Thursday, December 20, 2007

The End of Main Street (Spoiler Alert!)

Well I finished up "Main Street" this morning.  One down, 104 to go!  I loved "Main Street", and I hope I have as much fun reading the rest of the books as I did this one.

A lot happens towards the end of the book.  Carol's love towards the outcast never really goes anywhere, and a scandal involving a young female schoolteacher, which ends with her basically run out of town on the train, forewarns Carol about what's in store for her if she gets caught.  After a California vacation, Carol packs up her things, her son included, and moves to Washington DC.  She gets a job working for the government, shares a flat with a couple of other working girls, and hangs out with Bohemians and suffragettes.  This move surprised me, as I didn't think she had it in her.  She spends over a year there, and while she enjoys it, she realizes it's not all it's cracked up to be...the work is not all that stimulating, there are cliques here as well (although not as pervasive as in Gopher Prairie), and when talking to a suffragette leader the woman laments to her about how she longs for children.  The grass is indeed always greener.  

Will comes to visit, and they reconnect, as best they can.  He's a very sympathetic character to me.  He has no intellectual life or inclinations at all, but when pushed he shows a deep understanding of Carol, and he does seem to truly love her.  He eventually goes back to Gopher Prairie, and she returns as well several months later.  She has a second child, a daughter.  The novel ends with her vowing to carry on the fight, to "keep the faith", but also resigned to the fact that she's getting older, and still giving up rather too easily when challenged.  So it's somewhat of an ambiguous ending, which is probably most appropriate.  It's clear she'll never be fulfilled like she wants, yet isn't that how life generally is?  As They Might Be Giants sang "Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful".  And crap, I think about how this reflects on myself, on my life.  I'm 46 years old, and how many of my dreams are clearly never going to be fulfilled?  Like, most of them?  Life can seem so promising when you're fact, so promising that you can't imagine it otherwise.  Then you wake up and you're 46, and you're over 1/2 way to death.  Fuck.  Maybe the folks on Main Street aren't thwarting you, but your job is, or your mortgage, or your car payments.  So then what else can you do but grab a glass or two of fine American whiskey, make a list of books, and start a blog.  Not much has changed in the 80-something years since this book was written.  Except the blog part.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More from Main Street

I've got about 60 pages left to go in "Main Street".  The tone of the novel has definitely changed since I last blogged, which was about about 150 pages ago.  The tone has gotten darker, and more serious.  The humor with which the narrator treated the main character, Carol, has mostly left. There are times when Carols speaks with what seems to be Sinclair's voice, directly berating small town life.  And meanwhile, Carol has fallen in love with a younger man, another village outcast.  Whereas before I didn't feel this would all end badly, I now have no idea how this thing will end.  I will soon know.

I'd forgotten how fun it is to read a novel.  It's different from a movie.  No matter how engrossing the movie is, two hours later and you're done with it.  You go outside, you go eat dinner, and the movie rapidly fades.  But a novel lasts for days (at least with my work schedule).  You get more familiar with the move in with them for a week or two, or more.  You think about them, you try on their clothes, you worry about their problems.  And you reflect on chew them up and mull them over and wake up realizing you've dreamed about them.  How wonderful.  What a great escape.  What fun!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Book #1 – Main Street (Sinclair Lewis)

As I mentioned, I started this whole reading project last week, by picking a book at random from The List.  And that book is Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street".  I'm about 2/3 of the way through now, and I'm loving it!  This is a really good book...

It's the story of Carol Kennicott, young bride of Dr. Will Kennicott of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.  Carol is a young, college-educated, bright, idealistic, naive woman, who becomes a librarian in Minneapolis after graduating from college, and soon meets and marries the young doctor from Gopher Prairie.  She then moves with him back to his home town.  The novel focuses on her relationship with the town and its inhabitants.  She arrives wanting to change the town in so many ways...from changing its architecture to enlightening its inhabitants.  And, of course, she's thwarted at every turn.  The town and its denizens can't change, and won't change.  The town's social networks are akin to ones we all experienced in high school...the cliques, the infighting, the pettiness.  She becomes disillusioned, bitter, lonely.

