The 2019 Reading List


In this post, I spoke about my New Year’s Resolution: to read 30 classic novels—or at least attempt to read them—in order to work through my bookshelf. Collecting books is a beautiful thing, but that’s only half the fun; the magic is in reading them!

I said I would post my reading list when it was assembled, however there has been a change.

The original plan was to read 30. While planning my reading list, I took into account the length of some of these books and the time I will have available. I also reminded myself that, following the death of my grandmother, I’ve been having problems sitting down to focus on a book.

The number has therefore been lowered to 25, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it if I can’t read them all. The point is to be trying.

I have already finished the first book on the list—it was The Mayor of Casterbridge, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. A post about the novel will follow. I took copious notes of the first chapters but stopped halfway through, when the book became too gripping to jot my thoughts every ten pages.

Here, then, is the list. The books are to be read in no particular order, and I have chosen these titles on the basis of owning them; there is no theme, even though you can tell classic literature is my favorite category. Also, some of these books are novellas or anthologies; they are thick books I haven’t gotten through yet.

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Dubliners by James Joyce
  • Heart of Darkness & Other Stories by Joseph Conrad
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Sagas of Icelanders (anthology of folklore)
  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Tess of the d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • Russian Fairy Stories (anthology of folklore)
  • The Story of King Arthur and His Knights
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  • Sons and Daughters by D.H. Lawrence
  • Adam Bede by George Eliot
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • TBA

I have left one spot empty because I know myself, and I know a classic will pop up sometime in July or September that should be in this list.

I am not limiting this year’s reading to the books listed above. I’m positive there are other lighter works that will provide modern respite. The point of this challenge, in the end, is to make progress, know literary history, and develop my vocabulary. Most of all, I look forward to doing something I enjoy. Reading old books has always been a favorite pastime of mine.

Have you set any goals this year? What are they?

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l’automne


Your bookshelves are empty.
Outside, the leaves fall.
We’re waiting through
The saddest autumn of all.

Your piano is sleeping—
Too great for my hands.
Still, I will play
‘Til my heart understands.

I took home your paper
To sketch out your face,
But you have a smile
That art can’t replace.

The trees out your window
Have all become bare.
So I search my heart:
You will always be there.

I’m thankful to have this beautiful woman for a grandmother. And I’m thankful to have her for another Thanksgiving.

Life & Flowers


I stepped out today to find all of my flowers had bloomed.

Gathering some into a vase, I realized why it’s important to wait for certain things—and to appreciate what’s going on during the wait, even in moments when it seems no change is happening.

The flowers are stunning, aren’t they? If I had rushed them, if I had not waited out the long hot summer, if I had not endured August weeks of dryness during which no flowers grew—I would not have gathered so many colors today.

The cliche is true: the best things are worth the wait, every moment of it.

A Night of Mist and Questioning


I walk in mist
One chilly night,
When sorrow-clouds
Eclipse the light.
They fill my lungs
In every breath
With loaded air
Tasting of death.

The street lights wonder,
“Who is she?”—
They’ve never seen
The likes of me.
Behind their thick
Church-veil of cloud,
The stars, too, gossip—
Not aloud.

The cobblestones
Beneath my feet
Send questions up
And down the street;
Yet through it all,
I pay no mind.
I walk in mist;
They stay behind.

The Grudge


What am I going to do when the season ends and my flowers begin to die?

How will I cope when I go outside in the morning and, instead of seeing a new darling has bloomed, I find the stalks becoming dry and crinkly—these gentle plants that brought butterflies and bees and joy to my days?

I have a grudge against death and its habit of taking things. I know it’s unreasonable and part of me believes death is not the end. But usually all I feel is fear that the end will come.

Now it’s a flower, later a loved one. Eventually, it will be all of us. Let’s hope we inspire people to plant new flowers in the years to come.

The Breath


In Hozier’s Work Song, I noticed a point in the beginning when the chorus catches a breath. It’s difficult to hear if you are caught in the beauty of the song, but now that I’ve heard it, I think it’s one of the loveliest moments.

Have you ever thought of the pause before a note? The sound is full of promise and effort. By it we realize that the people behind the songs we love are human; they, like us, need air.

When we know these artists are creatures like us, we feel closer to them. If we wanted to, we could also make art that would leave an audience breathless. True beauty comes when we lose the fear of letting our humanity show.

How Books Resemble Flowers


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Writing a story is like growing a flower in the sense that you can’t rush it. The plant won’t bloom if you don’t give it the care it requires: some need more water, others wither if you give them too much.

I learned through gardening and writing that it’s best not to control things too much. If you smother anything, it will suffocate. The blooms in my garden prove that the wait, though taxing, is worthwhile. So do the drafts on my hard drive.

Flowers that take longest to grow are not necessarily lovelier. The zinnia and the Morning Glory both take my breath away. In this way, long stories are not better: a thousand-page Dostoevsky immerses me, as does the short A Christmas Carol.

The same is true for poetry, even free-verse. I have gained much from fantasy novels as well as history books. There is no point trying to control everything because, if loved enough, flowers and stories are always lovely.

I’m familiar with the sensation of wanting to finish writing sooner. Rushing a story will not make it better. A seedling must be tended with patience if we want flowers; good novels require the same care. We should let each novel grow as tall or bold as it wishes.

We cannot control everything–if we do, we risk destroying it.

I’m turning away from methods that promise a novel in thirty days. Instead, I’ll focus on watering the flowers: nourishing the story and treating it as if it were alive. I know the story will be happier in the long run, and so will I.

A Whisper in a Daydream on a Hill


Recently I learned that a friend with whom I had been very close a few years ago died suddenly. I don’t know the details and don’t think I could handle getting into them. It has unearthed a whole new set of emotions in me, things I had only read about before in books.

There’s the personal shame, the wish that I had been a better friend and not lost contact. It storms with the logical bit of me which says there is no way I can keep in touch with everyone all the time, that sometimes friends drift apart because life works that way.

There are the echoes. In the days since learning of her passing, I’ve found myself remembering almost every conversation we ever had—vividly. Scraps of advice about hair care and whether a certain artist could sing. Memories of that time we bonded over an online game. And when we agreed that a book we had both read wasn’t so great after all.

I remember music she had recommended to me and know that those songs will never be the same again. At this moment, Whisper by A Fine Frenzy comes to mind—with the haunting lyrics I’m down to a whisper / In a daydream / On a hill… It has always been a beautiful song but now it takes on new significance.

Every soul matters. Every friend does, too. It doesn’t matter if you only ever met them online—now I know that, when you learn they are gone, it hurts all the same. It’s confusing at first, and then emotions come flooding in, and you find yourself wishing to go back to that summer a few years ago…just for a while.

Take care of your friends. If ever you feel the nagging sense to say hello, or suddenly remember their birthday, don’t waste a chance. Take care of yourself because people do care about you. And—I would do well to learn this—if you lose someone, it fixes nothing to blame yourself.

I don’t know the details, but I do know we will never chat again, and that song will most certainly make me tear up for the rest of my life. Take care of your friends, even if they seem fine—and take care of yourself.

A Place of Light


This is another excerpt from my journal that I would like to share. It needs editing, but I liked it, and hope you will too!


There’s a lot of light in this place.

It’s a haven of pure air and high spirits. It makes me feel like there’s no darkness left in my reality; by this I know it can’t be reality.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Perhaps I’m on a different plane.

It has to be a dream.

I sit on the ground and let it soak in – energy, inspiration, peace. Could this be the place ideas come from?

Could this weightlessness be the root of my inspiration?

Closing my eyes, I search my mind, seeking ideas for my next poem…here in this place of light.