As an English Literature student, novels, poetry and plays occupy a large amount of my time. A love for reading is, you might say, fairly essential in order to survive, and indeed succeed, in the degree I have chosen. With an extensive, seemingly insurmountable compulsory reading list already providing plenty of material, it may seem surprising that what I would love to do in 2016 is to be able to read more! Yet this is exactly what I intend to do this year – although pursuing the many books I have in mind may have to wait until after the summer exams!
It is not that the books on the reading list are not thought provoking, varied and stimulating enough; it is simply that I have had my own personal reading list for a long time now, filled with a collection of books that have in some way, without my knowing much about them, sparked my interest. Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s resolution for 2015 was to read two new books a month, and I hope he chose wisely. If I were able to set myself a slightly smaller challenge and read just one new book a month, my goal would be to pick books from a range of different authors that are all of significance. In short, I’d like to tick off some of the classics that I’ve (shockingly) never read, as well as others that have caught my attention.
January: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, 1877.
Anna Karenina deals with a married aristocrat’s affair and is set against the backdrop of the liberal reforms carried out by Emperor Alexander II. Having studied this period and these historical reforms in detail at school, I think I’d especially enjoy a novel set during this time.
February: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, 1985.
This novel is set in the near future in a totalitarian Christian theocracy that has overthrown the government of the United States. In this dystopian world the sexes are strictly segregated and women are considered the inferior sex, reduced to merely their biological role. These themes can be considered very relevant to our society today and so I think it would make for an interesting, if slightly uncomfortable, read.
March: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1967.
Originally written in Spanish, Marquez’s novel details the multi-generational story of the Buendia family, whose patriarch founds the town of Macondo (metaphorical Colombia). I am particularly drawn to this book as I love South American culture and would also enjoy exploring the way in which Marquez utilises magical realism throughout the novel.
April: House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski, 2000.
I don’t know much about this book other than the fact that it is highly unconventional in its format and structure: footnotes are frequently used (which contain footnotes themselves), and some pages contain only a few words that attempt to mirror the storyline. I think this would make for an incredibly interesting, if slightly bizarre, reading experience.
May: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, CS Lewis, 1956.
This is a mythological novel which forms a retelling of Cupid and Psyche – a story that haunted Lewis because he realised some of its main characters were illogical. I would like to read it largely because I adored Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia as a child and would therefore like to experience what he thought to be his most accomplished novel.
June: The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt, 2013.
A book that received so much attention, both positive and negative, demands to be read. I think that I should form my own opinion rather than merely listening to that of my friends and family, all of whom have read it and had different responses.
July: The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass, 1959.
Recognised as a classic of post World War II literature, The Tin Drum interests me for its narrative style: Oskar Matzerath tells the story whilst confined in a mental asylum, so his sanity, or insanity, never becomes clear. Having an unreliable narrator could make the story relayed more thought provoking.
August: The Scarlett Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850.
Set in seventeenth century Puritan Boston, The Scarlett Letter deals with Hester Prynne’s struggle to create a life of dignity after conceiving a daughter through an illicit affair. Historical fiction is always interesting for the contrasts as well as the parallels that can be found in modern day situations, as well as for the way in which it can expose the reader to societal standards of a different time.
September: Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami, 1987.
Only translated into English from Japanese in 2000, Norwegian Wood is a nostalgic novel told from the perspective of Toru Watanabe looking back on his college days in Tokyo. I have no particularly interesting reason for wanting to read this novel, other than the fact that more than one person has commented on its poetic language and imagery which I think I would enjoy.
October: The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls, 2005.
The Glass Castle is a memoir rather than a work of fiction, recounting the poverty-stricken upbringing experienced by Walls at the hands of her deeply dysfunctional parents. I rarely read books that are not fictional, so if only for the fact that it spent 261 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, I think The Glass Castle would be a striking book to read.
November: Daniel Deronda, George Eliot, 1876.
Again, I know surprisingly little about Eliot’s final novel, but seeing as I have always enjoyed Victorian novels – and indeed I loved Middlemarch – I am sure I would be equally compelled by Daniel Deronda.
December: The Quiet American, Graham Greene, 1955.
An anti-war novel, The Quiet American draws on Greene’s experiences as a war correspondent in French Indochina in the period 1951–54. Whilst it is still a work of fiction, I think I would find this commentary on war both interesting and increasingly relevant to society today.
It is unlikely that I’ll stick to this personal reading list; indeed, Anna Karenina alone spans over one thousand pages, so my goal for January looks like it will already go uncompleted. Yet still I have my list of books, and perhaps one year I will have read them all. I’d encourage anyone to make a similar resolution; even if you don’t stick to it, making the list serves as an encouraging reminder that there are so many (almost too many!) books still waiting to be explored.