The heading of this post is the final sentence in The Wall, by John Hersey — a novel about a group of Jewish friends in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
And The Wall is the final book on the Racine Library classics list that I started working on back in the late 1980’s. I had determined, back then, to start reading classics. My sister found a list of “must read” classics at the Racine Library and gave me a copy. I began reading books on the list and soon became discouraged. Most of them were gloomy and depressing. I wasn’t having any fun.
I decided to make my own list of classics to read. (This eventually turned into the Carp 500.) I completed that list in 1999 and looked for something else to read. That’s just the way I am — I thrive on listing.
And there, just waiting for me to pick up where I’d left off, was the Racine Library list. I started in again. And got discouraged and quit again.
And a few years later, started in again. And got discouraged and quit again.
But something about the stupid list kept eating at me. Maybe because it was the first one and I hadn’t finished it. I don’t know. But I felt compelled, somehow, to complete it.
This battle with myself continued. On the one hand, I wanted to finish the list. On the other hand, I hated the list and wanted to be freed from it forever.
At one point, I even went so far as to destroy every copy of it. (I’d made a spreadsheet on my computer, I had the original copy at home and a second copy in my car for when I went to the library.) I tore them up and deleted them, and that was that.
Until I was browsing through an old blog and found it all over again. There were about 35 books left on the list. All those times I’d returned to it over the years had gotten me closer and closer to completion (and there was a fair amount of overlap with the Carp 500 — not all the books on the list were turkeys).
So I started again. I put no pressure on myself to complete it by a given date or even to read every book all the way through. If you follow the link above, you can see where I’ve marked the handful of books I quit. But even in those, I read a minimum of 50 pages, just to be legit.
For no reason in particular, the final unread book on the list was The Wall. And now I’m done.
During the past 20 years, when I’ve been a slave to this list, I’ve often imagined the librarian who originally compiled it. I figure she’s a woman — most librarians (and all “shes”) are. I imagine she put as much thought into the list as I generally put into my breakfast (Frosted Raspberry or Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tarts?). I see her retired now, living with her married daughter in Waukesha. I picture her sitting on a couch eating Cheese Puffs and watching reruns of The Simpsons, never knowing the power she had over me all these years.
But now I’m free! I’m free!
I think “What is the Plan for Tomorrow?” is a very fitting final sentence.
I’ve got to find another reading list soon.