A Glorious, Utterly Self-Defeating 18-Month Reading and Viewing List

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

– Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto”

Overreaching don’t pay.

– Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I have been planning this sabbatical for quite a while. I have two Master’s degrees and no interest in paying for any more, but after five years of teaching I’ve set aside enough money to give myself a little more time for my education – this time, for a kind of cultural self-education, which will allow me to pursue knowledge and inspiration down whatever rabbit holes I choose. In the lead-up to this sabbatical, I’ve made numerous versions of the massive lists of books and films I hope to consume, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time and money acquiring almost all of the books on this list. (I’ll borrow the films from the library, but I like to write in my books…)

Naturally, I’m super pumped to at last begin this glorious period of exploration and discovery, and I’m eager to rectify some of my many, many cultural blind spots. That being said, these lists will be utterly self-defeating if I let them. I’m thoroughly resolved not to be crushed under the weight of my own (or the world’s) expectations. Thus, I’d like to state from the outset as I share these lists that I do not expect or need to consume all of this. These lists are aspirational, not a syllabus. I’ll get to what I get to.

Anyway, it’s the reading that is my top priority, so the book list is first. Scroll for the film list. As a preface, let me just offer a quick note on why I aspire to read so much of this: I’ve never been a prolific reader and I want to train myself to make deep reading a part of my life. In a sense, I want to learn how to read… again. But this time as an educated adult trying to navigate a cultural landscape more awash in mindless distractions than ever.

As a child, I was slow to learn to read and my natural twitchiness has always made deep reading somewhat laborious, even with meds. At the same time, I’ve often been surrounded by prolific readers – my wife, my dad, several of my closest friends – which gets annoying. I’ve long felt like I’m missing out. For the past five years, I’ve also worked as a Middle School English teacher, which has put me in the awkward position of trying to arm-twist extremely reluctant students into reading when I can barely make it through 3-4 books a year. I’ve felt like a fraud, a semiliterate literacy evangelist. What kind of English teacher has never read To Kill a Mockingbird? So if I’m honest, much of the impetus for this project is that I’m both a little jealous and a little insecure. But beneath this jealously and insecurity I also have a passionate love of books, ideas, poetry – of the sheer beauty and delight and power of words. I desperately want to be a reader and more knowledgably access and participate in conversations around culture and ideas. I also want to be a better writer.

I recently read that before he was an accomplished poet, Christian Wiman took to heart Samuel Johnson’s comment that “any young man could compensate for his poor education by reading five hours a day for five years.” I haven’t got the cash to take five years, but I’m trying to give myself 18 months of cultural self-education. I recognize the self-defeatist absurdity of putting too much stock in our dreams of self-transformation, and I know that the ideal of being “culturally literate” is an ever-receding target. But at the very least, 18 months of deep cultural exposure sounds like quite meaningful fun to me, even if it never adds much to my career.

Other notes: as I said, I won’t be able to read all of the books or watch all the films on these lists. There are many books and films on these lists that I’ve included primarily because they are famous and have been deemed culturally significant, while there are many others on these lists merely because they, um, sound interesting to me. I’ve tried to strike a balance of styles, subjects, and genres. Some of the works on these lists I’ve started but never finished, and a few I read/saw earlier in life but would like to read or watch again. Finally, my goal is to write about what I read and watch about an hour each day, sharing some of the highlights here. Who knows how much I’ll be able to get done? I’m resolved not to be worried about it.

