End of Year 4 / Start of Year 5 in my 30 Year Reading Plan

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash *

With the passing of Bloomsday on 16th June meant 2 special occasions (actually 3 but that moment’s over). First of all, this blog is 1 years old. Now, I know it doesn’t seem like it, because I wrote 2 blog posts in June last year, and then nothing until December, which was solely due to the arrival of my daughter into this world. Secondly, it meant the end of the fourth year of my 300 book reading plan (now 360), and the beginning of the fifth year.

I won’t recount the whole story (you can read that here) but essentially on my 35th birthday in June 2016, I began a plan to read 10 great books a year up until I am (God willing) 65. The aim wasn’t about saying I have read classic 10 books, but was to read them very well, and become almost an expert on them.

Now, I am far from becoming an expert on any book, but hey, it’s a 30 year plan, I’ve got time. The most important thing about this plan is that I absolutely love reading classic books, and bar the odd disappointment, continue to relish in this fantastic hobby. I still believe that reading the classics leads to personal growth and a better understanding of the world.

Most people’s reading year (if they have set a plan) generally runs through the calendar year, but mine works more like a sports season, approximately mid-year to mid-year, and that works for me.

So how did I do this year? Well, as my ability to blog was greatly reduced from June to December, so was my actual reading itself. I was very tired, working full-time, adapting of course to becoming a father, and not having the energy or focus to read. The reading I did do was in bite sizes, so I continued to read The Bible, and the occasional short story by Anton Chekhov.

My Bible reading was very successful though, because I had a separate plan set a couple of years earlier to read the whole Bible (New International Version), and during this year I achieved that. Reading Anton Chekhov’s short stories also allowed me to complete 1 of his short story collections, meaning by November, I had completed 2 books on my list.

That same month, I decided I had to start trying to read a novel again, and believed that would help me get my energy for reading back, and the novel I chose to read was Germinal by Émile Zola. That was sensational. It is a fairly long novel (over 500 pages of typical classic novel small print), but it took me about 2 months to complete, as I was gradually getting over my tired months and lack of energy.

I have no regrets about the length of time it took me to read Germinal though, as I absolutely loved reading that novel for those 2 months, having it a part of my life for that long. When I finished reading it in January this year, I was almost overwhelmed how much I loved how it all came together towards the end. It’s always going to be one of my favourite novels.

During my reading of Germinal, I found the energy and passion again to get this blog up and running, and most people have found me (and thank you all for that!) since then. My intention with this blog was always to share my love and passion for the classics, and I have continued to love writing and conversing with fellow classic readers in the comments sections.

I’ve managed to keep a steady stream of reading going since finishing Germinal for a grand total of 8 books read during the last year, which considering I basically had 5 months off, and one of those books was The Bible (albeit already began reading earlier), is not too bad. In contrast though, the year before I read 18 books (including 10 Shakespeare plays).

My original intention was to read 10 books a year, but I felt I was generally reading above that (past year not included!), so I introduced another 60 books to my list, to encourage me to have a stretch target of 12 books a year.

I have now read 46 books during the 4 years, which is above my original target of 10 books a year, but slightly under my stretch target of 12 books a year, though I think I will read above that over the next year. I have listed the 46 books completed during these 4 years at the bottom of this blog post.

So, where am I going for year 5? I have of course noticed that my reading recently has been very top heavy with Émile Zola novels. But guess what, it’s probably not going to change! I wanted to vary up my reading more this year, but the heart wants what the heart wants, and I just keep wanting to read Zola.

I have a vague goal of wanting to have completed the whole Rougon-Macquart cycle of novels (20 in total) before I turn 40 next June, but I won’t be disappointed if I don’t. I have 11 to go, and that is achievable of course, but that might mean that little else gets read, which is not my intention. I really do want to read more Shakespeare this year, as well as Balzac, Tolstoy and the greek playwrights Euripides and Aristophanes. But again, I will let inspiration guide me.

In fact, I have some shocking news to announce. I have actually begun reading a contemporary novel!!! I am not normally at all inspired to read modern novels, but I occasionally get sucked in by the hype surrounding a novel, though the last time that happened was when I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2010.

The novel in question I have begun reading is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. My plan for the next couple of weeks was only to read this book, but it didn’t work after only 2 days. It seems fairly interesting to me, but I could take it or leave it. I didn’t feel complete not having a classic to read, so I hired my old friend Zola to get me going with his novel The Masterpiece (1886), and I am feeling normal again.

So I am currently doing another rare thing, reading 2 books at once. I do want to keep going with Where the Crawdads Sing, but will be heavily devoted to The Masterpiece as well. Where I go from there we will see. I have also recently bought the first Agatha Christie novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and would like to read that at some point as well.

Anyway, here’s to the fifth year of my reading plan, and another year full of joy and delight at reading classic literature.

