Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What I have read, and what I have failed to read


My Facebook friend Meg sent me this list going around of 100 books. You are supposed to put in bold all the books that you have read completely and put in italics all the books you read part of.

The books listed just in normal type, those are the ones you never bothered even to open!

In many cases I had not even heard of the books.

I am pasting the list below with my, ahem, erudite comments. I counted up how many I had read and I think it was 39. I don't know, I counted it three times and got three different answers.

One thing though that bugs me, and has for a long time: Why do books matter so much in life, we are always obsessing about what we have read and not read, but music does not seem to matter?

How many of the eggheads who made up this list know "Don Giovanni"?

How many of them know who Leonard Pennario was? Had to throw that in.

Everyone knows all about the great books but no one knows anything about the great music. Music is not like books, is I guess one reason it gets short shrift. It is not, OK, been there, done that. Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony, you do not just cross it off your list and say, that's done.

And it is not fair, the way life goes when it comes to music. I got into music as a kid and, I mean, it takes up a lot of your time. And it did not take me long to realize that here I was listening -- and really learning, I mean getting them in my head -- all these symphonies and operas and string quartets and quintets and whatever, and it was doing me absolutely no good in school.

Here I was, I knew every word to Schubert's "Die Schoene Mullerin" by heart -- every song, every word, in German -- and I was flunking music. I am serious, I almost flunked music one year at Sacred Heart.

On my job now, it is not as if I am this Pollyanna but sometimes I blink and think, I cannot believe I have found some line of work that actually makes use of this knowledge. Who would ever have guessed? Not I, I will tell you that right now.

OK, enough wailing and howling and carrying on. My books, my opinionated comments:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen. 
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman. What, they're telling me I should read this Satanic book?

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. I have not only never read this, I have never heard of it!
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger. I should read this, being something of a time traveler myself.

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell. 
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams 
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh. I have always wanted to read this because of its Catholic themes and when I am through with my book I will.

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll  This never knocked me over the head the way it did other people but I read it. I like the Disney song.

30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy. I read part of this but I think it should count as reading the whole thing because the part of it I read, I read when I was drunk in a hotel room.
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. Isn't this part of the Narnia chronicle? Why is it listed separately?

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini. Pennario and I saw the movie but no, I never read the book.

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne 
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving. Lots of people I admire love this but I could not get into it, just couldn't.
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins. Who?

46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood. I find her the most boring writer, I'm sorry. Bleak, boring.
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding 

50 Atonement - Ian McEwan. Saw this movie with Pennario too. 

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen . I guess I really did the Jane Austen thing. "Emma" was the one I liked best.
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens . Another book I want to read when mine is done. 

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. Saw this movie very memorably with Leonard.

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 Loved this swashbuckling stuff when I was a kid.

66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac. Overrated.
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding . I admire this woman's success with this. I could not see reading this whole thing but parts of it made me laugh out loud.
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville . My dad was an English teacher and said this was the most boring book ever.

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker LOVED this when I was a kid. Plus Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."

73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson BurnettI still think of this book all the time.
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath. Depressing because you can't help thinking how bad it all turned out. She strikes me as a weak and depressing person. She may be a good writer but I would not cross the street to read anything by her.

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray. My dad loved this book and I trust his judgment. I keep the copy he signed to me in my nightstand. I would like to finish this. I have tried but life always got in the way. One day I will.

80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens. How can anyone not have read this? Come on.
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day - Kazu Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom. I picked this up in a bookstore and read enough of it so I remember it. It seemed like a real weeper!

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. My dad read these to us. Every single story.We loved all of them.  "A Study in Scarlet" is really creepy.
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (in English and French) I figure I read this whole silly book somewhere between French class and all the girls at Sacred Heart doing readings from it at Mass.

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

94 Watership Down - Richard Adams. This was my friend Anne's favorite book in high school and I promised her I would read it but I never have. I think it is about rabbits.

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. A great book, in a different way from the movie.

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo. But I can sing "Bring Him Home"! Does that count?

11 comments:

John Kindelan said...

I always think I should read more, but what some people are to books, I am to movies, amongst your list I can say that I haven't read many of those, but I have seen the movie, and while some might say its just not the same, I'm more of a visual person I guess, and watching the story play out in front of me is just more enjoyable.

