Friday, November 14, 2008

Reading lists and intellectual challenges

LegalMist had an interesting post recently on literature, the Pulitzer, and ambitious reading plans. She's going to read every book on the list, which at this point is up to 82 titles. Looking at the list of winners got me to wondering just how many of them I'd read myself (answer: 15, all published prior to 1973 although I've read most of the 15 within the past decade). Then I started thinking about other literature prizes, like the Nobel and the Booker, and just how much actual mainstream "literature" I'd read in my lifetime as opposed to genre mind candy (mysteries and science fiction and fantasy).

Of course, how one defines "literature" can be tricky. Gone With the Wind won a Pulitzer, but if that book isn't the epitome of a bodice ripper, mind candy in its purest form, nothing is. Is it literature if it's also fun to read? What about the test of time? Some of the books on the Pulitzer list are still being read, still getting sold in Barnes and Noble and Borders: The Good Earth (1932), The Yearling (1939), The Old Man and the Sea (1953) all come to mind as novels that have become classics. Others on the list, though, could be a challenge to find. I had never heard of Scarlet Sister Mary (1929) by Julia Peterkin (I'd never heard of her before today either). Caroline Miller's A Lamb in His Bosom (1934) seems to have faded into obscurity, too.

In any case, it's an interesting reading challenge, so I think I'm going to do it, too. Methodical, borderline obsessive that I am, I'll start with the oldest and work my way toward the present, assuming, of course, that I can manage to track down copies of some of the more obscure titles. I've already discovered I'll have to get the first one at Emory University's library instead of my neighborhood branch of the DeKalb County system. DeKalb has no copies of Ernest Poole's His Family (1918), and the cheapest used copy available on-line is $26. The last time the book was reprinted was 1962. That is not a good sign.

Photos are of what's left of my personal library. There used to be a lot more . . . and then we moved. The books are not necessarily ones I had decided I could not live without -- I'd boxed up a bunch before I started thinking that maybe instead of shoving them all into the back of a U-Haul I should be sending some off to the Friends of the Omaha Public Library for the annual book sale. I also hauled a bunch into work for friends and co-workers to pick through. One thing I did not do, though, was open up boxes that were already taped shut and go through them.

And, yes, when I look at the ones I decided to move I have a hard time figuring out why I bothered with some of them. Trollope and Wodehouse make perfect sense; David Brin and the Duct Tape Guys not so much.


  1. Look at all those books! I'm still taking my time reading teen escapism. I'm on the last book of the Stephanie Meyers Twilight series. I might finish in time for the movie to be released. Might.

    Now Wodehouse, those are books I can read over and over.

  2. i just took a picture of the 3 big book cases in the dining i have one that is full of cook books, alternative medicine books
    one book case with witchcraft, horoscopes, womens books, etc.
    one that has books on science and earth.
    and every time i give a book away..i cry


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.