A few weeks ago, I was wasting time on Lists of Bests and came across a list for Dr. Peter Boxall's 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. That particular list is, of course, enormous but I had fun listing off the books I had read. I decided, arbitrarily, to try to read the entire list. However, I would only check off books that I could remember something about. In other words, the fact that I read Treasure Island twenty years ago is not enough. I have to know something about the book and be able to at least remember the main plot points.
And, after a week or two, I decided that that list was just too big. While surfing around, I noticed that there were several smaller book lists with a lot of overlap and I thought that starting with one of those lists might make things a bit easier. So I found this list: Random House Modern Library's 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century: Fiction. I added the list to my queue and went straight over to Amazon to order the first two unread books on the list: Ulysses and Gatsby.
Once the books arrived they sat on my shelf for a month or two while I read books that were of little consequence but a great deal more fun than Ulysses. I read a lot of my usual science fiction and fantasy popcorn books, quite a few magazines, a book of essays about Firefly (the T.V. show) and a couple of books of trivia. All the while I kept looking at Ulysses and finding another way of avoiding it. Finally, I decided to just skip it for a while.
All of which brings me back to Gatsby.
There are times I would like to go back and smack my twenty-one year old self around a bit and this is one of them. Gatsby is a fantastic book; I would have loved it had I bothered to read it back when, and I loved it last week, reading it straight through in a couple of hours, then reading it again. It is called a masterpiece and rightly so, for reasons far better explained by many others over the years.
However, for myself, the biggest benefit of reading Gatsby was remembering that something need not be new to be new to me and worthwhile. So, I am feeling quite ready to tackle the next, or, rather, first, volume on the list, the dreaded Ulysses, and to finish something I should have done years ago – reading the classics.