When I was a kid and first discovered reading, I thought to myself, “I’m going to read alll the books.”* You might think that was naïve, but I grew up in a tiny town. Our public library was about the size of a downtown condo. Standing in those few stacks, with my entire life ahead of me, my ambition didn’t seem too outrageous.
Later I learned that I could read forever and never get to the end of the books. So, resigned to failure, I read indiscriminately. And have wasted too much time reading the wrong books. I no longer have my entire life ahead of me. Time to be picky.
But what are the right books? Dude, I have all the lists of award winners, best-of-the-years, and 100-books-you-must-read-before-you-die. The award winners are often expensive or checked out for months at the library. The best-of-the-year lists can be questionable in retrospect. The 100-books-you-must-read are usually highly subjective: too British, too American, too white, too male.
So I chose the 100 free classics that Kobo used to provide pre-loaded on its devices. I don’t think they do anymore. I haven’t time to do the research, though — too many flipping books to read. But the books are still free to download from the site, along with a lot of free self-pubbed dystopian sci-fi and tentacle porn. Actually, I think they got rid of the tentacle porn. Not that I’ve checked or anything…
The 100 free classics list has a lot of the same problems as the bucket-list books: too white, too British, and too male, or it would be if it weren’t for the juggernaut that is Jane Austen, who has a total of six books on the list. The only person who comes close to her is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with five, four of them Sherlock.
Another problem of the list is that they’re too dead. That’s inevitable — they’re free because their copyright has run out, and the copyright has run out because they’re really old. Like Aesop’s Fables and the epic poem Beowulf. There is no copyright on oral tradition, or really old translations of it. But these dusty books classics for a reason — they’re ageless, overflowing with truths that are still relevant. And some good old-fashioned racism and misogyny, I imagine. Fun stuff.
I have other related goals. One is to get through the books on my bookshelf that I’ve been accumulating (or hoarding, as the guy who shares my mortgage sees it), and the other is to get to know the authors. So I don’t intend to just plough through the books on the list and be done with it. I want to read all of each author’s books, learn about those authors, and learn what others have written about their writing. Cripes, this is going to take forever.
*Hence the typo in the URL: call it emphasis. Also, “all the books” was taken, and I’m too lazy to think of something else.