40 by 40 Update: #23 Finish the Rest of the Modern Library’s Top 100

(Back in May of 2007 I noticed that a bunch of people in the blogosphere had created lists of 101 things to do in 1001 days. I was intrigued by the notion but felt I needed to change the parameters. So I created my 40 by 40 list. 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. Well on August 17th I turn 40, and I need to give $10 to charity for every uncompleted item. So it is time to see how I did.)

23. Finish the rest of the Modern Library’s list of 100 top novels of the 20th Century (except for Faulkner and Joyce-I just can’t do it) – NOT COMPLETED
Running Tally: $110.00 to charity.

Back in the late 1990s, the Modern Library compiled a highly controversial list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century (in English). My goal was to read the whole list (except for Faulkner and Joyce who I think are too excruciatingly difficult and boring to read). The good news is that I have read about 65 of them since the list came out, but the bad news is I don’t have too much interest in finishing the rest. I will definitely finish more of them over time. And then others I won’t. Some may be brilliant books, I am just not interested in them. I had this to say back in November of 2007 about this goal:

I may even abandon another goal (#23) on the 40 by 40 list. What is my problem you ask? Why am I such a loser that I can’t achieve these simple goals? Life, I tell you, life. Not in the sense that life is overwhelming me and I can’t possibly achieve these goals. But LIFE, as in I am loving every minute of it. As in, life is too short to not enjoy every minute of it. As in, Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, as award-winning as it may be, is just too damn boring for me to care about even though I am 2/3 finished. The irony is that the big things on my list (quitting my old job and
starting my new one) have given me a fabulous new lease on life that makes caring about the little things on my list (reading a book I find boring just to make myself a better person) far too tedious. I still have a book in my hands every free chance I get, and I am still going to check out and enjoy the giants of the literary world. But I no longer feel the need to impress myself or anyone else by finishing “important” but ultimately unfulfilling books. The same goes for my life. I will still take a stab at the important goals and even those that aren’t fun, but I won’t force myself to finish something just for the sake of crossing it off of a list.

2 thoughts on “40 by 40 Update: #23 Finish the Rest of the Modern Library’s Top 100

  1. novel insights August 15, 2009 / 8:06 am

    I hadn't seen this list before, and it's got some good reading ideas on it – one's I hadn't thought of. But I have to say reading them all was ambitious – you don't want it to become a chore! I guess it's win-win in a way if charities are getting money for the ones you don't finish. Happy Birthday then if it was 17th August!


  2. Thomas August 15, 2009 / 9:30 am

    The Modern Library list is where I first heard of Durrell. The Alexandria Quartet only counts as one book on the list of 100.


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