Books are a Uniquely Portable Magic

Thursday, February 24, 2011

books are a uniquely portable magic

"Books are a uniquely portable magic."  Stephen King

“The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.”  Elizabeth Hardwick

I never use to enjoy reading books. Whenever I was presented with the opportunity to read a book, I just shunned the book and left it to collect dust. I just never got into the habit of reading. I can't believe it has taken this many years for me to finally get into reading. It's only the beginning, so I'm not going to start bragging about my new literary knowledge, but I have a list. At boarding school, for my literature class, I had the opportunity to read Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, Emma by Jane Austen, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, but the only book/play I actually read was A Streetcar Named Desire... or sort of read. Back then, I just didn't try. And now I want to read them, but still I have no desire to read Emma, because she is probably my least favorite/most hated fictional heroine of all time.

I came across this BBC Reading List recently and I decided it's about time I educate myself and read these classics. I guess it's the epistemologist in me that is reaching out to broaden my literary knowledge. It is quite an impressive and extensive list of must read classics. I don't think I'll be able to read all of these books in my lifetime, so I came up with my own list. The books that I absolutely want and need to read are in bold.

Have you read more than six of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (read the first four)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (at least I've read Angels and Demons)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

As well as:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
A Room with a View - E. M. Forster
A Passage to India - E. M. Forster
Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? - Edward Albee
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Requiem for a Dream - Hubert Selby, Jr. (I've read the screenplay and it was stunnning)
Amsterdam - Ian McEwan (I started it but didn't finish it, must start all over)
Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer
Running with Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
The Illiad and The Odyssey - Homer
The Aeneid - Virgil
Other ancient historical and philosophical writings and poems by Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Plutarch, Thucydides, etc.

Since Borders is closing down, which is terribly upsetting, I realized it was my chance to stock up on Woody Allen books. I bought his last two books, Mere Anarchy and The Insanity Defense. They were lying precariously amongst the chaos of the humor section. I grabbed them and then they belonged to me. Last night, I decided to read Mere Anarchy first. Admittedly, it is one of the hardest things I've read (along with Lord of the Rings (I only read the first five chapters back in 2001 and gave up) and The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides).

Reasons why Mere Anarchy is hard to read and digest:

The use of language and vocabulary are acutely advanced, mentions of obscure and lesser known historical and literary figures and characters (and just in the first twenty pages), for example:

i) ecdysiastically: in the manner of a striptease artist
ii) troglodyte: a caveman
iii) Leeuwenhoek: a Dutch tradesmen and scientist
iv) imprecation: a spoken curse
v) abasement: degrading/belittling
vi) poltroon: coward
vii) nudnik: pestering/nagging person
viii) Megan's law: a law for sex offenders
ix) contumely: insolent/insulting treatment
x) corybantic: wild/frenzied
xi) sangfroid: composure of coolness in a dangerous situation
xii) internecine: destructive to both sides

When I come across a foreign word, I have to google it and underline the word and write down the definition for future reference. So reading this book is quite a long winded process, but it has been very enjoyable thus far.

Tonight, I picked up four novels that are on the list: Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I was contemplating whether I should pay $20 for a hardcover copy of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I'm in love with the cover, but $20 is a little excessive. Once I finish Mere Anarchy, I think I want to read Catcher in the Rye, which is a book I've always been interested in reading.

As I was looking for a comfortable place to sit, I stumbled into the spree killer/serial killer sale section and I was hooked. I have a confession to make: I love reading about killings and massacres. It's very dark stuff, I know, but I've always been fascinated with these kind of stories. I could spend hours reading about this, in fact I've learned a lot from these accounts. I won't go into too much detail, since it's a very sensitive and morbid subject. I only managed to read about Ernst Wagner and Mutsuo Toi. The most fascinating part of Mutsuo Toi's story was his interest in Sada Abe's story. Click links to read if you are intrigued. If not, stay away!

I hope to read a book a week from today onwards. Once I get into the flow, I want to increase it to two books a week. Reading is quite a magical experience; I can't believe it has taken me this long for my interest in reading to manifest.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."  Dr. Seuss


  1. i really couldnt live without reading (and thats not an euphemism). i really like your list, you're up for an amazing time :) I have to ask you tho to give The Little Prince a try! It only takes a couple of hours to read it but it's really worth it. My mum says that you should read it when you're a child, a teenager, young adult, adult, etc... cos you get something different from it everytime and she's been right so far. enjoy the reading xx

  2. wow...okay let me list the book I've read.
    -A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens ->check
    -A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens -> check
    -The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery -> check
    -The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom -> check

    what? only 4 books?? uhm I think I need more books now :(

    this post is so great, love this! thanks for sharing :)

  3. Reading the classics has always been one of my goals on my bucket list, and actually I've always planned on reading most of the books on your list here! I think I got up to 18 so far. I think my problem is when I "read" the classics, I usually just watch the BBC series or the movies based on the books instead. So if you count how many of the films I've actually seen it's quite a lot!

    Haha Emma is actually one of my favorites (although I am pretty biased about it because I LOVE the BBC series because Romola Garai is one of my favorite actresses)! Haha she's not that bad actually of a character :)

  4. Ive read more on the first list!! I want to make it my goal now to read all of them!


    Have a good weekend!

  5. such a great list! i've read 10 of those books!

  6. I've read 23 on the list and 24 including Truman Capote. I was actually quite surprised by this number, but then I remembered I have a penchant for reading 'cult classics' so it makes more sense. I love the style of your new blog btw! Simplified but still as wonderful as ever. Embracing as always, fascinating topics and routes of discussions, you've inspired me to work on my blog's "voice" now. Love x

  7. I just discovered your blog today, and I feel excited for you! I love books! I think I've read 30 off the BBC's list, and am reading Anna Karenina at the moment and enjoying it quite a lot.

    I do think you should try and read One Hundred Years of Solitude (from the list), by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Admittedly, having just discovered your blog, I don't really know much about your tastes in reading. But I see you have his other book on this list marked for reading... I've read both books and I think I preferred One Hundred Years of Solitude, although they were both good.

  8. I've read 15 on the list, 6 of them I own & just haven't gotten around to them yet. Most of these books I've wanted to read.

    Cool post. :)

  9. I have read 15 of those, counting those last ones you listed after the 100. But of the big list, 13. You'd think I'd be proud of that, but there's a ton of books on there that I've been meaning to read. Along with like 2398235 others. I was kinda sad that A Prayer for Owen Meany was on there but not The World According to Garp, both John Irving books, but the latter is my favorite book

  10. earworm: Since there's no link connected to your name, I'll just respond here. Yes, I will definitely add The Little Prince to my list. I guess I skimmed past it when I was deciding which books I wanted to read. It's a super long list, so I hope I'll be able to finish them in my lifetime. I absolutely agree with reading a book or watching a movie in different periods of your time, because you always learn something new. Thanks for the advice and recommendation!

  11. Yoshi: Thanks for checking out my blog. I want to read Anna Karenina after the huge pile of books I just acquired. But it's been on my list for a while now! Thanks for your recommendation, I shall take them into consideration!

  12. I've read 19 of those! But I'll admit, most of them were required for school...lol

  13. If you like dark reading material, you should check out the old crime novels. Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler... Thompsons's A Killer Inside Me is a good one.

  14. Read 15 on the first list but there are so many which have been my to-read list forever... A book at a time, I guess.

  15. I've read 19 of the books on the list. I'm actually attempting to go through Time's All Time 100 Novels. So far, I've only read one! 99 to go.