Anyway, that's where I am now.  We'll see what happens.  The theme of a woman not being fulfilled in married life/family life reminds me of other books I've read, from "The Awakening" to "The Woman's Room"  But this book also focuses heavily on life in small American towns.  Carol finds the inhabitants do not like and respect things intellectual and cultured, even though they would like to think of themselves as cultured.  There is both a disrespect and fear of new ideas, which are seen as threatening.  Carol is excited by the new Scandinavian immigrants who come to town, with strange and exotic ways...she is attracted to the novel, the unknown.  Yet, to her dismay, the immigrants, after arriving, do all they can to lose the novel ways, to fit in, and their children are completely Americanized. 

While this book takes place around the World War I years, I wonder how much has really changed.  It seems in today's America that rural regions are more conservative than urban ones...the old red state/blue state divide.  Why is that?  Why are small towns more insular and conservative?  Is it the lack of influx of new ideas, or new people, that large cities enjoy?  Yet in the novel, there is a constant stream of new immigrants to the area, so that's not quite it.  Is there something deep in human nature that seeks small social circles, small cliques, and fears and hates the foreign, the new, the novel?  Is this reinforced by living in a small town?

It will be interesting to see how the novel ends.  I cold see it ending tragically, but Lewis writes with a sense of humor and sympathy for the characters, that makes a tragic ending seem out of place.  We shall see...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Last of the 100 Greatest Books I Haven't Read

Alright, here are the last remaining books on The List:

86.  The Tale of Genji (Murasaki Shikibu)...In my search of the web for lists of the greatest books ever written, I came across this one several times.  I know absolutely nothing about it.  Sounds Japanese, though.
87.  The Trial (Franz Kafka)...All I've read of Kafka is "The Metamorphosis".  I'm guessing this book is his version of a John Grisham novel.
88.  Paradise Lost (Milton)...This one will be heavy.  Should have read it in college, but never did.
89.  The New Testament...When I was in college I decided to read the Bible straight through.  I got most of the way through the Old Testament. Now it's time to finish the job.  I also debated adding The Koran to This List, as it seems like an important book for these times, but I decided against it.  Not quite sure why, but I may add it at some point.
90.  Beowulf...I debated this one, since I have little interest in reading it, but adding it seemed like the liberal artsy thing to do.
91.  Notes from the Underground (Dostoevsky)...I read "Crime and Punishment" in high school.  That was a helluva great novel.  Made me feel sick and feverish reading it.  I also thought of adding "The Idiot" to The List, just because the title's cool.
92.  The Cairo Trilogy (Naguib Mahfouz)...Egyptian writers were sorely lacking from This List, so I added these.  This guy won the Nobel Prize!
93.  The Education of Henry Adams (H. Adams)...An autobiography written in the third person.  Can't pass that up!
94.  Canterbury Tales (Chaucer)...This one has little appeal to me, but again, I feel like it's one of those books I should have read.  I have no doubt I will struggle with his English, since they couldn't spell very well in olden times.
95.  Robinson Crusoe (D. Defoe)...Another book I should have read as a kid.  We all know what it's about, but I want the details!
96.  Seven Pillars of Wisdom (TE Lawrence)...Lawrence of Arabia's book.  Loved the movie.
97.  The Mill on the Floss (G. Eliot)...More Eliot.  This one's about a mill.  But what's a "Floss"?
98.  Moll Flanders (D. Defoe)...This one's about a girl named Moll.  That's all I know.
99.  The Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith)...This is different from many other books on this list, but I included it, as it's perhaps the most famous book written about economics...a field I had absolutely no interest in during college, but which has become much more interesting to me since I started actually making some money.
100.  Democracy in America (De Toqueville)...A french dude analyzes America.  A classic work.

