Recently, I had coffee with an 84 year-old lady, a former teacher who told me, “I need to live to be 100 because I have 100 more books I want to read.” So I asked her, “Which books?” “Well,” she replied, “For one example, I want to learn more about the English and Spanish expansionists-imperialist adventures, so I’m going to read J.H. Elliott’s England and Spain in the Atlantic.”
Her comments prompted me to think about some of the next 100 books I hope to find time to read. Certainly each year there are a few newly published, topical books I hope to read. Some recent examples of books on my to-read shelf include Tim Wiener’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA; David Cay Johnston’s Free Lunch and Lester R. Brown’s Plan B—3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.
Also, there are a few massive works of historical scholarship that I want to find time to dive into – such books as Saul Friedlander’s monumental The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945 and the late David Halberstam’s extraordinary final book, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War.
But mostly my list of 100 will revolve around re-reading – or in some cases first-time reading of various classics. The re-reads will surely include Cervantes’ Don Quixote; The Idiot (Dostoevsky – not a presidential biography); George Eliot’s Middlemarch; and several novels of Charles Dickens, such as Dombey and Son, Martin Chuzzlewit, and Bleak House.
The first-time reads, admitted with some chagrin, would include Tolstoy’s War and Peace; Dostoevsky’s The Possessed; Kafka’s Amerika; and Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.
And, had I world enough and time, I would dearly love to read Gibbon, Thucydides, Toynbee, and Henry Adams, to name but a few historians. Actually, Henry Adams’ abridged history of America’s early years is quite engaging.
Finally, if allowed to reach 100 with all my marbles, I would want to go back and re-read – in depth – many major poets I have sampled – but not just the 5-10 best and most widely anthologized poems of each, rather a hundred or so of each. For example, I just purchased the new 2006 Pomona Press edition of the complete poems of Thomas Hardy and it is a feast, but also a major commitment of time. Multiply this by fifty to a hundred poets and the necessity of living to be 100 is clear.
May the fates permit you, reader, and me, such a gift of time. Meanwhile, each day is its own reward and the reading we can fit in a blessing.