One of the projects I’m setting myself this year is to enter the NaNoWriMo challenge in November. For those who aren’t aware of NaNoWriMo, although I’m sure there’s not many who don’t, entrants have to scribe and submit a minimum of 50,000 novel-flavoured words during the month of November in order to achieve success. I decided to sign up for the challenge at the start of the year, after reaching the conclusion that as I’ve written reams worth of academic essays over the past few years, constructing a 50,000 word novel would be child’s play.
This is the first opportunity I’ve really had to think about my NaNoWriMo project. Since signing up I’ve been immersed in the task of finishing off my degree (which included a 12,000 word dissertation). I’ve completed that degree now (attaining a 2:1; the same degree classification that Prince William achieved at St. Andrews as it happens…yay! )) and my thoughts have returned to all of those brain nurturing projects I’d penciled in for myself, to help plug the inevitable academic void that would, and has, appeared on the completion of my studies, and NaNoWriMo is one of them.
However a slight problem has emerged, which is simply – I don’t read novels!! (Well at least not any novels of significant value which contain award winning prose). Yes ladies and gentlemen, in all of the time I’ve been reading I’ve blatantly ignored the majority of the world’s greatest novels, preferring instead to concentrate my reading efforts almost exclusively on works of non-fiction.
Now while I don’t see this being a bad thing, as I have an obstinate preference for reading ‘fact’ rather than fiction, it doesn’t really help if one of your primary goals is to write a novel; not least as one doesn’t get the opportunity to build up a foundational knowledge of the craft of novel writing i.e. the story-telling techniques used by great fiction authors, the construction and development of characters etc. Sure I could pick up any number of ‘writing craft’ books (and I already have and will continue to do so) but I truly believe that in order to write good fiction it’s important to read good fiction, simply so one can learn from the experts.
So to address my literary shortfall, and to give my brain that much needed academic stimulation, I’m setting myself what I consider to be an attainable and worthwhile challenge. From the June 18th 2008 until June 18th 2009 (an easy date to remember as it’s my birthday) I am going to endeavor to read 50 of the most revered novels, out with my regular non-fiction reading habit.
I know the question you’re dying to ask is how have I picked those 50 titles? The answer is, I’ve used various sources so far (see ‘additional links of interest’ below), including my good friends over at the Flickr AlphaSmart group (I posted wildly off-topic but they seem to have overlooked my audacity this time), to add a number of seminal titles to my reading list. The ‘master list’ can be found HERE.
Choosing a list of ‘best novels’ is hugely subjective and what may be considered the finest work ever written by one person, may be discounted as being the worst example of prose by another. I’m well aware of that so choice has been primarily based on consensus selection, which has been further whittled down by me only choosing the books I’m interested in reading.
So my 50 Novels in One Year Challenge has began and I hope very much that you’ll follow me on my journey of literary discovery. In order to help you do that, and so you make sure I’m not cheating ), I will be making regularly progress posts on this blog from here in. I’ll offer updates on which titles I’m reading and provide brief reviews and comments on the ones I have read. So here goes. It may a long and ‘punishing’ adventure I’m setting out on but it’s one that I’m really excited about.
Additional links of interest
100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Men’s Library – As the title would suggest this is a reading list targeted at men. It’s heavily American in its choices, which is no bad thing in itself, but there are some great titles listed.
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die – A sprawling reading list that comes from the book of the same name by Peter Boxall. What makes this list especially valuable is the recommendations are listed by century.
Random House: 100 Best Novels – Two valuable reading lists here presented in top 100 format, one the top 100 novels according to he Random House Board and the other the top 100 novels according to the readers.
BBC’s The ‘Big Read’ Top 100 – Mr Boczkowski over at the Flickr AlphaSmart group kindly pointed me to this resource