Last year, I set out to make 2015 my year of writing. Although I never reached my goal of finishing a draft, I did write more words than I expected and perhaps more than I ever wrote in my life. Through this writing, I realized that my reading was utterly inadequate, and I resolved to make 2016 my year of reading. I have always been a slow reader and I do not expect this to go well, but I will try to read as much as I can.
I would not be the first person to make such a resolution. Some guy named Andy Miller (who pointedly makes his own sandwiches) also did that, and read fifty books he thought were “great” and, true to form, wrote a book about it.
But what will I read? My Amazon.com “save for later” basket contains about 90 books, none of which are fiction. No wonder my reading is inadequate. I all but stopped reading fiction since my student days. I need to read more books, both fiction and non-fiction, and as far outside of my regular genre as possible.
So I looked around for some reading lists and found some intriguing examples. First off, there is the reading list at the end of Stephen King’s On Writing. Just about the only things useful he teaches in his book are “read a lot” and “persevere”, so it is only natural that he was asked to provide a reading list. The first list contained 96 volumes and he added another 82 volumes in a follow-up list in the tenth anniversary edition of the same book. Just a quick scan will tell you what kind of a omnivorous reader this writer is. The first list contains the first three installments of the Harry Potter series along with Heart of Darkness by William Conrad and Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham. The second list contains The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid along with War and Peace by Tolstoy and Revolutionary Road by Yates. I think I prefer the second list, but since the whole point is to read outside of my natural tenancies, I will pick something out of the first list as well.
Hit Lit by James W. Hall analyzes twelve 20th century American best sellers and figures out what they have in common. The book was quite insightful, but now I have to read all twelve novels.
Of course everyone has a different list for what the best new books of 2015 are, most of the mainstream lists seem to be promoting A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Another intriguing list that has been making the rounds recently was the list of 100 books recommended by the late David Bowie. There is an eclectic reader for you. I don’t even know what most of these books are about.
I never would have stumbled on the 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read list compiled by Esquire magazine if a screechy feminist at Literary Hub did not criticize it. This is one of the best reading lists out there and one I would happily recommend to my younger self. You may think Esquire is a silly magazine whose main function is to advertise slick designer suits and pricey colognes, but they have run some outstanding stories in the past (some of which you can read here) and nurtured such writers as Raymond Carver.
Just to balance things out, I searched out 21 Books From The Last 5 Years That Every Woman Should Read. Of course, I had never heard of most of these books, so it serves the purpose of introducing me to books outside my usual field of vision. But I was surprised to find The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on the list. This book has been on my to-read list for a long time. I better catch up on it.
The world is full of too many books to read. And there are too many reading lists. Even Bill Gates has a reading list. But looking through a lot of reading lists it seemed to me that the purpose of exhibiting reading lists like underwear on a laundry line was to shame and intimidate the reader, potential reader, or the non-reader into reading more books. They act as that store keeper in the philosophy section of your bookstore pretending to be dusting the books, but whose real function is to glare at you when you try to put a book back into the shelf. In that respect, I found that the most intimidating store keeper of them all was the list of required readings of the top US universities. The titles, like Leviathan by Hobbes and Wealth of Nations by Smith, are quite familiar but I admit that the only volume I ever read from this list is Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I can see the virtue of reading these books. The Prince by Machiavelli and Robinson Crusoe by Defoe have been on my to-read list since forever.
I am a busy professional and I do not have the time to read them all. I will try to read as many as I can. And I hope I will finish enough of them to be able to say that 2016 was my year of reading.