My initial list was longer than 50 books because I was so exuberant to make up for lost time. In fact, I found myself adding many more books to the list each year than I was actually reading. I would read lists of the best books ever published and then add and add more and more books to my list. It was ridiculous, actually, because I was spending much more time reading about the books than I was reading the books.
The first books I actually did read, however, were found in the textbook room of my school's library. I thought. as the only librarian at the school, I should at least know the books we asked students to read. So I dug into The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Brave New World, The Lord of the Flies, Bless Me Ultima and Fahrenheit 451. I reread To Kill a Mockingbird. As I shelved my library books I found other books: Lolita, The Phantom Tollbooth, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, A Tree Grow in Brooklyn, The Bell Jar, and many others. I was on a roll, reading more classics in a few years than I had read the whole rest of my life. And by and large I came to understand what all the fuss was about, why these books were considered 'classics.' I even made a stab at linking my reviews onto the Classics Club website, a process I found cumbersome.
Sometime in 2014 (I'm guessing) I discovered the Classic Club's SPIN events. These events happen three or four times a year. Participants are asked to create a numbered list of twenty books from their still unread classic list. On a given day a number is announced and the corresponding book on the participants list is their SPIN selection. A deadline for completion and the encouragement to post a review on the site helped me stay on track. I loved SPINs. I would pour over my list of twenty choices, creating what I thought would give me a perfect chance at reading the best classics. And indeed I did read some gems: One Hundred Years of Solitude, A Woman in White, The Yearling, Great Expectations, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, and The Age of Innocence. Along the way I also ran into some real clunkers too: The Wide Sargasso Sea, The Name of the Rose, My Brilliant Career, and Winesburg, Ohio. I even reread a book I loved in my childhood, Little Women, and found it preachy and not nearly as endearing as I remembered. I labored for over six months to complete East of Eden for one SPIN
session, way past the deadline for completion. I ended up admiring the
book a lot but it took months until I even thought I could finish the
thing. Another choice, So Big, was so bland I honestly didn't care if I finished it or not. My interest in the project was starting to wane, probably precipitated by a batch of recent SPIN clunkers..
Along the way I kept updating my list, adding and subtracting titles. When I started reading through past Pulitzer Prize winners for another project, I added several titles onto the Classics list so I could kill two birds with one stone. Books which aren't really 'classics' went onto the list because they were prize winners or were published over 50 years ago, then I added a few which were published only 40 years ago, maybe thirty five. Clearly things were starting to get out of hand.
A few months ago (in COVID time it was probably six months ago but I've lost all track of normal time) I took a hard look at my Classics Club list and pared it down considerably. For authors I thought I should read I listed 'Something by' their name rather than specific titles. I lobbed off books which no longer interested me. At last count I only have 43 books to go to complete my current list. I have no idea what my original list held since I kept amending it without preserving the previous one. According to the list I have read 55 classics since I started the project, going back about ten years. Not too bad. I certainly have read books I never would have read had I not been a participant in the Classics Club. No one is grading me and I don't have to compare myself to other members who are reading many more titles than me.
This past Sunday was the date of another SPIN. I wasn't home so I didn't peek at the number until I created yet another list of twenty titles I'd still like to read. The winner from my list, number 18, is Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. I am not sure why, but I felt disappointed in the choice. Why did I even put it on the list if I don't really want to read it? Actually I think it is 'the grass is greener' syndrome. I look at the unchosen other nineteen books and think they look better. Ha! I likely will make a stab at Mrs. Dalloway, but won't feel any pressure if I don't meet the deadline as I have several other reading projects right now.
This blog post was supposed to help me decide to stay in or leave the Classics Club, since my recent participation has been sketchy at best. As I write this concluding paragraph it seems clear to me that I am still invested in the project, that I really do want to read (or reread) the titles I've listed. I will plug along for as long as it seems like a good thing to do. Even if I only read four or five of the titles a year, I should have this project in the bag in what?, nine or ten more years! 😀