Thursday, June 29, 2006

First things first: this isn't the name I wanted. Water under bridges etc. etc. but for the record I like real words as much as the next gal, and neologisms are the last refuge of a really incompetent blogger!

For the last few months, I've been feeling lower than an angleworm's belly. I woke up one morning and found I was 25, had left several decent careers in as many years, was sick, and had been living amongst packing boxes since my former landlady evicted me two months prior. (Not in a box. Just amongst them in a new place. And only because she wanted the place for herself.) My antidepressant dosages kept getting higher and higher and I was eating more canned tomatoes than ever before. What's more, I was what is known in my family as "going strange" -- in my case, muttering into a tape recorder on the Brooklyn Bridge, giving way to barks of alarming laughter, and wearing an unironic muumu around my neighborhood (and really, once you try one in hot weather there's no going back.) My attempt to overcome self-centred melancholia via good works resulted in a weekly visit to an irritable octogenarian with whom I'd sit in mutual suspicion, occasionally making sour remarks about Dr. Phil's sons. My mother claimed I needed more exercise, apparently feeling that my periodic bouts of frenetic dancing in my apartment (to a playlist titled "Wild Dancing") were insufficient. I decided that what I needed was a project.

I'd been thinking for a while of doing some kind of organized reading program, because it's sort of alarming when you get out of school to realize that the burden of education's now on you, and further to realize just how much essential reading is left to do. I like to read, and I guess by some standards I'm fairly well read, too, but I'm as likely as not to pick up a cookbook or a vintage romance as a Gaddis novel (which, actually, I'm not really likely to do at all), and sometimes I'd sort of feel panic-stricken thinking of all the new books piling up when I still had so many classics to get through. Anyway, I decided to start an organized reading plan, and I further decided I was going to keep a journal of it, to keep me honest.

The truth is, in my secret soul, I love lists. Although I'm objectively the least organized person in the world, there's nothing I find more appealing than a list of itemized tasks, and reading lists, straight-up high school style, are one of life's secret pleasures. I sort of knew that any list of "essential" reading would be, by its very nature, totally arbitrary, but I didn't care -- it'd be a guideline, and that was what I needed. Initially, I was planning to do sort of the greatest books of all time. I was all set to tackle John Fadiman's "Lifetime Reading Plan," starting with "The Epic of Gilgamesh" and continuing in this vein for some hundred and fifty titles. But something about this scheme struck me as very retired lawyer-esque; you know - between perfecting backswings -- and I decided to start with something a little less ambitious, and then work my way up to the Greeks. (After all, I did do four years of core curriculum in college. I needed a breather.)

So I settled on the Modern Library's Top 100 English-Language Novels of the Twentieth Century, for starters. I decided that everything I'd already read I'd read again. I'd keep a journal -- which is probably good reading policy anyway, failing book groups -- and actually do this. I sort of hope, going into it, that maybe if someone else is looking for something to anchor them, or a project, or just a means of organizing reading -- well, that they will feel free to follow along with me.

The first hurdle? Getting around my $100 library fine.