There are lots of great books out there and so little time. There are so many books and authors I want to read but just never get around to.
I was thinking about this the other day when the Nobel Literature Prize winner was announced. I was looking through the list of previous winners and noticed that there were very few I had read, though to be frank, none of the recent winners are people I want to read. And I was thinking, which of the current writers I read have a chance at a Nobel? Nick Hornby MAYBE in 20 years or so, but I doubt it.
Then there is Mario Vargas Llosa. I doubt he will win as he is (i) a Latin American and the Nobel committee is biased in favor of Europeans and (ii) he is a right of center person and an unapologetic supporter of liberal democracy, the Nobel committee choices there days skew far to the left. In any event, while I have read lots of his essays over the years, I have read only one of his books "The Feast of the Goat." I did buy two of his books however in case he gets chosen over the next few years.
So, leaving aside the question of whether you have library privileges in the afterlife, I decided to make a list of those books I want to read before I die. In no particular order:
1. The Gulag Archipelago. All people with pretensions of being an intellectual need to be cured of the totalitarian temptation that seems to effect that class. (Am I an intellectual? Good question, I have pretensions of being one)
2. The Diary of a Young Girl. This seems to be such an important book for our time.
3. Two more Charles Dickens books. I have read a Tale of Two Cities and played Scrooge in Fifth Grade. I just need to figure out which ones to read.
4. An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. I believe that all university trained English speaking Catholics can never read too much Newman.
5. The Summa Theologica. This book is so central to the Catholic faith, it is incredible I have never read more than the snippets required in my college theology classes.
6. More of the classical historians.
7. Something by Voltaire (other than Candide, which I have read). Though I am not sure what the Church's position on that could be.
8. The Discovery of Freedom. An obscure text these days to be sure, but one of the foundation documents of American libertarianism.
9. Tender is the Night. The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, so I should read more Fitzgerald.
10. Churchill's histories of World War I and II. I have read quite a few of Churchill's books. Churchill was a great writer -- despite his aristocratic background he was not that wealthy and lived mostly a hand to mouth existence until the 1950s. He survived on his books and lectures, so they had to be good. Granted, some of his books, like "The Malakand Field Force," have no interest to us today except as historical curiosities. But others, such as "My Early Life," should rank as great monuments to historical literature. Given the centrality of the two World Wars both to Western society and to Churchill himself, I think I should read his works on the conflicts.
11. Orwell's pre-WWII works. I have read "Animal Farm" and "1984" of course, along with some of his WWII era essays. Orwell should be considered one of the finest writers in English history. But he has such a wide variety of literature that I think if you read only 1984 you miss out. He is as relevant today as he was when he wrote. His essay, "Notes on Nationalism" could have been written yesterday.
12. Sword of Honor and Brideshead, Revisited. Waugh was very English, very aristocratic and very Catholic. He lamented a world he saw as in decline, the old virtues misplaced in a new world of common culture and industrialized warfare.
13. The Skin of Our Teeth. I read "Our Town" as a I teenager, stuck in the hospital after a hip operation. I still carry its message -- life is really best lived by appreciating the little things. As "The Skin of Our Teeth" is considered Wilder's second best work, that makes my list.
Well, the list does not include the two Vargas novels I bought, so once I finish those, I plan on working on the rest of my list.