Three Reading Lists

I like to keep some curated reading lists handy for those times when I struggle with what to read next. The three lists I depend on most are:

  1. Modern Library’s 100 Best Nonfiction Books
  2. Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels
  3. Sports Illustrated’s 100 Best Sports Books

Slowly, I am chipping away at these lists. But I recently went through a patch of what-the-heck-do-I-read-next. After spinning like an unsettled top for a few days, I finally settled on two books that a friend recommended to me more than twenty years ago (yes, it can sometimes be that long before I finally get to recommendations). I’ll have more to say on those two books next week. At the same time, I went to my lists to see if anything looked interest and made a decision.

In addition to my already stated reading goal for 2019, I am going to attempt to get through the top 10 books on each of the three lists by the end of the year. That would be a total of 30 books, but it turns out to be less because I have already read some of them. In 2018, I managed to read 130 books and 30 is a less than a quarter of the total. That is important because of the butterfly effect of reading.

The more I considered this additional reading goal, the more I began to see a bigger picture emerge. I eventually want to get through all the books on the three lists. 300 books is a big commitment all at once, but I’ve learned that slow and steady works well for me. (Hey, I’ve been at this blogging thing since 2005, and managed to accumulate nearly 6,400 posts over that time; slow, but steady.) If I aimed for 10 books from each list over each of the next ten years, I could get through all 300 books on those lists by the end of the next decade (2029). This year I’ll tackle the top ten, next year then next ten, and so on.

Some of the books are hard to come by. I have been slowly collecting Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, which appears on the Modern Library’s Top 100 Nonfiction Books. Even harder to locate is Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m satisfied for now to tackle the top ten in each list. I may not get through them all (some books just don’t hold my interest), but I’ll try each one.

So, by the end of this year, here are the books that appear on those lists that I am going to tackle. Bold titles indicate I’ve already read the book.

Modern Library’s 100 Best Nonfiction Books

  1. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
  2. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
  3. Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolfe
  5. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  6. Selected Essays by T. S. Eliot
  7. The Double Helix by James D. Watson
  8. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
  9. The American Language by H. L. Mencken
  10. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard Keynes

Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels

  1. Ulysses by James Joyce
  2. The Great Gatsby* by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. Brave New World* by Aldous Huxley
  6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  8. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  9. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
  10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

*I know that I read The Great Gatsby and Brave New World in high school, but I have virtually no memory of them, and since my official list begins in 1996, I am considering them new and will re-read them.

Sports Illustrated’s 100 Best Sports Books

  1. The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling
  2. The Boys of Summer by Roger Kohn
  3. Ball Four by Jim Bouton
  4. Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger
  5. You Know Me Al by Ring Larder
  6. A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein
  7. Semi-Touch by Dan Jenkins
  8. Paper Lion by George Plimpton
  9. The Game by Ken Dryden
  10. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

The total comes to 25 books, since I’ve already read five of the 30 books in the combined lists. Given that I managed to read 2o books in the first two months of the year so far, I don’t think that will be much of a problem.

I don’t plan to read them all at once, but spread them around. Ultimately, I am at the mercy of the butterfly effect of reading, so this could go sideways. Only time will tell.


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