Why set a reading goal; why make it public?

First of all, we are creatures of complacency and comfort: at least I surely am.  And while I love to read great works (and that can be firmly within the realm of comfort), to both begin and finish a great work can easily fall into the category of "not quite yet." Having a set plan to read this now and read this then, can help to spur me on and to read the things I very much want to climb.  Yet there are still problems I encounter by setting reading goals: I can overvalue books of shorter length for the purpose of reading "more"; I can easily sabotage the quality of my reading by the emphasis on quantity; I can let myself not digest a work because I am already on to the next.  These and many other reasons are problematic, and usually cause a shift in my following year's reading goal.

This past year my reading goal has been intentionally unset beyond reading fifty or so books.  Under the criteria I have set as to what constitutes a book, it would appear I am going to fail this year's goal.  However, I always held this lightly as I wanted to have the freedom to read some longer books, reread some works, etc.  But I am again feeling the desire to have a set plan as to what I read for 2015.

So what has been my lack in previous years?  How about long books.  I can fall so firmly into the many that seeing one of the larger tomes on my shelf seems daunting as to the dent it will make in my quantity goal.  I have made exceptions, but some works of massivity have been stacking up for a bit, and I think it is due time to read them.  So, long works be the goal!

As for the second question, why make it public, goals are a funny thing: if we leave them inside our own head, it proves very easy to wander, and skew, and ultimately abolish.  It is therefore necessary to create some form of objective ruling before which you place yourself.  It is why you set the law in stone tablets; now there is no realm for weak and temperamental memory.  All that being said, I have thus far failed every one of these yearly goals of the past few years. And yet felt victorious at the same time.  And this year's goal I will assuredly fail: it is just way too grandiose.  This is part of why I am building in a priority system that can allow me to focus on some works over others in case I fall behind, it doesn't cripple the entire endeavor.

More on the public question, I also seek to encourage others to read.  Fahrenheit 451 presents a culture which has not been censored by government but instead has chosen to censor itself out of the fear of ideas (foreign, complex, of various ilk), and we unfortunately are a culture very much on this path.  I don't foresee us burning our books (unless it be for warmth), but I see literature quickly becoming a language we cannot comprehend.  Books used to change the world, cause revolt, create peace.  I have been trying to think of what medium does that today and well, let's see, we've got Twitter... But seriously, we have come to a place where we have more access to great literature than any time in the world (possibly part of the problem) and yet out of fear of feeling stupid, or boredom, or not having time, or because [choice-genre] is far more palatable than those others, we throw out the things that people in the past would die to obtain.  We need to read.  I need to read.  I need to challenge myself to confront thoughts not my own, learn to interpret and translate the language of literature.  And if I at times feel ignorant or unable to communicate my thoughts of a work, well all the more reason to run firmly into the fear than away.

What is more, I also can enjoy the company.  People asking me how the reading is going, what the books are like, heck, even joining in on one of the reads (so far no one has done such).  For so long for me reading was a private and personal thing, but I have grown to realize that that has impaired my ability to communicate and thus interpret a work.  It is something I want to work on, though it scares me to no end, as my tongue has always failed me. This lends itself to something I want to continue to grow in my reading goal plans and that is more forms of response to the works I read.  So, challenge me.  And don't let me off easily, as I can often intentionally cap off conversation about a work because I feel ill-prepared to translate the thing to another (yeesh, this is scary to write).

Of course, I do also have to battle pride in this task.  "Hey, look at what I am reading. [does that weird lean back/thumbs in the suspenders thing that is supposed to show pride]"  Even my Bradburian rant earlier, is of course like a mathematician arguing for the merit of math.  Well, he reads a lot, of course he is going to over-value reading and speak down to those who don't.  I would be a liar if I were to say these things don't factor into this all, but I attempt to quell such uprisings and also not to allow action to stem from this usurper.  I am attempting to curb that some with both my choices for April's and June's readings.  So if you wanna knock me down a peg, look for those monthly goal.

And now for the monthly goals:


Les Miserables
Victor Hugo
page count: 1488
priority read

Back in my college years, I was reading this alongside all the class assignments on my plate.  Which of course caused difficulty in the whole process, and I unfortunately got stopped about halfway through.  I think the fact that I made it halfway always halted a firm attempt at reread, knowing I would need to restart the read to best encounter the work.  I place this read in January because it is the month I generally have the greatest head of steam and this work will have the most pages out of any of these works (not counting the different mediums in April and June). It should not be hard reading minus perhaps a few of Hugo's tangents and thus I think overall should make for a successful month.

Response: I feel like I had one in mind that I have forgotten.  I need good ideas.  All I can say now is some form of written review.