Part 1: The Books

1 – June – Reading About Reading, Writing, Culture, and Creativity

  1. Alter, Robert. The Pleasure of Reading: In an Ideological Age
  2. Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
  3. Adler, Mortimer. How to Read a Book
  4. McWhorter, John. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue
  5. Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life
  6. Dahl, Roald. Matilda
  7. Nobel Lectures: Literature (1968-1980)
  8. Wolfe, Gregory. Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age
  9. Wiman, Christian. Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet
  10. Karr, Mary. The Art of Memoir
  11. Fish, Stanley. How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One
  12. Prose, Francine. Reading Like a Writer
  13. Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic

2 – July – Children’s and Young Adult Lit

  1. Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
  2. Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  3. Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women (1868)
  4. London, Jack. Call of the Wild (1903)
  5. Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows (1908)
  6. Barrie, J. M. Peter Pan (1911)
  7. Milne, A. A. Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)
  8. De Saint Exupery, Antoine. Le Petit Prince (1943)
  9. Lindgren, Astrid. Pippi Longstocking (1945)
  10. Heyerdahl, Thor. Kon-Tiki (1948)
  11. Frank, Anne. The Diary of Anne Frank (1952)
  12. Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth (1961)
  13. L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
  14. Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders (1967)
  15. Hamilton, Virginia. The House of Dies Drear (1970)
  16. Cisneros, Sandra. House on Mango Street (1983)
  17. Lowry, Lois. The Giver (1993)
  18. Konigsburg, E. L. The View from Saturday (1996)
  19. Gaiman, Neil. Coraline (2002)
  20. Green, John. Looking for Alaska (2005)
  21. Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese (2006)
  22. Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2011)
  23. Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give (2017)

3 – August – Diverse Religious Texts

  1. Smith, Huston. The Religions of Man
  2. Easwaran, Eknath (trans.). The Upanishads
  3. Gunaratana, Henepola. Mindfulness In Plain English (1991)
  4. Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught
  5. Tzu, Lao. Tao Te Ching (500s B.C.) (Stephen Mitchell translation)
  6. Hoff, Benjamin. The Tao of Pooh (1982)
  7. Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination
  8. The Old Testament (NKJV/NRSV)
  9. Heschel, Abraham Joshua. God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism
  10. St. Augustine. Confessions
  11. The Qur’an and Sayings of Prophet Muhammad: Selections Annotated and Explained
  12. Aslan, Reza. No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (2005)
  13. Underhill, Evelyn (ed.). The Cloud of Unknowing (1300s AD)
  14. St. John of the Cross. The Dark Night of the Soul (1500s AD)
  15. William, Rowan. The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross
  16. James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
  17. Cox, Harvey. The Future of Faith (2009)

4 – September – Great Works of Early Literature, Mythology, and Folklore

  1. Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (1942)
  2. Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth (1988)
  3. Epic of Gilgamesh (Andrew George translation)
  4. Homer. The Odyssey (Stephen Mitchell translation)
  5. Sophocles. Sophocles I: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus
  6. Luzzi, Joseph. In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love
  7. Alighieri, Dante. Inferno (Mandelbaum translation)
  8. Alighieri, Dante. Purgatorio (Mandelbaum translation)
  9. Alighieri, Dante. Paradiso (Mandelbaum translation)
  10. Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales (No Fear translation)
  11. Arabian Nights (1885) (Burton translation)
  12. De Cervantes, Miguel. Don Quixote (1605)
  13. Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus
  14. Estes, Clarissa Pinkola (ed.). Tales of the Brothers Grimm
  15. Hardin, Terri (ed.). A Treasury of American Folklore: Our Customs, Beliefs, and Traditions
  16. Sampson, John (ed.). Gypsy Folk Tales

5 – October – Shakespeare

  1. Bryson, Bill. Shakespeare
  2. Shakespeare, William. Sonnets
  3. Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  4. Shakespeare, William. Merchant of Venice (Reread)
  5. Shakespeare, William. Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II
  6. Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing
  7. Shakespeare, William. As You Like It
  8. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet (Reread)
  9. Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night
  10. Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure
  11. Shakespeare, William. Othello
  12. Shakespeare, William. King Lear
  13. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth (Reread)
  14. Shakespeare, William. Coriolanus
  15. Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale
  16. Shakespeare, William. The Tempest (Reread)

