Reading List for the New Year

My list of New Year’s Resolutions is rarely resolved by the end of the year, but as the first month of this year draws to a close, I’ve been making a good start. I’ve begun a yoga class, I’m flossing more regularly, and perhaps most importantly, I have a stack of books just waiting to be read.

The goal is to read 52 books by the end of 2014 — a book for every week — but I’ll spare us all the aggravation of a list with more than four dozen items, some of which I haven’t selected yet, and share five titles for the New Year.

1. Beowulf, Unknown

This one, I’ll admit, is rather self-serving; I’m getting graded on it. Somehow, I have made it this far in my education without being assigned what is considered to be the most important work of Anglo-Saxon literature. (Of course, there are very few surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon literature, so it does not have much competition.) But the epic of the Scandinavian hero Beowulf does seem like an exciting tale, even if the prospect of a translation from Old English is a bit off-putting. I’ve heard mixed reviews over the years, with some readers singing its praises and others groaning from the apparent agony of reading. Still, I’m looking forward to knowing what all the fuss is about, finally.

2. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

I’m primarily indulging my ego with this pick. When I would like to say, “I really like Austen,” I can only be honest in saying, “I like Pride and Prejudice.” Because I am a fan of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, I naturally feel inclined to read more of Austen’s work, but I’ve never actually gotten around to it. Perhaps it’s because my first experiences with Austen were more closely related to my older sister’s fondness for Hugh Grant and Colin Firth than to early literary exposure, but I’m eager to enjoy one of her books without having first been influenced by actors found in every British romantic comedy that ever graced my living room.

3. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

This is technically a “Young Adult” novel — a term which is too often associated with the cotton candy variety of books, the saccharine fluff that rots the innards of the young people to whom it is served in mass quantities — but it is filled with substantive thoughts and emotions that is so often lacking in the connotation of the YA category. It is told from the perspective of Death, who quips about human nature and his workload while telling the story of a young German girl in foster care during World War II. I read it once, years ago at the age of fourteen, at the same age as the characters Liesel and Rudy when (spoiler alert!) their street is bombed at the end of the book. I wept as Liesel crawled through the wreckage of her house, and my own Papa found me a sobbing mess as Liesel saw the corpse of hers.

I saw the recent film adaptation just before Christmas, and the movie was good in its own right but the most significant effect it had on me was to compel me to read the book again.

4. Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell

It will probably – no, definitely – take me more than one week to read this, but its reputation alone is enticing enough for me to give it a proper chance. I grew up in Georgia, not two hours from the designated location of the fictional Tara Plantation, and I attempted to read Mitchell’s 1000+ page novel before I moved away but I managed only a few chapters by the time I got distracted and gave up. This year, however, giving up is not an option. It’s an American classic, and I am determined to finish it this year, if for no other reason than to reaffirm my status as a literature nerd.

5. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

This is a recommendation from my sister, who has almost-consistently ranked this as her favorite book since high school. (She wavered briefly around the release of the final installment of Harry Potter.) All she told me about it was that she had a difficult time getting through it the first time but the ending made her love it.

I know almost nothing about this book, and for that I am glad. In this age of internet spoilers, it has been too long since I have read a book when I have no idea what’s going to happen.

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