Larry said...

My mom got me a set of the Harvard Classics back in 1960 or so and, over the years, I finally slogged my way through them. The Divine Comedy really impressed me and I re-read it several times. Have not read a whole lot else though. Music is where it is at!

Prof. G said...

Anyone done a non-fiction list?

Bill said...

Why isn't music regarded as being as culturally important as literature? Well, it is, among people who take culture seriously. People are less knowledgeable about music than about literature, but that's a different question. Why are people less familiar with great works of music than they are with great works of literature? Because books are more accessible. The first thing that gets cut when school budgets are chopped is arts education (and music programs, because they are the most expensive, are the first to go).

Our own Buffalo Philharmonic survives on the whim of Chris Collins; and other opportunities to learn about music are rare and expensive. This is regrettable, in my view: cultural life is what makes much of everyday life endurable for many, and sweeter for the rest.

Mary Kunz Goldman said...

John, I saw a lot of the movies too, that were made from the books. That should have been a separate category: "didn't read the book, but saw the movie." Some movies are better than the books!

Mary Kunz Goldman said...

Larry, I agree, about music being where it is at! BTW Pennario liked "The Divine Comedy" too.

Mary Kunz Goldman said...

Prof.G, I have not seen a non-fiction list. I think you should draw one up.

Mary Kunz Goldman said...

Bill, thanks for your thoughts! I am not sure music is that expensive a hobby though. I've bought millions of records through the years and now they are cheaper than ever. And you can borrow stuff free from the library. I thought of the school funding business too ... but I'm not sure school is always the answer. I did not get into music because of school and I don't think we should count on schools to do everything. None of the music classes I ever took in school did beans for me.

I really do not know what the answer is. I do think it's important to keep the Philharmonic going, though I also do not know how much should be up to the government. That is a whole other matter for another day ...

Prof. G said...

My drawing up a list would guarantee its being permanently unpublished. It would also tell too much about myself...

Bill said...

You play piano at a sufficiently accomplished level to have entered competitions, no? That level of knowledge and ability tells us that you know what you are listening to on a technical level, and that you probably have a good appreciation for the skills displayed by others. I think it also somewhat belies your statement that you didn't get your love of music through formal education, but only you can really speak to that.

I suppose here are other ways in, but learning an instrument is a particularly good one. People who play pick up a great deal of background in music that other people do not-- as you are learning that Brahms piece your teacher tells you about the Romantic period, and how it is different from, I don't know, the Jurrasic period, and about Vienna, and you acquire a friendly familiarity with it all.

Classical music is intimidating for many people because it is not familiar. Is this recording of The Nutcracker any good? Should I get the Moscow Symphony or the Boston Philharmonic? Do I want The Nutcracker, or this thing-- Leonard Bernstein's Mass? I've heard of him....

Even if I were prepared to just go out and buy armloads of old LPs and a suitable playback device-- something that most people in their teens or 20s are unlikely to do (something that would seem very odd in most people, I think), there is an investment in time.

Beyond that, I think we can agree that most music is something that is best enjoyed live, and that is expensive. One could, I suppose, hang around churches and listen for free-- I'm not saying that it is impossible to learn to love music inexpensively. Doing that, however, presupposes an interest. What I am saying is that the easiest and most dependable way to learn about music and develop an interest is in school. If a kids parents don't listen to string quartets or opera at home, the only other place it is going to happen is at school, and it mostly isn't happening there much.

Your question, as I understood it, was 'Why are people less familiar with great works of music than they are with great works of literature?' The answer is that people need to be exposed to something before they can learn to like it. You know who likes classical music? Russians. You know why? Because the Soviet Union thought it was good for them to like it, so it was played on the radio (instead of decadent Western pop), and orchestras were subsidized, and tickets were cheap, even when things like soap were expensive. Maybe that's not the best way to expose people to classical music-- there are side effects which may include genocide, political repression, and the ultimate collapse of the national economy-- but it indisputably works. Me, I'd rather see music programs in the public schools.

Mary Kunz Goldman said...

Bill, this is an interesting discussion. I can't respond now but I will later!! thanks so much for your thoughts and your time.

Prof. G, congrats on being mentioned on Norman Lebrecht's blog today!!