When I first proposed the Well-Read Man Project, it included a goal of 100 great books. Fortunately, I had several good friends who were able to talk me down off of the eight-foot-high stack of books, and I eventually tackled a more reasonable fifty works. A reader named Jeff Ryan, if his “366 Days, 366 Books” article in Slate a few months ago is any indication, definitely needs more friends.
A book each day; that was his goal. I started to feel a little sheepish with little to show beyond my four-dozen-plus selections, at least until I started scanning his list. Mr. Ryan’s objective was to finish books, not necessarily to immerse himself content of pedagogic value. In fact, he admits freely that comic books were a regular staple of his reading journey: “I can start and finish a six-issue collection of Captain America or Green Lantern comics in less than an hour.” He also included some books for youths—Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peace made his list, as did several of Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers books—helped along by the daughter he read to each night.
There was some substantial content in there as well. O Pioneers! from Willa Cather was in his list, and also on my initial candidate list. He also read from the likes of Thomas Hardy (The Return of the Native) and Virginia Wolff (The Common Reader), plus that classic author Weird Al Yankovic (Weird Al: The Book). One project rule was “Read Short Books,” but some longer items crept in anyway, including Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. And while there were a surprising number of biographies on Walt Disney in the mix, he did include books from a varied assortment of genres. Kudos!
For me, 366 books in one year are too many. As in running a marathon (or so I’ve heard), at some point the brain drops into neutral and lets the body push through to the goal. So I could probably physically do it. But book choice would make the difference. I can’t imagine reading a book by Plato, or even Jane Austin, each and every day. Comic books and young adult works would ease the pain, but I would struggle with the value of what I was consuming. Mr. Ryan said that he had to give up late-night horror flicks to give him more time to read. But I wonder how many graphic novels I would need to read before I started having nightmares of being hunted down by books.
You can read the full article on Slate‘s web site, and browse through his complete list of books.