Sunday, October 31, 2010

50 Books

It started with Charlotte’s Web and ended with Shoeless Joe. In the past four years, from 2007 to 2010, I’ve read 50 books. How do I know this? In 2007 I began to write down each book that I finished, and I kept it up year after year. I don’t know why I decided to do this. Maybe it was my way of monitoring what I was reading, like the way a dieter counts calories and plans meals. I wanted to see exactly what kind of reading habit I have. Rest assured that I’ve read each of these books cover to cover. There are plenty of books I’ve partially read, maybe to finish someday, but they won’t make the list until they’re done. I start a new list each year and keep an overall record.

Nothing spectacular, just a list. And, regrettably, that list had gotten shorter over the last couple of years. Last year I read less than 10 books. But when I looked back at all the lists and saw that there was a cumulative total of 50 books, I realized that maybe these lists were a bigger deal than I thought. The number seemed big, for one thing, because it didn’t seem like I had read all that much, especially since I feel like I neglect reading more than I should. But it gave me hope and made me proud that I had read so many. But more importantly, it helped me to see what kind of books I was choosing and not just the number, and even though it is only a list, it tells a lot about how I’ve grown as a reader.

Consider that four years ago I had never even heard of Twilight. Also, during the last four years, I got to read the final book in the Harry Potter series (along with the rest of the world), discovered author Shannon Hale, and fell in love with The Secret Life of Bees. These are all significant events for me and a huge part of my reading experience.

What else? It’s worth noting that most of the books I’ve read in the past four years are children’s and young adult literature titles. That is a MAJOR evolution from what my reading habit was ten years ago, around the time I graduated high school. Being the book geek that I was, I entered college determined to learn all about the “important” authors. Instead I ultimately ended up rediscovering my lost passion for children’s and YA literature, with books like Walk Two Moons, The Devil’s Arithmetic, Holes, and Beauty, so that by the time I graduated college, my reading habits were changing dramatically, which is apparent to me now because of the record I've kept over the years since.

But back then I was a student, so naturally I read, learned about, and gravitated toward the classics. If this list had started in high school, I guarantee you it would have started out showing the opposite than it does now, with more classics than YA titles. Maybe the change is more apparent to me because I know what my reading tastes were before I started making a list, but trust me, it’s there. That’s not to say I’ve abandoned the classics or other genres altogether. Far from it. In the past four years, I've read a Shakespeare play I hadn't read before (The Merchant of Venice), read some American history (In the Heart of the Sea, Devil in the White City), and read classics from both British and American literature, from Pygmalion and Our Town to White Fang and Jane Eyre. But the list shows that my range has definitely opened up.

Another big and telling part of the list is what’s NOT there: Jane Austen, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, to name but a few. Has it really been four years, maybe longer, since I’ve read any of these books/authors? (I know it’s been 9 years since LOTR because I read that before any of the films came out and haven’t since.) For shame. I guess I’ll have to remedy that in the next 50 books.

Is the list useful? Yes, because it helps me to see where I’ve been and to draw a map for where to go next, to remember and to reflect. Is it important? Yes and no, because, though useful, a list cannot accurately describe the true purpose of reading. If anything, it’s amazing to see what I’ve read over time and to think that every book I’ve read will always be a part of me. Next on the list? I don’t know, but whatever I do, I'll keep adding to the list.

In conclusion, here is the current list, in order, from 1 to 50.

1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
2. The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
3. The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
4. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
5. The BFG by Roald Dahl
6. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
8. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
9. Nancy Drew #38: The Mystery of the Fire Dragon by Carolyn Keene
10. The Ghost Belonged to Me by Richard Peck
11. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
12. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
13. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
14. Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain
15. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
16. In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
17. Q-Squared (A Star Trek novel) by Peter David
18. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
19. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
20. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
21. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
22. White Fang by Jack London
23. A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry
24. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
25. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
26. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
27. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
28. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
29. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
30. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen
31. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
32. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
33. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket
34. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
35. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
36. Five Patients by Michael Crichton
37. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
38. A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
39. Eldest by Christopher Paolini
40. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
41. Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli
42. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
43. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
44. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
45. Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord
46. Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
47. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
48. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
49. Our Town by Thornton Wilder
50. Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella