I believe, along with “you are what you say” and “you are what you eat”, that “you are what you read.” So I was curious to read a recent Tribune article1 by Nara Schoenberg that cited Andrew Hill’s The Best Books You Will Never Read…Ever and listed the top ten.

Book club and writing craft reads...

A sampling of books from my book club and from writing classes.

My immediate reaction was to glue my eyes to the list. If they were, indeed, the best books, then, surely, since I believe I am what I read, I should have read them by this time in my life. 

I approached the list with apprehension, because I’ve always envied people who have read widely, especially literature, and can quote authors like Augustine, Hemingway, and Updike in the same paragraph. With my publicly declared  statement of reading, eating, and sleeping nursing for nearly forty years (Caring Lessons, back cover), I am now, in my retirement, hyper aware that I could be catching up with the people I envy. Note that I didn’t say I should this time, because there are no more “shoulds” in my life.

So here’s the list. See how you do. (1) If you can prove Andrew Hill wrong, take a point for each book you’ve read. (2) If you have intended to read the book, take a point for that too. (3) If Hill is correct, and you’ll never, ever, read the book, you may humbly admit that your reading it is hopeless and be thrilled with any point you may have earned.

 1.        Ulysses by James Joyce

2.         Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

3.         Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

4.         War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

5.         Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

6.         Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida

7.         On the Road by Jack Kerouac

8.         Moby Dick by Herman Melville

9.         Being and Time by Martin Heidegger

10.       As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

As usual, I was chagrined to find I’ve read only two of these books, Ulysses and Moby Dick. And those were assigned in the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults that I just completed at the University of Chicago.

Required reading for UC's Basic Program

Required reading for UC’s Basic Program

We could argue that this is only Hill’s idea of the best books, so why should we pay any attention? Hill is a professor at Appalachian State University in NC. But I find that any lists like this show me I have more reading to do than time left.  

But, I find that exciting. The thought brightens my day. So much to discover yet. I can’t resist greeting each morning with enthusiasm—and a paperback, or my Kindle, or a walk to Barnes or Noble or Harold Washington Public Library.

Plus, I’ll follow a piece of wisdom from Hill that Schoenberg quotes: his 50-page rule; “if a great book can’t give him reason to continue after that, he’s free to move on.”

And when my time is up, I will have accomplished that I am what I read. A contented reader of a smattering of everything that grabs, and keeps, my attention from Florence Nightingale to Barbara Kingsolver to Frederick Buechner. 


1 Schoenberg, N. These Books Can Talk – Do the Ones We Haven’t Read–and Won’t – Speak Volumes About Us? (2013, August 3). Chicago Tribune, Section 1, p. 12.