Months ago, back before the pandemic, back when I made frequent trips to bookstores, I came across a book titled “100 Books to Read Before you Die”. I had the book in my hand intending to buy it, but before finalizing the purchase I reconsidered. Did I really need someone telling me which books I need to read before my demise, I asked myself? Maybe I do not need that kind of structure in my life. So, I put the book back on the shelf. Still, the idea of such a reading list intrigued me. In the months since, I found several such lists on the internet. After reviewing a couple of these lists, I decided there were simply too many books. 100 books are too much reading to plan.
If I read a book a month, it would take me roughly 8 ½ years to read all the books on the list. Of course, I have already read many of the books on the list, so that would shorten the time required but still it is an intimidating list. So, I decided to come up with my own list.
I quickly jotted down about a dozen or so titles – mostly books that I already own but have never gotten around to reading. Still, the list was too long. I slashed it down some more, eventually deciding that my own personal list would contain only four titles. Three of the titles are what I refer to as projects. They are more than simple reading assignments. They require time and commitment. They might require notes. They are my project reads. The fourth, by no means is a project read, but I include it for reasons I will describe later.
Here are the books that I hope to finish before I go on to that great goodnight:
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace; Word count 543, 709. Roughly 1000 pages. Four and a half pounds.
I have a confession to make. I sometimes find myself reading a lot about the lives of writers, even though I have read little of what they have written. David Foster Wallace (DFW) is in this category. I first started reading about DFW in 2008, in the wake of his tragic death by suicide. Since that time, I have read a lot about him. I have read his 1994 Class Syllabus “How to teach serious literature with lightweight books”. I know that he was a hopeless nicotine addict that chewed tobacco to help relieve his dependence on cigarettes. I have read a great deal about his personal struggles. But I have not read Infinite Jest. It remains on my bookshelf unopened.
Ulysses by James Joyce; Word count 265,391
This one remains on my Kindle. It has taken up space there for nearly two years. It is said that when Joyce completed this work, he handed a copy to his wife who read a few pages and tossed it back at him saying “Why don’t you write something people can understand”. That alone is enough to consign this one to my must-read before death list. Maybe right before death. It is also said that after he completed this book, he did not write a word of prose for a year. So yeah, I must complete this one before the lights go out.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; Word count 587,287
Some years ago, I picked up a hardcopy of this book in a New Jersey bookstore. At the time I was commuting by train and I intended to read it on my way to and from my job in New York City. Today, a piece of note paper marks my last reading of this book. It marks page 93. The piece of note paper was, at one time, a shopping list, and it lists the following items: milk, eggs, dog food, cigarettes. The last item caught my eye. Since I have not smoked in nearly 30 years, it looks like I gave up both smoking and this book around the same time. Both were taking a toll on my health. One needs to keep notes to get through this one. I will do it though, right after the Madagascar Ultra Marathon.
Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway; 517 pages
I have been a Hemingway fan for as long as I can remember. I have read about everything Papa has written (including his poetry). In one of my blogs here at EEOTPB I mentioned that the first chapter of “A Farewell to Arms” was the best damned first chapter of any book written in the 20th century. So yes, I am a Hemingway fan. I have been a frequent visitor to Key West, and I have travelled there to attend Hemingway Days (where his poetry was read). I have travelled to Bimini to see the ruins of the Compleat Angler Hotel, and if I am lucky, I will live to visit Havana and have drink in the Floridita Bar. I will see what is left of the Pilar. I would love to see Finca Vigia. I’d like to go to Spain one day. At present, I have Hemingway’s last posthumous book, The Garden of Eden loaded on my Kindle.
But I have not read Death in the Afternoon. Not yet.
I am saving it for the end. I am saving it for post-diagnosis.
What books are on your end times reading list?
Drop a list in the comments section…