About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Of Booklists and Resolutions

For all my (ahem) legions of followers out there in cyberland, I've reached a milestone. Cafe Hazelthyme is now a year old.

I started this blog last January, in an attempt to track the books I read over the course of the year. Yes, partly I wanted to see just how many I did read (hence, the 100-book challenge), but I also wanted to see if I could break the speed reader's curse: yes, I read pretty darned quickly, but sometimes at the price of not really having time to digest or reflect on what I've read. Now, I read most of my books with a little notebook beside me, jotting down quotes and questions and page numbers. It may go a little slower, but it's also more satisfying -- almost like the literary equivalent of a carefully home-cooked meal vs. fast food on the Mass Pike.

That's not to say I don't still crave the latter now and then. OK, I'm not a McD's fan, but the Thyme Family treated ourselves to some Chinese take-out last night (a rare thing, since I've been job hunting), and man, did that hit the spot. Likewise, while I'm finally getting around to Middlesex, and regretting that I waited so long (I've owned a secondhand copy for sheesh, who knows how many years), my predilection for french fries is reflected in my current stack o' library books waiting in the wings:
  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon (1989). I was underwhelmed by The Yiddish Policeman's Union despite all the rave reviews, and want to give the author a second chance.
  • When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson (2008). Seem to recall hearing about this one or reading a review somewhere, sometime, but really, it's just a plain old mystery that caught my eye.
  • Homer and Langley, by E.L. Doctorow (2009). One of my usual, highly-acclaimed, by-a-respected-author, guess-I'll-check-it-out picks.
  • South of Broad, by Pat Conroy (2009). OK, you caught me. Some people have a weakness for chocolate ... oh, wait; I do that, too.
  • The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss (2005). Again, caught my eye for some reason (pretty cover? tasty title? who knows?). I seem to recall checking this one out and not reading it before; perhaps this time will be different.
  • How to Buy a Love of Reading, by Tanya Egan Gibson (2006). How can I not read a book with this title whose protagonist is a priviledged but lonely Long Island teenager? Plus, I gave it to a favorite former boss and colleague who retired last year, and would like to find out eventually if it's any good.
  • Quiet Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Meditation, edited by Susan Piver (2008). Expanding and deepening my spiritual knowledge is a perpetual New Year's resolution of mine.
  • Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, by Henri J.M. Nouwen (2009). See above, progressive Christian edition.
  • The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure, by Catherine Blyth (2009). Self-help, or cultural study? Hmm ...
  • No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life, by Colin Beavan (2009). While I'm not willing to forego toilet paper, at least I borrowed this from the libe rather than buying my own copy and killing another tree. I read the Times articles online, too.
  • Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, by Ayelet Waldman (2009). Ever since Littlehazel really was little, I've been a sucker for books that deconstruct the uber-mom, opt-out, hardest-job-in-the-world phenomenon. Besides, I liked the husband-and-wife symmetry here (Waldman is married to Michael Chabon).
These are all due back in 2 weeks and most can't be renewed, so will I get through 'em all? Probably not (and yes, recommendations are welcome).

But enough of that. Even though none of 'em are in the bull pen as of yet, my goal this year isn't quantity, but quality. How often do you come across a classic novel (in something else you're reading, in conversation) and said to yourself, "Oh, I always wanted to read that," or "I always thought I should read that"? For me, it happens a lot, so I did a little research and found the following lists of (in someone's estimation) great books online:
  • The Modern Library/ Random House list of the 100 greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, originally published in 1998. The link actually contains 3 separate lists: the MLA board's picks, the MLA readers'/ voters' picks, and the Radcliffe Publishing Company's rival 100-best list.
  • The online Great Books Guide's list of the 100 greatest novels of all time. Subjective, yes, but includes many reasonable picks that didn't make the MLA list due to their elder-statesman status ... and gave me more things to chew on, too.
Thus armed, I indulged my inner geek and (blushing) made a spreadsheet to try and make some sense out of all the recommendations. I'll spare you the super-nerdy details, but ended up with the following list of books that appeared on all 4 lists, and which I want to read this year. (The purple titles are ones I remember reading at some point, but it's been a while.)
  • Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  • Light in August, by William Faulkner
  • The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Ulysses, by James Joyce
  • On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  • Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  • To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
And then there were the following, which made 3 of the 4:
  • A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather
  • Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad
  • Absalom, Absalom, by William Faulkner
  • The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles
  • The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, Joseph
  • A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
  • Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  • Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
Lastly, there were these authors who may not have had any one novel on 3 or 4 lists, but either had multiple works mentioned, or one work mentioned at least twice. In some cases, I've read at least one of their books, but it's been a while; in some cases, I haven't read them at all. Even though I suspect the first 2 and a handful of others, which appeared multiple times on the voter's choice list but nowhere else, were the result of some serious ballot-stuffing, I'm still curious:
  • Charles de Lint
  • Robert Heinlein
  • E.M. Forster
  • D.H. Lawrence
  • Ayn Rand
  • Charles Dickens
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Sinclair Lewis
  • Toni Morrison
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Edith Wharton
  • Saul Bellow
  • Theodore Dreiser
  • Thomas Hardy
  • L. Ron Hubbard
  • John Irving
  • V.S. Naipaul
  • Thomas Pynchon
  • Nathaniel West
  • Jane Austen
  • James Baldwin
  • Douglas Adams
  • Paul Bowles
  • Ray Bradbury
  • William S. Burroughs
  • Truman Capote
  • Robertson Davies
  • George Eliot
  • Ford Madox Ford
  • Robert Graves
  • Graham Greene
  • Dashiell Hammett
  • Herbert, Frank
  • Stephen King
  • Harper Lee
  • Malcolm Lowry
  • Norman Mailer
  • Thomas Mann
  • W. Somerset Maugham
  • Flannery O'Connor
  • Walker Percy
  • Jean Rhys
  • Stendahl
  • William Styron
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Robert Penn Warren
  • Richard Wright
Given that I know these won't be the only things I read ('cause now and then, I just plain like my trash), I think I've got my work cut out for me.

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