As you know, I read a lot. I read everyday. And not just the stuff I have to read (student papers, memos, articles on education), but I read a little bit for fun every single day. Most books, articles, stories and poems I can see the title or the cover and I know I’ve read it, but I may not remember the details. But if I read the first line, I nearly always do. I haven’t a clue how many books I’ve read in my life, but I’d guess in the thousands. Sadly, I’ve lost the book list I had so carefully begun compiling when I was in first grade, the first year that I read more than a hundred books. The last time I remember seeing it was in college, when I was still diligently adding each book to the list as I read it: title then author in neatly lettered pen on notebook paper. In 2010, I began trying to recreate that list.
The recreation of the list has been interesting. Most of what’s there at the moment (I’m up to nearly 500 books) are the old classics and the books I’ve read in the last five years or so. I think now that I need to add the year that I read a book, and where applicable, when I reread it. The gathering of titles and authors has been challenging. In some cases I have to go back to the book and read the first few lines to make sure that I don’t just think I read the book because I think I should have read it. So no, no War and Peace no matter how much I think it’s a book that should be read.
Other novels have returned to my eyes like long lost family. I read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm because my mom made me, but when I saw the title I was taken back to winter breaks filled with similar stories of girls who were not “normal” girls – climbing trees and chasing frogs and rooting around in the dirt. Which, of course, reminded me of throwing up all over my brand new hardback copy of Little House on the Prairie one Christmas break long ago. I was so sad I couldn’t stop crying while I was (still) throwing up. Mom and Dad graciously bought me another beautiful copy (which was later destroyed in a dorm flood. I gave up Little House after that).
I remembered, too, the summer that I read almost nothing except Agatha Christie and Anne McCaffery novels. There was a great little used book store not far from the ranch we were living on that year, and though I don’t remember the book store very well, I do remember the small bookshelf at the ranch house we were living in. I put the new ones at the end, in front of the ones I’d finished the week before. When we moved in, the shelves had been empty; by the time we left, the shelves were full and the additional books were stacked on the floor to one side.
Revisiting these books even in brief has been instructive. I suspect, frankly, that I read a bit too much for “fun” and not quite enough for “meaning.” But then again, the ones that stay with me return again and again for fresh viewing; even without a re-read I find connections in the experiences I’ve accumulated since that initial meeting. Somewhere along the way I started keeping a “great lines” file for golden nuggets that must not be lost. I love going back to those files to remember and think again about the relative meaning of a single quotation outside the context of the entire events of a book. I don’t know how long it will take me to re-compile my booklist, but to date it has been an interesting experience, and I am already amazed at how much I’ve read in my life – and knowing how many blank places there are that still need to be filled with some of the amazing good books out there.