The 46 Books read so far in my 360 book reading plan (in order)

Marcus AureliusMeditations
HomerThe Odyssey
AeschylusThe Oresteia
William ShakespeareTwelfth Night
William ShakespeareRichard II
William ShakespeareHenry IV, Part I
William ShakespeareHenry IV, Part II
Fyodor DostoevskyCrime and Punishment
William ShakespeareHenry V
VirgilThe Aeneid
Leo TolstoyMaster and Man and Other Stories
EpictetusDiscourses and Selected Writings
William ShakespeareKing Lear
William ShakespeareOthello
Leo TolstoyThe Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
C. S. LewisThe Great Divorce
SophoclesThe Three Theban Plays
John BunyanThe Pilgrims Progress
Fyodor DostoevskyThe Idiot
James JoyceDubliners
James JoyceA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
William ShakespeareThe Merchant of Venice
William ShakespeareMeasure for Measure
William ShakespeareThe Tempest
William ShakespeareJulius Caesar
William ShakespeareMuch Ado About Nothing
William ShakespeareThe Winter’s Tale
PlatoThe Republic
William ShakespeareAs You Like It
William ShakespeareCymbeline
William ShakespeareTitus Andronicus
William ShakespeareHamlet
Anton ChekhovAbout Love and Other Stories
Emile ZolaThe Fortune of the Rougons
AristotleThe Nicomachean Ethics
Emile ZolaPot Luck
Emile ZolaThe Ladies’ Paradise
Emile ZolaThe Drinking Den
VariousThe Holy Bible
Anton ChekhovThe Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories
Emile ZolaGerminal
Honore de BalzacPere Goriot
Emile ZolaThe Kill
Emile ZolaNana
Emile ZolaThe Belly of Paris
Emile ZolaThe Bright Side of Life

7 thoughts on “End of Year 4 / Start of Year 5 in my 30 Year Reading Plan

  1. I began conservatively, too, reading one book at a time. But after 8 years of blogging, it’s natural to juggle 5-6 books sometimes. Not speculating that that will happen to you, too. Also, I know how you feel about not having that classic book to read. They are addicting. So I admire your reading list. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks Ruth! I can’t imagine reading 5 or 6 books at a time, 1 usually works for me, I just need to have something I find has depth and meaning. But as you say, who knows! So we will see how things go from here…

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  2. You have made a successful start over the first four years of your reading plan, Pete. As you know, these books are not only to be read but to be reread. Quoting Clifton Fadiman: “Plato read when you are twenty-five is one man. Plato read at forty-five still another.” “Hamlet changes into something else as you change into someone else with the passing of the years and the deepening of your sense of life.” He makes the point that these books are not like a current novel. They are inexhaustible.

    Speaking of current novels, my wife got on a library waiting list for “Where the Crawdads Sing.” There were 46 people ahead of her, and our library says they have four copies of the book. This was a number of months back, and still no notification on getting it. I mention this because you said you have tried it yourself, with fair results.

    As always, it is a pleasure just to read a list like this of your first four years of classics reading. It is a discipline, but you can be flexible and rove about at will. Zola has never let you down, and remember in the words of Pascal: “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” I think your enthusiasm will persuade others to try some of these classics that are waiting to be explored.

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    1. Thanks George! That was very kind especially to say that my enthusiasm will persuade others to try some of the classics, I would be delighted if that is the case.

      I’m not too far into Where the Crawdads Sing, so it’s perhaps unfair of me to judge it yet, it really might turn out to be really amazing. Germinal was a slow burner at first, but that became one of my favourite novels! I would love to know what your wife (or yourself) thinks about Crawdads when the library provides you with a copy.

      Mortimer Adler always described the books at the top of the book pyramid (he numbered them at probably less than 100 books) as ‘inexhaustible’, meaning of course that no matter how many times you read them, you will still always get something new out of them. He basically said the same thing regarding the Clifton Fadiman quote, that the books change because you change, Plato remains the same, but you have grown.

      I think that is ultimately why 300 books (now 360) is probably enough for me to find my inexhaustible books, though I should also state that I probably will read wider than my 360 list, because Adler was also keen to point out that you have to find your own list and great books. They won’t be the same for all of us.

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  3. Pete, it is a generous nature that strives to share something good with others, and I know that you have spoken of doing that as a goal in regard to reading classics. I know that you have the company of other notable book-loving enthusiasts in this effort as well.

    Did you know that Clifton Fadiman dedicated his, The Lifetime Reading Plan, to Mortimer Adler? The reading lists of these two coincided to a large extent, but Adler included more works of science and other knotty (to me) subjects on his and Van Doren’s list in How to Read a Book, than Fadiman did.

    I have read that Adler became a Christian believer near the end of his long life, and that the several books he had done on this subject before his conversion he described as having been by a pagan, written for pagans. Among many other books that you completed, but infinitely above and beyond them all, is to have finished the Bible, which is only the endless beginning for you as George MacDonald might say.

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  4. I’m delighted to meet another fan of Zola. I was similarly astounded by Germinal and have gone on to read more of his Rougon Macquart cycle. I don’t think you’ve got to La Bete Humaine yet which is also sensational but I have also loved L’Assommoir….

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    1. Thanks Karen! No, I haven’t read La Bete Humaine yet, but won’t be far off. Germinal is certainly one of my favourite novels, no other novel has made me feel the way I did after reading it.

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