Supplemental material: I have been trying to find good access to historical accounts of the French Revolution and Napoleon for some time now but have failed beyond a presently ongoing podcast on the French Revolution.  So, if you know good historical accounts of this period that are probably of another medium than literature, throw them my way.  A documentary, even a movie that gives good context, etc.  (for the record, I know this book doesn't take place in those points of history but after; I read the portion that was the 100 pages on the Battle of Waterloo, remember, heh)

Victory: Perhaps watching the recent movie of the musical, as I haven't seen it.


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Suzanna Clark
page count: 1024

For a while I had given up on contemporary fantasy, until I learned I just needed to look beyond what is often held up in the genre.  Although this books seems to have had some crossover into popular success beyond its critical acclaim.  I have intentionally avoided learning a lot about this work.  It was only recently when I saw an article on the BBC TV show they are creating to adapt this work that I learned it took place during the Napoleonic Wars.  I knew England, and I knew magic, and that there would probably be two people named Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as well as that it was supposed to be good. Sold. (actually I had heard both Dickens and Austin as exemplars of the writing style: that was a sell too)

Response: I don't feel I know enough of the work to properly detail a good response.  Written review is gonna be my common response to this section....

Supplemental material: I suppose the same as above, only that might emphasize England's role.  It was actually accidental that these two works ended up together while they involve similar histories.

Victory: Well I suppose I could watch that BBC show when it comes out...


James Joyce
page count: 816
priority read

This will be the shortest page count of any the goals and yet I fully expect it to be the hardest to swim in.  Yet this is probably the work I most want to have complete when the year is out.  But more, I want to complete it well, and that is the challenge.  I cower in fear, and can't wait.  Crazy Irishman...

Response: I would love to creatively respond to each chapter in either like form or somehow responsive form to Joyce's own.  Yeah, like that's gonna happen...

Supplemental material: I've read Dubliners and Portrait though I do not remember them well enough to greatly effect my reading of Ulysses.  Perhaps I could drum up some history of Ireland...

Victory: go insane?


Avengers vol. 1 #1-402
page count: way too many

So here is where I "relax" and read some comics.  Only this involves reading way more comics than should ever be fit into a month.  This is reading from the Avengers inception in 1963 to the Onslaught event in '96.  400+ comics at 20+ pages each.  Still, I look forward to this; reading some of the classic stories (Under Siege, Kree/Skrull War, Korvac), reading up on some of the more obscure characters, reading some of those classic writers that I know so much less.  Can't wait.

Response: Lists are fun.  Favorite characters, favorite stories, favorite writers, artists, villains.  I can do one of my crazy grids that no one else can interpret, heh.  Should be fun.

Supplemental material: I guess the first thing I might hit if I have the time (which I won't) is some West Coast Avengers, as I would love to read all of those too.  I will probably also have a strong urge to play VS System with Avenger themed decks, just to warn my common victims of such ailments.

Victory: have the ability to properly curmudgeon the new Avengers movie coming out in May. Actually, I really wanna read Avengers Forever.


David Copperfield
Charles Dickens
page count: 1024
priority read

My reading goal for this year was very nearly read every Dickens work.  Once it became the present plan however, I knew Copperfield would be the chosen work to represent Dickens.  So I quickly went (okay, no, I still hesitated because they are so large) to reading the preceding works to Copperfield which I own (still in the midst of Nicholas Nickelby which I unfortunately don't foresee getting done prior to the new year).  Thankfully, these reads have made me excited for getting into Copperfield. Next year, I will hopefully get in Bleak House, as those two works are usually cited as his greatest.

Response: Best names?  Dickens is so great with names.  Counting coincidences?  Don't know the work well enough.  Feel free to give ideas.

Supplemental material: Nickelby...

Victory: Bleak House!


Fantastic Four vol. 1 #1-416
Page count: 1000s...

And here is the next comic binge.  Why this early you ask?  Because Marvel is canceling Fantastic Four so I considered how best to protest my outrage than to read them all.  Wait, that doesn't make sense?  Oh, well it is all I have.  I have read a great deal of the first 300 issues before, but I want to go through the whole thing. I wanna finish the second half of Byrne's run, to figure out why people often select it as the best over Lee/Kirby, to finally read the Simonson run, and to just enjoy Marvel's First Family before they get cancelled, and then butchered in movie form later in the year...  

Response: Could be similar to The Avengers.  Maybe some sort of tracking game with all the temps that join the team...  Ooo, a drawing response!

Supplemental material: I could watch the best Fantastic Four movie ever made... The Incredibles.  VS System will come up again...  Yell, "Flame on!" and jump off tall buildings to get some empirical material.