So there you have it, right?  Well, no...unfortunately, I couldn't stop at 100, and ended up adding five more books to The List:

101.  Ulysses (James Joyce)...Alright, I said before I wouldn't add this, but I had to.  In high school I read "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and absolutely hated it.  But I think I should re-examine Joyce before writing him off forever.  And what better way than with his most famous book.
102.  Up from Slavery (Booker T. Washington)...An ex-slave writes his autobiography.  More classic Americana.
103.  Eugene Onegin (A. Pushkin)...Never read any Pushkin, and I know nothing about this book, except that I've heard of it.
104.  Look Homeward Angel (Thomas Wolfe)...This is supposed to be a great novel.  All I know about it is that it takes place in North Carolina.
105.  Ivanhoe (Walter Scott)...I think this is about the Crusades.

That's it!  105 books that I should read before I die.  I imagine that as I go along This List will be a bit fluid.  I may add a book or two, and I suppose I may remove one.  As I said in my last post, I've already started on my first book from The List.  More about that in my next post.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Hits from The List!

Exciting news!  I've actually started reading the books on The List!!  Well, I started one of them that is.  Yep, read 50 pages so far, and I'm really loving it!  It's actually been a few years since I've read a novel...most of what I've been reading is history books of all types, and I'd forgotten how fun it is to read a novel.  And what novel is it, you ask..."Main Street" by Sinclair Lewis!  More on this book later, but first, let me continue listing all the books currently on The List:

61.  Vanity Fair (Thackeray)...One of the few books to be named after a magazine.  A big, thick, English book.
62.  The Tin Drum (G. Grass)...I don't know much about this one.  German.  Made into a movie, I think, and there's a kid who plays drums in it.  Is it about the young John Bonham?   I will find out.
63.  An American Tragedy (T. Drieser)
64.  Sister Carrie (T. Drieser)...Two novels by a great American novelist whom I've never read.  They sound depressing, or at least tragic.
65.  My Antonia (Willa Cather)...I read "The Song of the Lark" years ago.  Pretty good.  Early prairie feminism.  I suppose I should add "Death Comes for the Archbishop", but I didn't.
66.  USA Trilogy (Dos Passos)...Three separate novels!  One of those early 20th century American writers who I've heard of but never read.  I have a vague notion that socialist politics will be mentioned.  Is this right, or am I way off base?
67.  Herzog (Saul Bellow)...Never read any Bellow.  This is probably NOT a biography of the German director Werner Herzog, but I won't know 'til I read it.
68.  Germinal (Emile Zola)...The great French naturalist author.  Never read him.
69.  The Hound of the Baskervilles (AC Doyle)...I've never read any Sherlock Holmes, so I had to add one for The List.  This should be a fun read.
70.  Snow Country (K. Yasunari)...This was on several "greatest books" lists I found on the web.  I have never heard of it before.  My interest is peaked!
71.  Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh)...I have the feeling this one will be "Masterpiece Theatre"-esque.  But really I know nothing about it.  Is Waugh British?
72.  The Ambassadors (Henry James)...Oh God, more Henry James.  I'm dreading this one a bit.
73.  Treasure Island (RL Stevenson)...The classic pirate novel.  I should have read this 30 years ago, but better late than never.
74.  The Maltese Falcon (D. Hammet)...Is this really one of the greatest books ever?  Well, it's certainly a classic, and it's by a San Francisco writer, so I had to add it.  Should be a fun read.  I'll tackle this one after Henry James, as a reward.
75.  Native Son (Richard Wright)...I read parts of "Black Boy" in high school, and liked it.  Looking forward to this one.
76.  Lord of the Flies (W. Golding)...Saw the movie as a kid, and it scared the hell out of me.
77.  Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson)...I'm originally from Ohio, so this hits a soft spot.  Another great American book from the early 20th century.
78.  All the King's Men (RP Warren)...Still another American novel, loosely based on the life of Huey Long.  Definitely looking forward to this one.
79.  The Decameron (Boccaccio)...I'd never heard of this one until last year.  A late medieval/early renaissance book about young people fleeing into the countryside during a plague outbreak.  To amuse themselves, they tell one another stories, chronicled in this book.  A lot of allegory, I'm guessing.  Still, I've heard good things about this one.
80.  Faust (Goethe)...Great German plays by a German genius.  I read "Sorrows of Young Werther" in college.  I think these are the only plays on The List.
81.  History of Rome (Livy)...Roman history by one who lived it.
82.  Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)...Doesn't everyone read this in high school?  Not me!  But I have read "The Grapes of Wrath", "Travels with Charley", and "Cannery Row".
83.  Lives (Plutarch)...More Roman history, about Roman dudes' lives.
84.  Journal of the Plague Year (D. Defoe)...More stories about the plague.
85.  Lives of the Poets (Samuel Johnson)...I read Boswell's "Life of Samuel Johnson" recently, and it was great (but very long).  I figured I needed to read some of The Master.

