Friday, 30 January 2015

Re: The constant reader's challenge: fill up that bookbag and read those books before the lights go out for the last time

This post is a response to
"Suppose someone told you that you only had a finite time left to live (let's say it is something less than a year), and suppose you have decided to use that time wisely. So, you come up with about 200 things you want to accomplish, and you mark them down on the notorious "bucket list." And, as part of your "bucket list" planning, suppose you decide to allow yourself only a small amount of time each day for reading. You do some quick calculations -- based on the small reading time allowance and your reading speed -- and you decide that you only have time for ten books before the lights go out for the last time. Well, now it is decision time. What ten books would you decide to read (or reread) within your short-timer's reading schedule?"

1/ Lev Tolstoy, War and Peace
2/ Bùi Giáng poems, especially Mưa nguồn collection
3/ Hàn Mặc Tử poems, especially Thơ điên, aka Đau thương, collection and the Trăng poems
4/ Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway 
5/ Jane Austen, Persuasion
6/ 1001 Nights 
7/ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov 
8/ Nguyễn Du, Truyện Kiều 
9/ Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, probably the abridged version 
10/ Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, at least Swann's Way 

[Brief explanations: 
The 1st 6 are re-reads. 
The last 4 are books I haven't read that I think should be read before death. 
Some favourite books or authors, or some important books in my must-read list, are left out because they may not be the books I like to read if I only have another year to live. Take Flaubert, I love him but who wants to be told that life is futile and everything is pointless and people are stupid, banal and philistine? It's also because of the idea of the lights going out that I choose Persuasion instead of Mansfield Park or War and Peace instead of Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyich
1001 Nights is in there to counterbalance the effect of The Brothers Karamazov, because Dostoyevsky's novels always shake me terribly and depress me and drag me underground.
Maybe I take the question a bit too seriously.] 

What's your list? 


  1. Ah, I am quite intrigued by the selections. Are the Vietnamese titles available in English translations? And I like your decision making process regarding Flaubert, Austen, and Tolstoy.

    1. Hi R. T.
      I think the poems by Hàn Mặc Tử and Bùi Giáng are not available in English translations and they are extremely difficult to translate, mostly because they both were a bit mad (Hàn Mặc Tử's soul was tortured, he had leprosy and a strange obsession with the moon, which appeared all over his works, the love poems as well as the poems about pain, death, despair...; Bùi Giáng was also mad, I'm not sure because of his obsession with and worship of and disappointment in language or because of the fire that destroyed many of his books and his own works).
      On the other hand, Truyện Kiều, an epic poem, our national treasure, the most significant work of Vietnamese literature, has several translations. The title in English is The Tale of Kieu. But I don't know which translation to recommend, if you ask me. Nguyễn Du is sort of our Shakespeare.