“Books I Want to Read by My 18th Birthday”

Last weekend I went down into the basement to change over the laundry and discovered a water line had burst and was spurting water over half the basement. We got it stopped quickly and the only real damage was that my yearbooks got a bit soggy.

As I fanned the yearbooks out so they might dry out without mildewing, cursing myself for not taking that book preservation course in library school, I found the typed document below:

I’m 34 now, and so I made this list at least a half a lifetime ago, and while I have no memory of it, I assume the books are selected from my parents’ shelves, judging by how eclectic the list is.

Some of these, as is evident, I read by high school graduation. The last four were cheating, added after I’d read them for class; Lord of the Rings I read to impress a boy — a boy I’d later marry, a series from which we’d eventually draw our firstborn’s name. Silent Spring I read in what was probably my favorite high school class, AP Environmental Science, whose ideas inform a great deal of my home making and daily life, and whose classes took me canoeing the springs of North Florida and constructing my own mini ecosystem.

The Canterbury Tales, Paradise Lost, The Constitution, and Utopia I read in Great Books in college and discussed in the warm, high-ceilinged rooms of the old college chapel — I remember arguing particularly hard on behalf of Milton’s earnestness against other students’ preference for the devil. Mrs Dalloway I read for my English major and I was still thinking of Woolf’s depiction of London when I studied in the U.K. my senior year. I know I read at least bits of Walden and Leaves of Grass in undergrad but I’m hesitant to say I read all of either, though I remember the zing of some of those zesty lines.

A Passage to India I read as a newlywed in Uganda because it was free on my iPod Touch (!!). I also read all the bits of the Bible we hadn’t touched in my college classes.

The Once and Future King I read lonely and hopeful on a couch in rural western Massachusetts as I waited for everything to begin: grad school, a job opportunity in the crumpled economy of 2009, the friendships that would shape my next six years.

Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein I read (or re-read) and discussed in my 30s in Virginia, huddled with a cup of tea and something sweet in the living room of one of my closest friends for book club.

That leaves a good eight or so to read in the next eighteen years, and it’s hard to imagine where life will find me then. Some I can’t imagine why I wanted to read then or why I would now—In Cold Blood and Slaughterhouse Five are probably both too gory for me, and I’m too old now to have a chance of empathizing with Holden Caulfield or even idealistic, unflinching Thoreau. But maybe homeschooling will have me reading Gulliver’s Travels or Robinson Crusoe with the kids someday; maybe Well-Read Moms will tackle Moby Dick, and this list reminds me that I never have gotten around to Faulkner.

The girl who wrote this list couldn’t imagine the woman I am now, and sometimes it’s hard now to remember the girl I was then. But books form the threads between the two of us, each existing in time, so different in our dreams in experiences, but linked to one another by a shared love of the written word.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s