If you haven’t read Anne Bogel, the author of I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, check out Modern Mrs. Darcy, her “lifestyle blog for nerds.” She writes polished little essays about books, home, and family (she is a homeschooling mom), and hosts a weekly podcast, “What Should I Read Next?”
Bogel is a smooth interviewer and a smart literary DJ. In Episode 168, “A century of good books (in a single year),” she draws out guest Tara Nichols, a stay-at-home mom who prefers to be called “a household manager.” Nichols, who writes on Instagram, plans to read one book published each year between 1920 and 2019.
NIchols says the idea for the century of books challenge just “came to her.” (N.B. I have seen this challenge done at blogs, but perhaps it’s fresh on Instagram.) Having read 100 books last year, Nichols embarked on planning her “century.” She loves to tick books off lists on spreadsheets. But in 2019 she will read nothing longer than 600 pages, because she needs to read about 100 pages a day. She will not read the books in order, but hopes to learn how literature has changed in the last hundred years.
It’s harmless, but slightly worrying. There is no common theme, no common genre, no plan to read all the books by an influential author… no context.
Mind you, it’s not sour grapes: I read over 100 books a year and have read 98 of the books on her list, but quality and data are not identical. Some books deserve more time than others. For example, Trollope’s 256-page novel Kept in the Dark and his 1,000-page masterpiece He Knew He Was Right both treat the theme of sexual jealousy, but the former is a minor work, the latter a classic.
It’s the flatness that bothers me on the internet: the lack of hierarchy, of respect for expertise, the idea that everything is equal to everything else if someone writes it online…
But this is taking something light too seriously.