The Big Read Blog (Archive)


January 13, 2009
Washington, DC

Each new year, I make a list of 25 things I hope to accomplish in the new year. One of those bullet points is, inevitably, "read 10 'classic' novels." Given that I have baskets and shelves and huge swatches of floor stacked with books at home, this resolution should be a cinch. I think it?s actually much harder to figure out where to start and what should follow what and how to fit these classics in with everything else I?d like to read, like Marilynne Robinson's Home and the countless magazines I subscribe to. With that being said, here?s a rough guess of what might make the cut this year, in no particular order and with many footnotes. . .

1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. I started David Copperfield a couple of years ago, was forced to put it down about third of the way through, and just didn?t make the time to start over from the beginning, which is the only way to keep track of Dicken?s megalopolis of characters.

2. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I confess that I never had any interest in exploring Woolf?s oeuvre until I read a poem my friend Jona collaged from her journals. I soon after quickly devoured Quentin Bell?s bio of his aunt and then Leonard Woolf?s edition of her journal and finally worked up the courage to pick up Mrs. Dalloway. I doubt I?m the first person to enthuse about Woolf?s mastery of the fits and starts of quotidian life.

3. One Hundred Years of Solitude  by Gabriel García Márquez. I?ve lost track of how many times I?ve read and reread Márquez?s novel, and yet it always holds up

4. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. I worked as an usher at the Huntington Theater in Boston when I was in college. I have a clear memory of sneaking into the theater every night to catch glimplses of Mary McDonnell?s riveting performance as Cather?s heroine in the HTC?s stage adaptation of the novel.

5. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. This is the only novel in my Forster collection I haven?t read through all the way even once. Can?t figure out why I keep putting it down shortly after the English ladies visit the university. So it?s back on the list. Again.

6. The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. This is another reread. I dislike Undine Spragg as wholeheartedly as I adore Lily Bart (I reread The House of Mirth last year.) I?m curious to see if the intervening years have made me any more sympathetic to Miss Spragg and her scheming.

7. Is it cheating to use one of my "classic novel" spots to read the Hermione Lee biography of Edith Wharton that I just received for my birthday?

8. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. So I couldn?t make it past page 20 when I first attempted Portrait. But having absolutely loved Washington Square, I?m going to give this James tome another go.

9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I?ve been reading Jane Eyre over and over again since I was in grade school. I distinctly remember even rereading it several times in one year. It?s always interesting how my reaction to a novel changes or doesn?t change as I grow older.

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I?ve been wanting to reread this girlhood fave for several years now. I remember feeling inordinately proud of myself as I made my way through Little Men and Jo?s Boys. I don?t remember reading Good Wives, but surely I must have

p.s. What?s on your reading list this year? Drop a line to the blog and let us know what you?re looking forward to reading and why. And stay tuned for an announcement next week about new titles for The Big Read library.