Victory: I doubt watching that new movie will feel like any kind of victory.  Hmm, a VS System party? I would want to reread the Waid/Weiringo run, but that'll probably be hard to fit in.


From Dawn to Decadence
Jacques Barzun
page count: 912
Priority read

I should probably have this book sooner, to give me some frameworks of the movements of though.  Oh well.  This is a book as supplemental material to an Ethics class way back in the day and always had the intention to read fully, but have always failed.  I think I have read the first chapter on the Reformation two to three times.  One difficulty is even in that first chapter I read something that was clearly wrong about Luther.  Yet that is something to keep in mind with all historical works.  Still, this will help to give a good framework of the movements of the modern Western world.

Response: Intelligent written review?  I feel like there should be something more.  Still thinking...

Supplemental material: Well, I have already been intentionally delving back into more history than I have been doing in the past few years.  I suppose in this case I would want to focus on Modernity, Enlightenment, etc.

Victory: Hmm, some historical epic.... I will wait to discover which I feel like after reading it.


Faerie Queene
Edmund Spenser
Page Count: 1248

I lied.  This may be the hardest for me to digest.  If my mind is in the right state of mind, epic poetry is not a problem.  When I read the first Canto of this work, I don't know if my mind was just not in the right state of mind, or if Spenser is just especially difficult for me.  Here goes try 2...  This could be hard for the length that it goes.

Response:  Write an Arthurian romance of my own?  Something like that.

Supplemental material: background on Spenser; actually read the notes in my copy.  I am actually not sure what else.  Maybe some work on understanding poetry movements of the time.

Victory: Watch Ladyhawke, hah.  It is funny that came to mind.  But I actually think I may try that.


Life and Fate:
Vasily Grossman
Page count: 896
Priority read

This is the one work I am choosing which I did not before know about.  And one of two that I did not previously own.  I was looking into some epics and discovered this work.  It had a few things going for it: it was Russian and you have to have a Russian novel to make an epic reading list legitimate and the others I knew of I had already read; it sounds like it is intentionally crafted to be the War and Peace of World War II.  I am interested in the era, the people, and the influence.  Can't wait.

Response: This is again hard without knowing more of what I will encounter.  Since it is Russian, perhaps tracking names might be important.

Supplemental material: I need to find some material on the Soviet revolution and have for some time now.  Solzhenitsyn might be a fun addition, but that requires more reading...

Victory:  There's an old War and Peace movie... I don't expect it to be good, but I should check it out.


Team of Rivals
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Page count: 944

This was almost either Gravity's Rainbow or Infinite Jest.  Either of which would have likely exploded my head.  But it seems they will be for later years.  I have a copy of this book and it goes well with my desire to read more history.  It is intense how large this book is for its particular historical focus on Lincoln's cabinet.  The Civil War is such an intriguing time for a still very young country.  It definitely deserves more study on my part.

Response: Maps.  I should do maps.  Yup.  Maps.

Supplemental material: I could finally finish Burns's Civil War documentary.  I have the end of the Shaara trilogy of Civil War books, but again, that requires more reading...

Victory: Watch Lincoln.  I now own a copy, but am holding off on watching it.


Le Morte D'Arthur
Sir Thomas Malory
page count: 1088

I generally refer to myself as having read Malory, but if you mean having read every page of Le Morte it as a matter of fact, isn't true.  I have read most of it.  Both through personal reading and an Arthurian Literature class I have read the vast majority of the book, including the end, the Grail, etc. However, there are portions that our class and my personal reading have just not encountered.   I both want to remedy that fact, as well as go through this work again, but I would always hit that issue of, "but it is too long to read right now."  Fixed it.

Response: Ranking knights, heh.  I think I've wanted to do this project since the first time I read an Arthur book back in 5th or 6th grade.  Ranking them by might and valor as well as just personal favor.  And also count them.  It'll be fun.

Victory: Hmm, rewatch The Sword in the Stone?  Excalibur is definitely the most Maloryesque movie, but... well, that doesn't necessarily make me want to watch it again.  Maybe...


The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexander Dumas
page count: 1276
Priority read

When I first started the project of accumulating options for my reading goal, Three Musketeers kept coming to mind, and I could not figure out why.  It is both not long enough and I have read it before.  And then a friend mentioned The Count.  I slapped my forehead in response.  This is a work that I chose to pick up, as I have attempted to many times, only to find it abridged... Who reads abridged?  You don't know what you missed?  Hah, so I felt fine adding this at the expense of works of which I do have a copy.

Response: Hmm, not sure.  I need more drawing projects.

Supplemental material: I guess just looking for historical context and Dumas's personal context.

Victory: You know, I actually did not like that recentish movie that so many people I know loved.  I don't think I would enjoy that as a victory condition.  I have time.

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