also never get done in the second half of my life either, which apparently I'm already racing through at ever-increasing speed despite the lack of a Maserati.
So I was faced with a predicament: what now, bitch? Do I just have yet another glass of rye, flip on the TV, and just wait for the reaper? Or can I somehow still seize the day, and do something I've always wanted to do before I die? And what would that be? This is the kind of stuff that went through my mind for days afterwards.
Coincidentally, around the same time, I was driving to work (in a Toyota, not a Maserati) and listening to a lecture from The Teaching Company on Leo Tolstoy. If you're not aware, The Teaching Company makes college lecture series on CDs that cover a variety of topics. They're really well done, and make an excellent distraction while on my daily 45 minute commute, especially for someone with serious geek tendencies like myself ( I am a scientist, so it comes with the territory). Anyway, I'm listening to the CD, and the speaker is going on and on about how great "War and Peace" is, and how some people argue it's the greatest novel of all time, and I'm thinking "Wow, I should read that someday...and soon since apparently the hourglass is rapidly running out for me". I mulled this thought over in my head. Maybe this is the way I can "seize the day"...I can read this great, great novel that I've never read, and which I probably should read before I die because it's such a titanic work of literature. I mean, since life is ebbing away, maybe I should stop and take the time to read the greatest novel EVER. In fact, it seemed like a no brainer. Problem solved. Now I could drink my rye in peace.
Or not. For on the very next day, I was listening to another lecture, and the speaker was going on and on about George Eliot, and how "Middlemarch" was argued by some to be the greatest novel ever written...in English! Fuck. So now I need to read two novels, and fast before I breathe my last.
But then I got to thinking about it more. I've been fortunate that I have had a great education, and I've read a lot of great books, "classic" books, as part of that education. Books like "Don Quixote", "Huckleberry Finn", "Madame Bovary", "Crime and Punishment", 'David Copperfield", etc. etc. But how many classic works, the very foundations of our western civilization, have I NOT read? I had no idea. But naturally, being a scientist I decided to quantitate, so I made a list. I went online and googled "100 greatest books" and "greatest books ever written" and things like that. And I wrote down all the books I had NOT read from those lists. My list rapidly filled up to about 60 or 70 books. Some books on the lists I didn't add, either because I have read them already, or because I didn't think they were really that great (from what I've heard on the street), or because I just couldn't stomach wading through them (actually there was only one of these: Ulysses. More on that, later). I slowly added more books after further web searches, until finally I had a list of 100 books. Yeah, I know, an arbitrary number, but the number of candidates that could be called "great" was starting to thin out, so I ended it, for now, at 100. But it was immediately clear to me...THIS was to be my goal. A goal I then decided to blog about. So here it is: I, the scientist, will continue what my English teachers in high school and college started so very long ago. I will read the top 100 books that I should read before I die, but haven't yet. 100 classics of humanity, of civilization. WooHoo!
Should be interesting. I mean, they're "The Great Books", right? They should be great. In fact, they all should be, like, AWESOME! Right? Well, let's see...