Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On Being Well-Read - Donna Alward

This has been buzzing around the internet for a long time - the 1% Well Read Challenge (I picked it up at My Friend Amy's Blog post of last May). Basically it's a list of the 1001 books you should read before you die and the challenge to read 10 from the list in a year. (Now, mathematically this means I will never read all of them unless I discover the fountain of youth.) But you know I look at this list and there are a lot of books that well-read or not - I don't WANT to read them. I just don't. I still need to read a book I am going to enjoy.

I went through the list and discovered I have only read 44 of the books. With some of the authors on the list, I have read other works but not the ones listed. And what is astounding is that there are a number of books that I have seen movies or miniseries of. I am guessing nearly as many as I've read. We're talking...Forsyte Saga, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Atonement, The Golden Bowl, Vanity Fair etc. etc. etc. So maybe I'm equally as well-watched as I am well-read. Here's what I've managed:

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad
The Awakening – Kate Chopin
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
The Trial – Franz Kafka
The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Silas Marner – George Eliot
The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
Adam Bede – George Eliot
North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
The Purloined Letter – Edgar Allan Poe
The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Emma – Jane Austen
Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne
Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Still, some of the books listed are in my TBR pile - Middlemarch (which happens to be the only Eliot book I HAVEN'T read), Suite Francaise, and Villette to name a few. I put North and South on my read list because I am in the middle of it right now. (And another that I saw on dvd before reading). I have a collection of Poe on my shelf as well. All in all, I shortlisted the 10 books I hope to get through before the end of the year:

Middlemarch – George Eliot
Suite Francaise - Irene N.
Rebecca – Daphne DuMaurier
The Pit and The Pendulum – Poe
The Old Man and The Sea
For Whom The Bell Tolls
A Farewell to Arms
To Have and To Have Not
The Sun Also Rises– all Hemingway
Villette - Bronte

So does this make me "well-read"? I doubt it. For one, I know if my CP took this list she would probably triple my number read or more.
And how much credence should we give this list anyway? I read lots of books not on the list - last year I read over 50 books in total.

I firmly believe people should just READ. Not read what they are supposed to read but just read whatever speaks to them. For my husband, it is non-fiction. He is not a big reader so any time I can find him something that he enjoys and will open, huzzah! My kids read a lot of kid's "classics" - we're reading Anne Frank right now, we have read Narnia books and Little Women and A Wrinkle In Time together and several more...but at the same time, when my eldest discovered Andy Griffiths a few years ago, how could I dispute the fact that I could hear her in her room, laughing and laughing as she read? Or how we all held our breath as Harry took on Voldemort time and time again?

I also read a lot of Romance, obviously, which would never make it near this list. And non-fiction for research. And craft books on writing.

So while I do hope to read more "should reads" this year, I also plan to read a lot of "want to reads" because they are enjoyable and speak to my heart and perhaps teach me something. I am a firm believer in making books accessible, and that does NOT equal 'dumbing them down'. Let's make that clear right now, and I know you know what I mean because I'm guessing most of the readers here LOVE popular fiction! It means books that speak to readers on some level. What is the point of reading something if you do not enjoy it, do not relate to it and get nothing from it? It's kind of like eating brussel sprouts to my mind. I hate them. But I bet I can get the same nutritional value out of another food I'll enjoy much more.

The bottom line is, just read. Open your mind, find something that you enjoy and while away a few hours.

Happy Reading!


Jasmine Haynes said...

Donna, I totally agree, the most important thing is just to keep reading. We expand our vocabulary and our grammar base just with that, not to mention spelling. And you've read a lot more than I have on that list! But I'm so glad you've got Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier on this year's reading list. I loved that book. Actually, I've read most of her stuff.

Jasmine Haynes

lindamargaret said...


I read with interest your "on Being Well-Read" blog. Reading and the "quality" of what is read has long been a discussion I have had over the years with my mother and less so my husband. I read for work; Medical journals, reviews, texts etc. Slow going, meaty, time consuming, thought provoking, more like studying.

I read for enjoyment and relaxation as well. For that I read the authors I enjoy. I like happy endings and an upbeat story. Series romances fill that bill, as do a number of "popular" authors.

I don't for the most part read in my leisure time to "better" myself. I have read a few books on the list over the years when I thought I should, but time is too short to read just for the sake of reading a book. I think to promote reading and literacy, it has to be enjoyable. For me romance; for my dh non-fiction and history; for my ds fantasy and thrillers and for my dd, historical romance and fantasy. We all enjoy reading and the house is "full" of books. That is what is important.

All that being said, we studied Old Man and the Sea in high school and I would say that is a book well worth reading. I hope you enjoy it.


Donna Alward said...

Linda - thank you for so eloquently demonstrating my point. :-) was hard to admit that I have never read Rebecca. Until last year I hadn't read Little Women either. There are books on there I have no desire to read. But others whose writing I enjoy - Hemingway and Poe being two - that reading further works by them is something I'm looking forward to.

Kathy K said...

Donna, a very thought-provoking post; but I also had fun going through it and seeing just which should read books I've managed to accumulate.
What really surprised me about my results is that I'm not big on the "modern" shoulds and that quite a few were, to me, completely unreadable.

Funny how what works for one person will not work for another.

And I agree strongly with LindaMargaret that reading a book to better myself doesn't make much sense. If I want to do that I'll find something that matters to others around me.

I think reading, whatever someone's choice, is about broadening your horizons and adding something to your days, to your life that can resonate with you long after you put the book down.

That being said, give me a book with a happy ending be it a romance, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi, whatever. I need an ending to be satisfactory: good guys win, bad guys get theirs, guy gets gal and gal gets guy... whatever.
If a story ends on a negative note it completely ruins it for me.

That being said, I agree totally with Jasmine that the most important thing to do is to just keep reading!

Donna Alward said...

I'm not big on the modern shoulds either. But I agree with you one hundred percent. I don't like negative endings, and I think whatever you choose to read it should be about expanding horizons and adding to your day. There's nothing worse than reading or watching or experiencing something and thinking it was a waste of time.

Estella said...

I totally agree, too.
I read only for relaxation and enjoyment, yet I find I learn a lot about geography and cities from these books.

Pat Cochran said...

I agree with everyone: just keep on reading! It's good for you on many
levels including keeping the brain
"turning over!"

Pat Cochran

RachieG said...

:) I thought of Finding Nemo when reading this post....Instead of "Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming..." I thought, Just keep reading, just keep reading!

I have read many of those books..but many of them I hadn't read, but did add to my list of books that need to be read. :)

Well-read is in the eye of the beholder! :D

kimmyl said...

I love reading. I think it has many benefits. It always calms me when I can relax with a book. Or when its a rainy and boring day I just pick up a book and I also love reading about the history.