6 – November – Fantasy

  1. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King (1955)
  2. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion
  3. Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn (1968)
  4. Le Guin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
  5. Le Guin, Ursula. The Tombs of Atuan
  6. Donaldson, Stephen. Lord Foul’s Bane (1977)
  7. Butler, Octavia. Kindred (1979)
  8. Jones, Diana Wynne. Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)
  9. Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones (1996)
  10. Gaiman, Neil. American Gods (2001)
  11. Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind (2007)
  12. Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant (2015)
  13. James, Marlon. Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019)

7 – December – Sci-Fi / Dystopian

  1. Verne, Jules. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
  2. Wells, H.G. The Time Machine (1895)
  3. Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World (1932)
  4. Golding, William. Lord of the Flies (1954)
  5. Miller, Jr., Walter. A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)
  6. Herbert, Frank. Dune (1965)
  7. Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
  8. Haldeman, Joe. The Forever War (1974)
  9. C.J. Cherryh. Gate of Ivrel (1976)
  10. Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  11. Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game (1985)
  12. Moore, Alan, and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen (1987)
  13. Russell, Mary Doria. The Sparrow (1996)
  14. Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One (2011)
  15. Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season (2015)

8 – January – “The Great American Novel”

  1. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Scarlet Letter (1850)
  2. Melville, Herman. Moby Dick (1851)
  3. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
  4. Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
  5. Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
  6. Warren, Robert Penn. All the King’s Men (1946)
  7. Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man (1952)
  8. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  9. McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian (1985)
  10. Morrison, Toni. Beloved (1987)
  11. Roth, Philip. American Pastoral (1997)

9 – February – Race in America

  1. Treuer, David. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
  2. Malcomson, Scott L. One Drop of Blood
  3. Dixon, Thomas. The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden – 1865-1900 (1902) (NOTE: This is a work of astonishing racism that I’ve chosen solely so I might understand a bit more about the cultural roots of white supremacy.)
  4. DuBois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
  5. Hurston, Zora Neale, and Cudjoe Lewis. Barracoon (1927/2018)
  6. Hansberry, Loraine. A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  7. Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time (1963)
  8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley (1965)
  9. Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)
  10. Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982)
  11. Gaines, Ernest. A Gathering of Old Men (1983)
  12. Wilson, August. Fences (1985)
  13. Alvarez, Julia. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991)
  14. Barnes, Steven. Lion’s Blood (2002)
  15. Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014)
  16. Dyson, Michael Eric. Tears We Cannot Stop (2017)

10 – March – Gender and Sexuality

  1. D’Emilio, John, and Estelle Freedman. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
  2. Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
  3. Bederman, Gail. Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917
  4. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)
  5. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening (1899)
  6. Wilde, Oscar. De Profundis (1905)
  7. Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse (1927)
  8. Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room (1956)
  9. Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar (1963)
  10. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique (1963)
  11. Le Guin, Ursula. Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  12. Brown, Rita Mae. Rubyfruit Jungle (1973)
  13. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984)
  14. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
  15. Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis (2000)
  16. Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home (2006)
  17. Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. We Should All Be Feminists (2014)
  18. Marche, Stephen. The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about Men and Women in the 21st Century (2017)

11 – April – Russian / Eastern European Lit

  1. Gogol, Nikolai. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (The Overcoat (1842), The Nose (1836), etc.)
  2. Gogol, Nikolai. Dead Souls (1842)
  3. Turgenev, Ivan. Fathers and Sons (1862)
  4. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground (1864)
  5. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
  6. Williams, Rowan. Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction
  7. Hubben, William. Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Kafka: Four Prophets of Our Destiny (1968)
  8. Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina (1878)
  9. Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886)
  10. Tolstoy, Leo. Father Sergius (1898)
  11. Chekhov, Anton. The Seagull (1896)
  12. Chekhov, Anton. The Cherry Orchard (1904)
  13. Gorky, Maxim. The Lower Depths (1902) or Mother (1906)
  14. Kafka, Franz. Metamorphosis (1915)
  15. Akhmatova, Anna. Final Meeting: Selected Poetry of Anna Akhmatova
  16. Andrić, Ivo. The Bridge on the Drina (1945)

