I’d like to use this year for a little reading repertoire housekeeping. Over lunch with a friend a few weeks back I divulged a great secret of mine: I’ve never read Faulkner. I’ll admit, I pride myself on having a thorough knowledge of the classics. However, the expression on her face showed how much I was missing. A quick review of my previous reads and I was convinced, I’m missing too many of the greats.
So in 2020, to kick off a decade, I want to either read or reread* many of the classics that have shaped modern writers. Off to a good start, I began Crime and Punishment on January second and am a little over halfway through. One nearly down, many to go. So here is my tentative list of novels to read this year.
+ Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky Considered the first great novel of his “mature” period of writing, it focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of an impoverished ex-student in Saint Petersburg who formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money.
+ The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner Divided into four sections told from four different perspectives, the book is both a notoriously arduous and disturbing read, whose often disorienting narration requires patience and persistence, and whose subject matter confronts painful themes, among which reside incest and suicide. A true tale of endurance and human suffering which will stay with readers for a very long time indeed.
+ As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner The author’s strongest display of the stream-of-consciousness narrative and is ranked 35th in the Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century no less.
+ Play It As It Lays: A Novel by Joan Didion “Simple, restrained, intelligent, well-structured, witty, irresistibly relentless, forthright in diction, and untainted by the sensational, Play It As It Lays is a book of outstanding literary quality.” ―Library Journal
+ The White Album by Joan Didion A 1979 book of essays by Joan Didion. The subjects of the essays range widely and represent a mixture of memoir, criticism, and journalism, focusing on the history and politics of California in the late 1960s and early 70s.
+ The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger* Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States for its themes of angst and alienation, and as a critique on superficiality in society.
+ The Deer Park by Norman Mailer “A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent . . . [Mailer] drives us up and down The Deer Park at breakneck speed. It is a trip through unfamiliar country, for a time funny and then unnerving.” —The New Yorker
+ Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston* It is considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, and it is likely Hurston’s best known work, following the life of Janie Crawford as she tries to discover herself through a series of marriages. The book is deeply moving as it confronts issues of female identity with the linguistic richness of 1930s Florida.
+ The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, it is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.
+ Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut An American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
+ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury Set in a dystopian future where literature (and all original thought) is on the brink of extinction.
+ The Jungle by Upton Sinclair* The book galvanized public opinion and led to a forced government investigation that eventually caused the passage of pure food laws. Today, it’s often referenced in response to poor working conditions and food safety laws.
+ The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway* 1926 novel portraying American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights.
+ Hiroshima by John Hersey 1946 piece exploring how six survivors experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and its aftermath.
+ One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, the narrative serves as a study of institutional processes and the human mind as well as a critique of behaviorism and a tribute to individualistic principles.
+ I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou A powerful American classic that tells of her struggles growing up during the Great Depression, and the abuse she suffered.
+ Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller* 1949 stage play, it won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
+ On the Road by Jack Kerouac A defining work of the postwar “Beat” culture and both a physical and spiritual journey of the narrator who tries to find meaning in his life through his friends, lovers, and adventures around the U.S.
+ The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper*At the time of Cooper’s writing, U.S. settlers believed in, and perpetrated the myth that, Native Americans were disappearing, believing they would ultimately be assimilated or killed off entirely due to the genocidal structure of settler colonialism. This allowed settlers to view themselves as the original people of the land and reinforced their belief in scientific racism and European ethnic and racial superiority.
+ Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand* A fictional dystopian United States where all the world’s movers and shakers have abandoned society, leaving the world and the remaining people in a state of flux.
+ Walden by Henry David Thoreau* One man’s autobiographical attempt to find simplicity, self-reliance, and peace through solitude and nature.