Alright, I'll try to finish off listing the books on The List in my next post.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

30 More for The List

Midnight.  Just me, a glass of some fine sipping rum (Zaya, from Guatemala...really great stuff, tastes like molasses, with a kick), and this blog.  Anyway, we were going over the 100 books on The List, so let's get back at it:

31.  Persuasion (Jane Austen)
32.  Emma (Jane Austen)
33.  Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)...I read "Pride and Prejudice" maybe 15 years ago.  Enjoyed it, although I almost had the book stolen from me while on the subway (long story).  But I've never read anything else by her.  So I picked three.  And just to note:  I've never seen any of the 87 movie versions of her books made in the last few years.
34.  Bleak House (Dickens)
35.  Hard Times (Dickens)...I read "David Copperfield" in high of my all-time favorite novels.  I also read "Great Expectations" and "Tale of Two Cities"...good books, but they didn't stick with me like DC.  I figured I should include some Dickens, and these two had the most depressing titles.
36.  The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas)
37.  The Three Musketeers (Dumas)...I've never read either of these, although I saw the movie version of The Three Musketeers and loved it.  I'm not even sure if I know what the Count of Monte Cristo is about!  And are these childrens books??
38.  Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)...Again, saw the movie, never read the book
39.  The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford)...I remember my roommate reading this in college and hating it.  I have no idea what it's about, but apparently some people think it's great.  But not my old roommate.
40.  Histories (Herodotus)...I read excerpts from these in Classics 101 in college.  Never read the whole thing.  I remember liking what I read in college, though, so I hoping to enjoy the full-length writings of "The Father of History"
41.  House of Seven Gables (Nathaniel Hawthorne)...I read "The Scarlet Letter" in high school, but not this one.  Again, I have no idea what it's about.  Is this house haunted?  That would be cool.  I should read this back-to-back with "Frankenstein", perhaps?
42.  Hunchback of Notre Dame (V. Hugo)...Another horror book.  In high school french class I read parts of "Les Miserables" in the original french.  I guess I could reread that one too (in English, as my french has evaporated long ago), but I know how it goes.
43.  Kim (Rudyard Kipling)...I've never read any Kipling...never even saw Disney's The Jungle Book..  Again, is this a kid's book?
44.  Last of the Mohicans (James F. Cooper)...Don't know much about this one except the famous title.  It's about Cowboys and Indians, right?
45.  Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)...Probably every girl reads this is seventh grade.  I never did.  I'm a guy.
46.  Metamorphoses (Ovid)...I read Kafka's version, but not this one.  Ovid is greek, I think...or maybe roman.  Is there a cockroach involved?
47.  Main Street (Sinclair Lewis)...Again, I know nothing about this book except the title.  I always get Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair mixed up in my mind.  One of them ran for governor of California, the other one didn't.
48.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (F. Douglass)...More classic Americana.  I was kinda fascinated by Frederick Douglass in high school, but for some reason never read this.
49.  Of Human Bondage (Somerset Maughm)...Was this the Maughm book that was made into that Bill Murray movie?  Do people still read Maughm, or has he fallen from favor?  Regardless, I will read this.  Again, I'm unsure what it's about.  Slavery maybe?  That would go with Frederick Douglass, then.
50.  Pere Giorot (Balzac)...Pere means "father" in french, I remember that much.  I read a short work by Balzac once, and enjoyed it, but now I have no memory of it, except that I enjoyed it.  This one seems to be Balzac's most famous work.
51.  Portrait of a Lady (Henry James)...Oh God, I read something by James once...maybe it was the Bostonians?  It was not an easy read.  But I'm older and wiser now...well, OK, older anyway.  Too fricking old, actually.
52.  Puddn'head Wilson (Mark Twain)
53.  Life on the Mississippi (Mark Twain)...I've read Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Connecticut Yankee, but not these two.  Actually I think I read part of Life on the Mississippi before, but never made it all the way through.  I have no idea what Puddn'head Wilson is about, but it's got one of the most awesome titles in all of literature.  Seriously, Twain is great.  My grandfather was named after him.  I'm looking forward to these two!  (Hey, I'm looking forward to them all, but these two especially).
54.  Two Years Before the Mast (Richard Henry Dana)...A Yale grad goes sailing for two years, in the days of grog and lashes.  I read about 50 pages of this once.  Now I am on a mission, and I will complete it.
55.  The Republic (Plato)...Ok, I said no philosophy, but Plato, well I can't die without reading something by him.  I picked this book at random.  I probably should read all of Plato, but I think this one will be really slow going.  If I like it, though, I reserve the right to read more of him, as part of this one
56.  Room with a View (EM Forster)...Never read it, never saw the movie.
57.  Scaramouch (Rafael Sabatini)...What the #*@&$ is this one?  This was on several lists of "greatest books ever", but I have never heard of it, and have no idea what it's about or why it's considered great.  But I bow to the wisdom of the internet, so it goes on the list.
58.  Silas Marner (George Eliot)...More Eliot.  I think Silas is a dude's name.
59.  Sentimental Education (Flaubert)...I read Madame Bovary in college, which was great.  I haven't read this one, though, nor do I have any clue what it's about.  (I love it when I have no idea what a book's about, by the way).
60.  Uncle Tom's Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe)...I've heard this one described as the classic American novel that no one ever reads.  Well dammit, I will read it!