12 – May – Other Americana

  1. Lepore, Jill. These Truths: A History of the United States
  2. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance” and Other Essays
  3. Rosen, Fred. Gold!: The Story of the 1848 Gold Rush and How It Shaped a Nation (2006)
  4. McMurtry, Larry. Lonesome Dove (1985, takes place 1870s) (TX)
  5. Vowell, Sarah. Unfamiliar Fishes (2011, late 1800s) (HI)
  6. Burns, Olive Ann. Cold Sassy Tree (1986, takes place 1904) (GA)
  7. Millard, Candice. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (2005, takes place 1913-14)
  8. Kennedy, William. Ironweed (1983, takes place 1930s) (NY)
  9. Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony (1977, takes place 1940s) (NM)
  10. O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1950s) (GA)
  11. Salinger, J. D. Franny and Zooey (1955, 1957) (NY)
  12. Kerouac, Jack. On the Road (1957) and The Dharma Bums (1958)
  13. Bellow, Saul. Henderson the Rain King (1959)
  14. Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces (1980, takes place 1960s) (LA)
  15. Tan, Amy. Joy Luck Club (1989, takes place 1949-1980) (CA)
  16. Kingsolver, Barbara. Bean Trees (1988) (OK)
  17. Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies (1999)
  18. Pancake, Ann. Strange as This Weather Has Been (2007) (WV)

13 – June – Global South Lit (Colonial, Post-Colonial, etc.)

  1. Endō, Shūsaku. Silence (1966) (Japan)
  2. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998) (Congo)
  3. Forster, E. M. A Passage to India (1924) (India)
  4. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth (1961) (Martinique)
  5. Lessing, Doris. African Stories (1965) (South Africa)
  6. Cesaire, Aime. A Tempest (1969) (Martinique)
  7. Said, Edward. Orientalism (1978) (Middle East)
  8. Naipaul, V. S. A Bend in the River (1979) (India)
  9. Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children (1981) (India)
  10. Allende, Isabel. House of the Spirits (1982) (Chile)
  11. Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) (Colombia)
  12. Okri, Ben. The Famished Road (1991) (Nigeria)
  13. Edwidge Danticat. The Farming of Bones (1998) (Haiti)
  14. Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace (1999) (South Africa)
  15. Desai, Kiran. The Inheritance of Loss (2006) (India)
  16. Benyamin. Goat Days (2008) (Malaysia / Saudi)
  17. Gyashi, Yaa. Homegoing (2016) (Ghana)

14 – July – Nature, Science, Anthropology, Agriculture, etc.

  1. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden (1854)
  2. Muir, John. Essential Muir: A Selection of John Muir’s Best Writings
  3. Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac (1949)
  4. Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (1962)
  5. Bach, Richard. Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970)
  6. Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)
  7. Berry, Wendell. What Are People For? (1990)
  8. Berry, Wendell. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry
  9. Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael (1992)
  10. Weisman, Alan. Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World (1999)
  11. Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001)
  12. Barnes, Simon. How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher (2004)
  13. McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010)
  14. Swimme, Brian, and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Journey of the Universe (2011)
  15. Harari, Noah Yuval. Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind (2014)
  16. Mann, Charles. The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World (2018)
  17. Little, Amanda. The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World (2019)
  18. Lopez, Barry. Horizon (2019)

