Against all common sense, I am turning 60 on October 15th. I used to act like Blanche Du Bois in Streetcar Named Desire when it came to birthdays. No Japanese lanterns on the lights yet this year, but I’ve had time to reflect on my life as a reader and my goals going forward.
I was a reader from an early age. I loved it when my mother would read me my favorite book, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess. She read it so many times, I knew it by heart. I wanted to read anything I could get my hands on. My mom said they had to hide the newspaper from me because I would try to read it and they didn’t want me seeing violent photos from Vietnam or Civil Rights protests.
I read on a regular basis from 7th Grade on. I mentioned earlier that there was a girl in front of me in homeroom who was reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. She kept talking to me and the boy next to her about it. I’m sure the boy was more interested in her, but I read it once she was done and I loved it. I became a huge Agatha Christie fan, reading most of her books. They were a great escape from being bullied every day at school. Later, I would read Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
I was lucky that my mom was also an avid reader. She suggested that I read other books that I wound up loving: Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, In Cold Blood, A Bell For Adano, and The Diary of Anne Frank. My parents never censored what I read and I loved having that freedom. The book, though, that opened my eyes to what literature could be was Crime and Punishment. I felt like it took me to another level of reading. I noticed that more than just a plot, this book had themes. It was the story of a murderer who truly sought redemption at the end for his awful act of violence. I became a better reader because of it.
Looking back, I wish I was more of a systematic reader. I read several books by Charles Dickens including the 900 page Bleak House but I still haven’t read A Christmas Carol. I owned a copy at one time and still didn’t read it. I read The Bean Trees and Animal Dreams by Barbara Klingslover but not the book most people consider her masterpiece The Poisonwood Bible. I only read two books by Joyce Carol Oates: Them and We Were The Mulvaneys. I read Germinal by Emile Zola in my early 20’s and haven’t read anything else by him. There are also the great books I still haven’t read: The Scarlett Letter, Lord of the Flies, Frankenstein, and Death in Venice. None of these books are huge. My problem is that I don’t want to read the same type of book over and over again. If a read a very philosophical book, next I might want to read a comic novel or a mystery. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve made tbr lists but they aren’t written in stone.
I have made progress this year. I finally read my first “series “, The USA Trilogy. I read Dune, my first science fiction book in decades. I tackled Toni Morrison’s masterpiece Beloved earlier this year. I finally read Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang and want to read more by him.
However, if you look back in your life, you should look forward too. Turning 60 makes me realize that I don’t have an unlimited number of years to read all the books you want to. I hope I have at least 20 more years of reading left, but who knows. Will I ever read huge books like Middlemarch or The Pillars of the Earth? There are so many more books I want to read.
I also realize that I’m not up on a lot of current authors. Yes, I’ve read Zadie Smith and Ian Mc Ewan but I have a lot of books published in the last decade or so that I haven’t read like Americanah, Wolf Hall, and A Gentleman in Moscow. I used to read the New York Times Book Review religiously in my 20’s but I got out of that. I used to also follow the Nobel Prize for Literature when I was younger, but for every Toni Morrison or Nadine Gordimer, there were a lot of obscure authors who won the award. Has anyone read Auto-de- fe lately?
I am also angry that I can’t always remember books I read as a teen or in my 20’s. I read a lot of Agatha Christie but I also remember reading one or two books in the Ed Mc Bain 97th Precinct novels, but I don’t remember their names. I’m sure I read one book by William Dean Howells but I don’t remember if it was A Hazard of New Fortunes or another of his books. I couldn’t remember if I had read A Separate Peace or not a couple of years ago, so I wound up reading it. If only we had Goodreads back in our day!
15 to 20 more years of reading doesn’t sound like a lot. But I guess I never thought in 7th Grade I’d be still reading books when I reached 60. I’ve enjoyed my life with books. They have enriched my life in so many ways. They brought me a better understanding of different cultures. I felt like I traveled all over the US and other parts of the world without leaving my house. I learned what life was like in different eras before cell phones and Tik Tok. I think more importantly I realize that now matter where we come from, human beings all over the globe want to love and be loved. Books are the greatest gift and can’t wait to see where the rest of my reading life takes me.Don Levy is turning 60 this month and he is going through the books that he has read and those that he has missed.