2018: A Prospectus

Toward the end of 2017, I read Andy Miller’s The Year of Reading Dangerously. His premise stuck with me. He decided to make a list of the books he always meant to get around to and just read them in order. Of course I have such books as well. Books that I tell myself I will get around to, sometime, before I die at any rate, or books that I once read in my overweening youth and should return to now that I might actually understand them. Driven by the memetic compulsion of this mindworm, I ended up drafting my own “list of betterment” (as Miller called his), and noticed that there were exactly 52 books on it. I’m no numerologist, but I couldn’t resist the correspondence to the weeks of the year.

So I’m going to read through my list in 2018. Some books will take only a few days, others several weeks. I’ll read lots of other stuff — lots of the kind of genre fiction I’m trying to write, for example, and plenty of books to feed my insatiable and miscellaneous research interests in surrealism, socialism, thanatology, philosophy, and history — but the backbone of my year in reading will be this list, and my central reading goal will be to complete it.

In tandem with the reading project, I’m going to seek to revivify this blog. After I finish each book I’ll reflect on it here.

To make my project sustainable, however, I need some limits. I’m a full time writer these days. I have plans in 2018 to write and send out a short story a week, to finish two novels, and to write an essay for some paying publication or other every month. I won’t allow my desire to blog about what I’m reading to take anything away from these more central writing projects. So I’m going to limit myself to 500 words about each book. I like the idea of forcing myself to cram as much reflection and thought as I can into 500 words. Such a limit is like putting a thumb half over the end of a garden hose: thoughts spray harder, truer, faster.

So there you have it: if things go as planned, you should have at least 52 blog posts from me this year. Below is my “list of betterment.”

  • A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • At Swim-Two-Birds, by Flann O’Brien
  • Atonement, by Ian McEwan
  • Austerlitz, by W.G. Sebald
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  • Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
  • The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa
  • The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by Milan Kundera
  • The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  • Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol
  • The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio
  • Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
  • Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
  • Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, by Søren Kierkegaard
  • Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev
  • Faust, (Pts. 1 and 2), by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford
  • The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
  • The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  • Journey to the End of the Night, by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
  • The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne
  • The Lord Chandos Letter, by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
  • Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac
  • The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann
  • The Man Without Qualities, by Robert Musil
  • The Marquise of O, by Heinrich von Kleist
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot
  • My Ántonia, by Willa Cather
  • Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, by Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham
  • Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo
  • The Prelude, by William Wordsworth
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
  • The Radetzky March, by Joseph Roth
  • The Recognitions, by William Gaddis
  • The Red and the Black, Stendhal
  • In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust
  • The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu
  • Three Novels, by Samuel Beckett
  • The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass
  • Ulysses, by James Joyce
  • Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry
  • Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Waves, by Virginia Woolf

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