15 – August – Poetry

  1. Sappho (630-570 BC). Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments
  2. Donne, John (1572-1631). John Donne’s Poetry
  3. Bashō, Matsuo (1644–1694). Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times: Selected Haiku of Basho
  4. Blake, William (1757-1827). Selected Poems
  5. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772-1834). Rime of the Ancient Mariner and other selected poems
  6. Whitman, Walt (1819-1892). Essential Whitman
  7. Dickinson, Emily (1830-1886). The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson
  8. Hopkins, Gerard Manley (1844-1889). Selected Poems
  9. Rilke, Rainer Maria (1875-1926). The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
  10. Eliot, T. S. (1888-1965). Collected Poems, 1909-1962
  11. Frost, Robert (1874-1963). The Road Not Taken (Selected Poems)
  12. cummings, e. e. (1894-1962). Selected Poems
  13. Hughes, Langston (1902-1967). Selected Poems
  14. Neruda, Pablo (1904-1974). Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (trans. by Merwin) (1924)
  15. Auden, W. H. (1907-1973) Selected Poems
  16. Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (1919–). A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)
  17. Berry, Wendell (1934–). The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (1999)
  18. Forche, Carolyn (1950–). The Country Between Us (1981)
  19. Komunyakaa, Yusef (1941–). Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems (1993)
  20. Nye, Naomi Shihab (1952–). Words Under the Words (1995)
  21. Kim, Suji Kwock (1969–). Notes from the Divided Country (2003)
  22. Tretheway, Natasha (1966–). Native Guard (2006)

16 – September – Classics in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, etc.

  1. Plato. The Dialogues (early 300s BC)
  2. Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations (180 AD)
  3. More, Thomas. Utopia (1516)
  4. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan (1651)
  5. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract (1762)
  6. Raphael, Ray. The U.S. Constitution: Explained—Clause by Clause—for Every American Today (2017)
  7. Paine, Thomas. The Rights of Man (1791)
  8. Kierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling (1843)
  9. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1888)
  10. The Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings (1755-1977)
  11. Eagleton, Terry. Marx (2011)
  12. Orwell, George. Animal Farm (1945)
  13. Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905)
  14. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (1939)
  15. Berlin, Isaiah. The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953)
  16. Camus, Albert. The Myth Of Sisyphus and Other Essays (1955)
  17. Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving (1956)
  18. Jung, C.G. The Undiscovered Self: The Dilemma of the Individual in Modern Society (1957)
  19. McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium Is the Massage (1967)
  20. Sharp, Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action: I. Power and Struggle (Part 1) (1973)
  21. Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
  22. Ferguson, Niall. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (2008) or Clark, Gregory. A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (2009)

17 – October – War

  1. Ehrenreich, Barbara. Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War
  2. Tuchman, Barbara. The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam
  3. Tzu, Sun. The Art of War (5th century B.C.)
  4. Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels (1974) (Civil War)
  5. Frazier, Charles. Cold Mountain (1997) (Civil War)
  6. World War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others (1997) (WW1)
  7. Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) (WW1)
  8. Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia (1938)
  9. Heller, Joseph. Catch-22 (1961) (WW2)
  10. Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) (WW2)
  11. Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010) (WW2)
  12. Santoli, Al. Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War (1981) (Vietnam)
  13. O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried (1990) (Vietnam)
  14. Nguyen, Viet Thanh. The Sympathizer (2015) (Vietnam)

18 – November – Contemporary Lit

  1. Martel, Yann. Life of Pi (2001)
  2. Robinson, Marilynne. Home (2008)
  3. Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger (2008)
  4. McCann, Colum. Let the Great World Spin (2009)
  5. Harding, Paul. Tinkers (2009)
  6. Foulds, Adam. The Quickening Maze (2009)
  7. Wallace, David Foster. The Pale King (2011)
  8. Eggers, Dave. The Circle (2013)
  9. Kreider, Tim. We Learn Nothing: Essays (2013)
  10. Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See (2014)
  11. Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016)
  12. Ng, Celeste. Little Fires Everywhere (2017)
  13. Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo (2017)
  14. Ward, Jesmyn. Sing Unburied Sing (2017)
  15. Orange, Tommy. There There (2018)
  16. Sedaris, David. Calypso (2018)
  17. Smith, Zadie. Feel Free: Essays (2018)
  18. Patchett, Ann. The Dutch House (2019) or This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (2013)

