90 books, y’all. I have staggered and stumbled my way through 90% of The (supposed) Greatest Books of All Time. I can practically taste the razzleberries on my Pie Party Victory Tour.
All the preceding milestones of The Challenge (50 books, 75 books, 80 books) suddenly seem trivial by comparison. Like, why did I bother celebrating at all? They were barely worth acknowledging. They were feeble, and weak, and nowhere near the pie.
But 90 is different. 90 is pie-adjacent. 90 is the final turn of the tide.
Now that the pie party is marching, inexorably, on the horizon, I’m beginning to gather up all my stray thoughts in honor of #100—the moment of triumph (and pie). I’ve already decided where my final battle(s) will be fought, for ruin or for glory (but, mostly, for pie). And, increasingly, my mind has turned to What Comes Next—which brave warriors among books will dare to follow The Challenge (and the pie).
Obviously, the classics will be shunned, Amish-style, from my Ikea nightstand for at least a year. I will make cool new friends like Funny Girl and A Visit from the Goon Squad, and catch up with old acquaintances like Harry Potter. My old bookshelf will mutter catty things under its breath about my new bookshelf, like how it’s obviously a trophy bookshelf and way too young for me. But my new bookshelf will be blissful in its ignorance of all things Faulkner, Hemingway, and Joyce—and if that’s not #winning, I don’t know what is.
Still, I have a feeling that the classics will reappear at some point—maybe stand in the rain outside my door with a bouquet of
flowers burritos—if only to remind me we were good together, once. Sometimes, anyway. And I, weak-willed and forgiving and flattered and, let’s face it, hungry, will let my guard down long enough to usher them back inside.
This would seem, on the surface, to be a kind of betrayal of my own sanity—to read more classics further along my lifespan, I mean. But since my sanity and I officially parted ways somewhere around Tristram Shandy, it doesn’t really factor in. Instinct tells me, in fact, that I won’t even limit myself to new classics (that is, classics that didn’t make The List, e.g., A Tale of Two Cities). No, I’ll even consider revisiting a few I encountered back when my head was level.
Because one thing The Challenge has taught me is that liking a book doesn’t necessarily mean I want to take it camping with me every summer, or grab dinner whenever we’re both in town. Some books are like a one-night stand: You can walk away after one magnificent night, wish each other well, and hope you never cross paths again. (Because, well, AWKWARD, innit?)
And by that same token (but on the flip side), disliking a book doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll give it the ol’ snub until it finally takes the hint. I might call it up again someday, just to see how it’s doing. I might meet it for coffee to reminisce about old times. I might wonder how things might have been if we’d tried a little harder, been a little more patient—or if we’d met later in life, when the timing was right.
Remember the Love/Hate Game from my 75th book extravaganza? Well, it’s time, at #90, for a new game. Let’s call it Nuance. I will navigate the subtle differences between liking/disliking a classic and my willingness/unwillingness to reread it. And I will do it while drinking this bottle of wine that somehow found its way into my loving embrace.
This is going to be SO MUCH FUN, guys. But mostly for me, so… sorry.
Books I Loved—and Vow to Reread in This and All My Future Lives, Until the AI-pocalypse Comes to Annihilate Humankind:
- Beloved, Toni Morrison
- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
- The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
- Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
- Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Books I Liked—and Will Not Reread Unless I Get Kicked in the Head by Some Jerk of a Horse, Develop Amnesia, and Interpret My Goodreads Account As Anything Other Than a Cry for Help:
- Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
- The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
- Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
- The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
Books I Disliked—and Might Reread in a Deserted Island Scenario If the Only Other Surviving Book Is Miles to Go by Miley Cyrus:
- Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
- The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
- Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner
Books I Hated—and Would Not Reread Even If Chris Hemsworth Got Down on One Knee, Took Off His Shirt, and Begged Me To:
- The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
- The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
- Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
- The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
- Herzog, Saul Bellow
Take these recommendations (and warning signals) how you will. And as for the rest: Consider me neutral and/or undecided.
Actually, you know what? Don’t. Not quite yet, anyway. Because there’s one book that bears no nuance whatsoever. A book so atrocious it deserves its own platform of scorn and shame. A book I wouldn’t reread if it meant puncturing my own eyeballs out à la Oedipus Rex:
This is the book I would wish on my worst enemy (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE, Your Royal Heinous, King of Human Garbage. YOU AND UPDIKE DESERVE EACH OTHER). I mean it—this book is unforgivable. There is just NO EXCUSE for this book, and I will ridicule it to an early death SO HELP ME GOD. And when it dies, I will light its funeral pyre MYSELF, stand atop its BLAZING CARCASS, and wait until our mingled ashes ECLIPSE THE WHOLE DAMN SKY.
Then, and only then, will I be satisfied with my life’s work, and move on to an afterlife of infinite Oreos.
So there you have it: the world of literary Nuance. Sometimes you give a book a second chance, even if it doesn’t deserve one. And sometimes you know, for one reason or many, that you are never, ever, ever getting back together.
90 books in, I’m starting to see the difference.
But, mostly, I’m starting to see the pie.