My Classic Novel Goal for 2023—and What’s Coming Next
I’m Changing It up in 2024 and Need Your Help Deciding My New Goal
I started Miller’s Book Review 📚 in 2022 and by the end of the year had a twin realization: I’d been reading very little fiction and tended to review only new(ish) books. I wanted to remedy that and decided on a classic novel goal to kill both birds with one stone.
I decided to read and review one classic novel each month of the year. Here’s how I stated the goal last December, following the SMARTER framework we teach at Full Focus.
Read 12 classic novels in 2023 and share one review each month through year end.
But what to read?
I had a rough idea when I decided on the goal but then put out feelers here and on social media for additional suggestions. A couple of selection criteria: the book or author had to be widely known and the book should predate me. I also wanted a good mix of men, women, time periods, plus races and nationalities.
Ultimately, I landed on the following twelve and—fulfilling the goal—read and reviewed one each month. The links will take you to my reviews.
Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (January)
Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio (February)
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (March)
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (April)
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (May)
Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country (June)
Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy (July)
Zora Neale Hurston’s The Eyes Were Watching God (August)
Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (September)
Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (October)
Shusaku Endo’s Silence (November)
Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (December)
Every one of these books contained surprises, even when I thought I generally knew the story in question—such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But the biggest surprise? How much I loved sharing these books with you.
After I finished each one, I would usually do some additional research on the author and the composition of the book. Bringing those findings to light was pure joy, especially considering your enthusiastic engagement. Some people told me the backstories were their favorite parts of the reviews!
In a few instances I bit off more than initially planned. I decided to read Sigrid Undset’s The Wreath, the first book in her Lavransdatter trilogy. I assumed each volume was largely standalone. Nope! In for one, in for all. And eleven hundred pages later I was glad for my miscalculation. I couldn’t stop reading anyway.
I bought most of the novels at the top of the year and had the intuition at the time to read Shusaku Endo’s The Samurai along with Silence, so I got that one too. Best decision all year! I couldn’t explain why since I knew next to nothing about it, but my anticipation rose as November inched closer. I knew it would be great. And it was. Beyond great, actually. The two books complemented each other so well I can barely imagine reading just Silence on its own. The two form a set.
Two thirds of Lavransdatter and The Samurai weren’t the only bonus classics. I knew I wanted to read some spooky titles for October beyond Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. In keeping with the gothic horror theme, I thought Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would be fun. It was, and I’d been looking for an excuse to talk about Stevenson’s cocaine use for a while.
I also ended up reading John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, which was so enjoyable I read and reviewed five more by Wyndham. And for good measure I started listening to all the novels by C.S. Lewis’s friend and fellow inkling, Charles Williams, beginning in November. I’d read several of these back in college and recently shared that War in Heaven contains my favorite opening line. I may try to do a roundup review of them all—like I did with Wyndham—by the end of the year or early next.
Speaking of Next Year. . .
The experience in 2023 was so rewarding I’m planning on doing it again in 2024 but with some modifications. For one thing, I’m going to loosen up the criteria slightly. I’m not going to worry about the books predating me, though I will limit the selections to books published before the twenty-first century. In other ways, the list will mirror last year’s. For instance, I’d still like wide demographic and chronological diversity.
Here’s what I’m thinking so far, but as with last year this list isn’t final. I want your suggestions. What other classic novels should I consider for my 2024 classic novel goal?
Willa Cather, O Pioneers! or My Àntonia
Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat’s Cradle
Shusaku Endo, Scandal, When I Whistle, Wonderful Fool, Sachiko, or Kiku's Prayer
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, A Grain of Wheat
Graham Greene, Brighton Rock or The Third Man
Ernest J. Gaines, A Gathering of Old Men
Chuang Hua, Crossings
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes
Alice Walker, The Color Purple
P.G. Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves
Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men
All of these look interesting to me, but I’m not settled on them. Let me know your suggestions in the comments.
But there’s one other major modification to my reading goal(s) for next year. I’m adding a layer.
What Classic Memoirs Should I Read? convincingly showed in my Q&A with him, memoir is an essential genre for understanding who we are. With that in mind I’m going to add a second reading goal to my list for next year.
Read 12 classic memoirs in 2024 and share one review each month through year end.
As with my classic novel goal, I’m looking for diversity—in this case, a diversity of human experience. Here are my starting ideas. Again, let me know what you think.
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Olaudah Equiano, Equiano’s Travels
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
T.H. White, The Goshawk
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Richard Wright, Black Boy
H.L. Mencken, The Days of H.L. Mencken (Happy Days, Newspaper Days, Heathen Days)
Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
Karl Popper, Unended Quest
Tété-Michel Kpomassie, Michel the Giant: An African in Greenland
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Beryl Markham, West with the Night
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography
As with the novels, I plan to take all your suggestions into consideration and narrow down the list to twelve, one per month for 2024. Let me know which classic memoirs I should add.
In the SMARTER framework, the E stands for exciting, which is true for both strands of this goal, the fiction and nonfiction; so far I find reading and reviewing these books intrinsically motivating. The final R stands for relevant—that is, the goal must align with the goal-setter’s life and other goals. At the moment I don’t see any misalignment, but I’m going take the next few weeks to finalize my decision just in case.
Besides, I want to leave time for you to submit your suggestions for both classic novels and memoirs. Please leave those in the comments below. I’m taking suggestions for the next week, between now and December 18. Stay tuned, by the way: I’ve read over eighty books so far this year, and I’m planning on sharing my favorites soon!
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