Bedtime.  I will continue this later...40 more to go!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What ELSE is on The List?

Alright, I'm back after a long day of working for The Man.  The Man is gone now, and it's just me and the whiskey glass and this blog and...The List.  Here are the next 20 books on The List:

11.  The Aeneid (Virgil)...The classic poem about the founding of Rome.  I think.
12.  History of the Pelloponnesian War (Thucydides)...Another hit from the classical world.  This one's about a war.  Sparta vs. Athens.  Cool.
13.  Essays (Michel de Montaigne)...All I know is this is some Spanish guy from a long time ago who wrote essays.  No idea what they're about.
14.  Gulliver's Travels (Jonathon Swift)...Little people from Liliput tie down Gulliver.  Satire, Olde Englishe Style.  Probably good to read while drinking Olde English 800 Malt Liquor...the way it was MEANT to be enjoyed.
15.  Jane Eyre (Bronte)...Never read this one, can you believe it?  Required reading for eighth grade girls, I think.
16.  The Red and the Black (Stendhal)...A french novel, written in the post-Napolean years.  That's literally all I know about it.
17.  As I Lay Dying (Faulkner)
18.  The Sound and the Fury (Faulkner)
19.  Absalom, Absalom! (Faulkner)...yep, three by William Faulkner, the great southern writer.  I've never read anything by him.  I've heard he can be abstruse.
20.  Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)...I read The Fountainhead in college and loved it.  This one probably should have been read in college too, but better late than never.  Who is John Galt, anyway?
21.  The Naked and the Dead (N. Mailer)...Norman Mailer just died, so I think I had a soft spot to put this one on The List.  His first, and many say best novel.  I read "An American Dream" while in college, and it didn't really stand out for me.
22.  The Portrait of Dorian Grey (Oscar Wilde)...Nope, never read it, or anything else by Wilde.
23.  The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing)...Well, she just won the Nobel Prize, so she's got to be pretty good, right?
24.  The Epic of Gilgamesh...I think this one was written like 20,000 years ago, or something like that.  The oldest book ever.
25.  Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman)...The only book of poetry on The List.  Classic Americana, or so I've heard.
26.  The Autobiography of Ben Franklin...More classic Americana.
27.  Animal Farm (George Orwell)...I read 1984 in high school, but I've never read this one. Some pig!
28.  Things Fall apart (Achebe)...Interesting.  Many of those "greatest books ever" lists I found online contained this one.  I've never heard of it.  Cool!
29.  Labyrinths (Borges)...Borges is awesome.  So is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I've read all his stuff, so he's not on The List.
30.  Tess of the D'Uerbervilles (Thomas Hardy)...I've always wondered what this one was about.  Love the title, but what does it mean?

