My friend Brooks has a list of books to read before he dies. We were talking about this the other day, and he told me it would be decades before he read through those 250 books. I laughed at him and said, “Well just start reading. It’s not that hard!”
And so he challenged me to see who could read the next book on his list first. The book? The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
It’s possible I’m in over my head.
But Brooks’ list of books to read got me thinking. I have a long to read list, but it’s determined mostly by what people have recommended lately, the New York Times Book Review or whichever great deals I’ve come across in recent weeks. (A month ago, some friends who were moving to Boston invited a group over for an open house. They’d covered their dining room table with books they were getting rid of. I filled a bag, and I still have to read the better part of my library sale books!)
I don’t know what would fill my list of books to read before I die. Would I fill it with obvious choices–the (rest of the) Bible, classics I skipped in high school, childhood classics that I somehow missed out on? I still can’t remember if I read The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, although I am slowly working my way through them as an adult. Right now I’m so distracted by the books that have taken up residence in my kitchen (because that’s where normal people keep their unread books, right? Right?). Instead of destroying Brooks in this challenge, I’ve been tempted by the books I’ve heard about over the past several years–Water for Elephants, The Kite Runner.
Tonight I added yet another book to my list. My uncle struck gold with his birthday gift to me: a gift card to Books-A-Million and a second to Joe Muggs. With time to kill on a Saturday night and a book club pick still unpurchased, I decided to spend an hour wandering the aisles of a bookstore. My generous uncle refused to tell me how much the gift cards were for, and I was so shocked (and excited!) by their $75 sum that the bookstore clerk teased me for not spending it all in one trip. My sole purchase was Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink–one more tome to add to the ever-growing list.
I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I may not win Brooks’ challenge–not because I’m busy, but because I’m busy reading so much else. But win or lose, I’ve got a second book on my must-read list. I will finish The History, even if it takes me 60 years.