Part 2: The Films

1 – June – Films From the 1930s

  1. It Happened One Night (1934)
  2. The Thin Man (1934)
  3. You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
  4. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  5. The Rules of the Game (1939)

2 – July – Films From the 1940s

Week 1:

  1. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  2. To Have and To Have Not (1944)
  3. Double Indemnity (1944)
  4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  5. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Week 2:

  1. The Sea Wolf (1941)
  2. The Song of Bernadette (1943)
  3. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
  4. The Third Man (1949)
  5. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

3 – August – Powell & Pressburger Films (1940s)

  1. The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
  2. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
  3. A Canterbury Tale (1944)
  4. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
  5. Black Narcissus (1947)

4 – September – Films From the 1950s

Week 1:

  1. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  2. Harvey (1950)
  3. The Wages of Fear (1953)
  4. The Red Balloon (1956) (35 mins)
  5. Vertigo (1958)
  6. Touch of Evil (1958)

Week 2:

  1. All About Eve (1950)
  2. Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
  3. The Quiet Man (1952)
  4. Tokyo Story (1953)
  5. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

5 – October – Kurosawa Films

  1. Rashomon (1950) (88 mins)
  2. Ikiru (1952) (143 mins)
  3. High and Low (1963) (143 mins)
  4. Red Beard (1965) (185 mins)
  5. Ran (1985) (162 mins)

6 – November – Films From the 1960s

Week 1:

  1. The Innocents (1961)
  2. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
  3. 8 ½ (1963)
  4. The Great Escape (1963)
  5. Lilies of the Field (1963)

Week 2:

  1. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
  2. The Lion in Winter (1968)
  3. Planet of the Apes (1968)
  4. The Odd Couple (1968)
  5. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

7 – December – Classic Westerns

  1. High Noon (1952)
  2. The Searchers (1956)
  3. Rio Bravo (1959)
  4. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  5. The Wild Bunch (1969)

8 – January – Films From the 1970s

Week 1:

  1. Harold and Maude (1971)
  2. A Touch of Zen (1971)
  3. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
  4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
  5. The Bad News Bears (1976)

Week 2:

  1. Shaft (1971)
  2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  3. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
  4. Manhattan (1979)
  5. Being There (1979)

9 – February – Classic Horror Films

  1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
  2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  3. Carrie (1976)
  4. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  5. Get Out (2017)

10 – March – Films From the 1980s

Week 1:

  1. Airplane! (1980)
  2. Time Bandits (1981)
  3. Pirates of Penzance (1983)
  4. Sixteen Candles (1984)
  5. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

Week 2:

  1. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
  2. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
  3. Steel Magnolias (1989)
  4. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
  5. Say Anything (1989)

11 – April – Classic Fantasy Films

Week 1:

  1. The Seventh Seal (1957)
  2. Gremlins (1984)
  3. The Witches (1990)
  4. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
  5. Onward (2020)

Week 2:

  1. The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972)
  2. Wings of Desire (1987)
  3. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
  4. Pete’s Dragon (2016)
  5. The Jungle Book (2016)

12 – May – Classic Sci-Fi Films

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  4. Blade Runner (1982)
  5. Children of Men (2006)

13 – June – Films From the 1990s and Shakespeare Adaptations

Week 1: 1990s

  1. Metropolitan (1990)
  2. Point Break (1991)
  3. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
  4. Rushmore (1998)
  5. Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Week 2: Shakespeare Adaptations