Alright, back to bed, then back to work...more later...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

So what's on this #&$*@% list, anyway?

Ah yes, an excellent question.  What books are on "the list", and why are they there?  What makes me so sure these 100 are the top 100 books I've never read?  Well, first let me lay a few ground rules, most of which get broken immediately.  I tried to omit "philosophy" books.  Yes, while Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason", Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism", and David Hume's "A Treatise of Human Nature" are all incredibly important works and should be read by everyone and pondered over while meditating in the desert for a year or two, I just don't think I'd get much out of them without taking a class and discussing them with fellow students while smoking clove cigarettes and drinking rye whiskey from a plastic cup.  But as I said, the rules here get broken, so Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" is included on the list at #99.  Why that particular book?  I dunno.  Whim maybe.

In fact, most of the books on the list are fiction.  Most, but not all.  There are a few biographies, as we shall see, and a few classic books of history.  But enough delay...on to The List!

Well, not quite on to The List.  First an explanation...the list is numbered by the order I thought of that particular book.  I won't necessarily read the books in this order.  I fact, I definitely won't.  So the order is actually quite random.  I suppose I could hit "sort" on my Excel spreadsheet and organize the whole thing, but that's too easy, and not so fun.  But anyway, where was I ...oh yes, on to The List, etc. etc.  So here it is:

1.  War and Peace (Tolstoy)
2.  Middlemarch (George Eliot).  Well, you already know these first two books, if you read my first post.  The greatest novel ever written in some strange foreign tongue, and the greatest novel ever written in God's English.
3.  The Confessions of St. Augustine
4.  The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau.  Two confessions, two seminal works of autobiography, written over a millenium apart.
5.  In Search of Lost Time (Proust).  Or "Remembrance of Things Past" or whatever it's called these days.  Man, "War and Peace" will take me years, and Proust's novel is actually like 17 novels, or something like that.  Nonetheless I will read them all.  I will read them all and love them!  It is my calling.  And speaking of which, there's that damn whiskey bottle shouting my name again.  Hold on a second...Oh yeah, much better.
6.  Anna Karenina (Tolstoy).  I read somewhere on the web that "Anna Karenina" is thought by some folks to be the best novel ever written.  And I thought that was "War and Peace".  This Tolstoy guy apparently has a really good track record.
7.  The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky).  Another long, long Russian novel.
8.  Beloved (Toni Morrison)
9.  Invisible Man (R. Ellison)
10.  The Divine Comedy (Dante).  I'm worried this might be a bit dry, but there's only one way to find out.  And if it is, I can just add whiskey.

Alright, enough for now, it's time for bed.  I gotta get up and go to my job to support this reading habit.  More later...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

What the &#*$ is this blog about, anyway?

Allow me to explain.  Recently, over a few too many glasses of rye whiskey, I came to ponder the fact that I am now in my forties.  Fuck.  That seems really old, or at least it does to the twenty-something that lives inside me.  Forty-something.  So if I live another forty-odd years, I'm half-way to death.  And forty-odd more years...who am I am I going to live that long if I keep drinking this rye whiskey?  I could stop drinking the whiskey, but what's the fun in that?  Thus the dilemma...I'm screwed...gonna die and I'm probably on the downside of the curve already.  Dammit, where's that whiskey glass?  Ahhh, much better...

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 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...