So I have a deep dark secret that I tend to hide pretty well. I am very ashamed of this, especially since my mother is a librarian, and over 50% of my immediate family members are writers (including myself), and I also consider myself a bibliophile. This is hard for me to admit, but I am not as well read as most people think I am. There, I said it.
Now that I’ve admitted this, I aim to rectify it. After all, one of the best things a writer can do is read. I’ve decided to create for myself a reading challenge. Each season of the year I will dictate a genre or category that I feel would compliment that season and try to read as many of the “must-reads” in that category as I can. Some categories and genres are very embarrassing for me, and others just have a lot of really great novels that I want to get to. Southern novels is one category where I’m really lacking, despite my absolute love of southern writing.
A lot of these books, like The Grapes of Wrath and The Color Purple, were books that were assigned in high school English classes. I had kind of a strange high school English experience, and a lot of classics (in all genres) slipped through the cracks. Now is my time to catch up.
I have put together a lofty list of novels that I will try to read between the months of June and September. I’m giving myself a lot of time, because, as you’ll see, there are an ass-load of novels. I actually had more, but then I realized that Gone with the Wind is roughly seven books in one, so I cut my list up a bit. I also might start this week instead of June, we’ll see. I’m currently trying to prepare for that devil called the GRE, so who knows what time I’ll actually have to devote to this. I’ve listed the novels below in the order I would like to read them in, but sometimes plans change, so I’m not holding myself to it.
• The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884, Mark Twain): I KNOW, I know. How the fuck have I not read this? I don’t know. But it’s first on my list to be tackled, and I am really looking forward to finally checking this Great American Novel off my list.
• The Color Purple (1982, Alice Walker): This is another one I am profoundly ashamed that I haven’t read yet. It’s basically the load-baring beam of commercially successful Southern novels, as well as an important novel for women.
• The Sound and the Fury (1929, William Faulkner): This tragic tale of the Compson family is one most people typically read in high school, but like I said, I did not have the typical high school English class experience. I have, in fact, read a grand total of zero Faulkner outside of A Rose for Emily. Might as well start here.
• Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937, Zora Neale Hurston): I don’t feel too bad about not having read this one yet, as it isn’t really on many syllabi, and I don’t know too many other people who’ve read it. Regardless, this is one of the most important American novels ever written, and Hurston is one of the most magnificent American writers. And while this novel tackles tricky topics of love, gender, and race in the deep south, I also hope it’s a little less brutal than The Color Purple and The Sound and the Fury, thus giving me a much needed break.
• The Grapes of Wrath (1936, John Steinbeck): I have actually read a good amount of Steinbeck, but this and East of Eden remain off my “read” list. I would have rather picked up East of Eden, but I already have Grapes of Wrath on my bookshelf at home.
• Gone with the Wind (1936, Margaret Mitchell): Hilariously enough, this novel is rated the highest out of all of these on Goodreads (The Color Purple is #2 and Huck Finn is rated lowest). I am a great lover of the film and have been wanting to read this for a long time now. I’m hoping that the romance and melodrama will be a welcome change of pace from the stark and brutal realism that surely awaits me this summer.
• Wise Blood (1952, Flannery O’Connor): I adore O’Connor’s short stories, but I’ve never read any of her longer work. Wise Blood, which follows the young Hazel Motes and his struggle with faith and corruption, sounds fascinating and exciting. I’m always a fan of crazy religious shit gone crazier. This should be a good time!
• Bastard Out of Carolina (1992, Dorothy Allison): This novel is kind of on the rocks for me, and I won’t feel bad if I just don’t have the time or stamina for it. I am very interested in it, however, because of its examination of gender, sex, and race in the south through the eyes of a small girl.
If you have a few on this list that slipped through your fingers too, please join me in my challenge! I’ll be writing about each book after I finish it and would love to hear your opinions. Think of it as a sort of shameful book club. If you like this idea of mine but aren’t into Southern novels (they don’t make for great beach reads), maybe you’ll be interested in the categories I hope to get to in the coming year:
Fall 2014: Gothic novels (featuring Emily Bronte, Shirley Jackson, Gaston Leroux, and the infamous Ann Radcliffe): I took a Gothic lit class in college and read most of the classics, but there are still a lot out there that my professor didn’t touch. I love Gothic novels and am excited to add more to my list.
Winter 2015: Mystery Thrillers (featuring Dorothy Sayers, Raymond Chandler, P.D. James, and Dennis Lehane): This is my absolute favorite genre of novel, and it’s what I personally like to write. I’ve read a lot of contemporary thrillers, but some of the classics have passed me by. This list will be a blend of classics and contemporary – a bit of a catch-all. I also had to be very particular with what I included. It couldn’t just be a crime novel (that genre is coming up later on), it had to have a mystery at its core and some form of detective solving it.
Spring 2015: Classic Science Fiction (featuring Ursula Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, and Isaac Asimov): This is a genre I am woefully behind in. For example, I have never read 1984. So I want to frantically cram as many classics into the spring as possible. I’ll probably have to repeat this genre at some point. There are just so many I haven’t read!