  1. Chimes at Midnight (1966)
  2. Richard III (1995)
  3. Hamlet (1996)
  4. Twelfth Night (1996)
  5. Coriolanus (2011)

14 – July – Miyazaki Films

  1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
  2. Porco Rosso (1992)
  3. Princess Mononoke (1997)
  4. Spirited Away (2001)
  5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
  6. The Wind Rises (2014)

15 – August – Films From the 2000s and Coen Brothers Films I Haven’t Seen

Week 1: 2000s

  1. Mulholland Drive (2001)
  2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2002)
  3. Adaptation (2002)
  4. Before Sunset (2004)
  5. The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Week 2: Coen Brothers Films I Haven’t Seen

  1. Raising Arizona (1987)
  2. Miller’s Crossing (1990)
  3. No Country for Old Men (2007)
  4. Burn After Reading (2008)
  5. A Serious Man (2009)

16 – September – Classic Documentaries

Week 1:

  1. Grey Gardens (1975)
  2. The Last Waltz (1978)
  3. Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988)
  4. Last Train Home (2010)
  5. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011)
  6. 13th (2016)

Week 2:

  1. Faces Places (Visages, Villages) (2017)
  2. I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
  3. Shirkers (2018)
  4. Amazing Grace (2019)
  5. American Factory (2019)

17 – Malick and Superhero Films I Haven’t Seen

Week 1: Malick Films I Haven’t Seen

  1. Badlands (1973)
  2. Days of Heaven (1978)
  3. To The Wonder (2013)
  4. Knight of Cups (2016)
  5. A Hidden Life (2019)

Week 2: Superhero Films I Haven’t Seen

  1. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
  2. Logan (2017)
  3. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
  4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
  5. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

18 – Films From the 2010s

Week 1:

  1. The Mill and the Cross (2011)
  2. Moneyball (2011)
  3. Mud (2013)
  4. Birdman (2014)
  5. The Lego Movie (2014)

Week 2:

  1. Mr. Turner (2014)
  2. Selma (2014)
  3. Love and Mercy (2014)
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  5. Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Week 3:

  1. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
  2. Toni Erdmann (2016)
  3. Secret Life of Pets (2016)
  4. Hell or High Water (2016)
  5. Moonlight (2016)

Week 4:

  1. Arrival (2016)
  2. Dunkirk (2017)
  3. Mudbound (2017)
  4. Roma (2018)
  5. Knives Out (2019)

Week 5 (?):

  1. Parasite (2019)
  2. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
  3. Harriet (2019)
  4. JoJo Rabbit (2019)
  5. 1917 (2019)

Well, that’s about it, folks. I’ve got 18 months. Easy, right? I’m sure some of you were stunned by all the cultural touchstones on this list – all that I need to catch up on – but after all, that’s part of why I’m taking this sabbatical. I want to be more well-versed in my own culture. And yet, as I’ve said, I’m resolved to go about consuming this stuff at my own pace and according to my own whim. Despite the effort that went into making these structured lists, I probably won’t stick to any sort of order, at least with the books. I feel like that would create an unnecessary burden. Also, you’ll notice I’ve decided not even to touch my TV blindspots. That’s partly because there’s just so much content and I tend to prefer the shorter time-commitment of a movie than a full series anyway. But it’s also partly because TV is one of the forms of media I’m trying to limit during this time. There are, after all, only about 8-12 productive hours we have in a day, and if we want to increase the time we spend consuming a more substantive cultural diet, then we’ll have to give up some of the cultural cotton-candy (which is not to say there isn’t a great deal of substantive television, but it’s not what I tend to watch!).

I don’t know about you, but for much of my adult life I’ve had an unhealthy emotional dependence on cultural fluff. It’s time to try something different. I can’t wait to start this cultural mind-trip. It’s gonna be dope!

One thought on “A Glorious, Utterly Self-Defeating 18-Month Reading and Viewing List

  1. Lydia Self

    It’s great that you have such wonderful goals and ambitions for this year. You will accomplish some good things. So proud of you!

    Like

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