Updated on 12.31.10

2011 Resolution #3: Read 100 Unread Books

Trent Hamm

In an effort to talk about the power of goal-setting along with some methods of setting and achieving goals, I’m going to discuss my three resolutions for 2011 this week.

Over time, any voracious reader winds up with a list of books that they intend to read someday, but they find themselves reading more urgent things in the interim. They could read this challenging novel, but there’s this great page turner to read instead. This novel is pretty good, but it’s so long that I’ve lost my place in it. Boy, this nonfiction one is really challenging reading.

As a result, I’ve gradually built up a long list of “to-be-read” and “come-back-to” books that I keep telling myself I’ll read someday.

2011 is that “someday.”

I’ve been assembling an actual list of these books over the last few weeks. I’ve mentioned many times on here that I keep a running Word document of books I’d like to read (or, in a few cases, re-read) at some point. I essentially took that list and eliminated some of the chaff, boiling it down to 100 titles that really sum up some of the things I’ve strongly considered reading over the past couple of years, but put aside for whatever reason.

Here’s that list.

The Best American Short Stories 2010, edited by Richard Russo
The Best American Short Stories 2009, edited by Alice Sebold
PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2010
PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
Makers, by Cory Doctorow
The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano
Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson
The Confusion, by Neal Stephenson
The System of the World, by Neal Stephenson
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Tinkers, by Paul Harding
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris
Austerlitz, by W. G. Sebald
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon
Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem
Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami
American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis
Less than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer
The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga
2666, by Roberto Bolano
The Hour I First Believed, by Wally Lamb
The Northern Clemency, by Philip Hensher
I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb
Selected Stories, by O. Henry
The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Rainbow’s End, by Vernor Vinge
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman
Under the Dome, by Stephen King
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
Shogun, by James Clavell
Ilium, by Dan Simmons
Olympos, by Dan Simmons
Accelerando, by Charles Stross
The City and the City, by China Mieville
The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged), by Alexandre Dumas
Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence
Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
The Age of Wonder, by Richard Holmes
Reality Hunger, by David Shields
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010, edited by David Sedaris
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009, edited by Dave Eggers
Consider the Lobster, by David Foster Wallace
The Best American Sports Writing 2010, edited by Peter Gammons
The Best American Sports Writing 2009, edited by Leigh Montville
The Best American Essays 2010, edited by Christopher Hitchens
The Best American Essays 2009, edited by Mary Oliver
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010, edited by Freeman Dyson
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009, edited by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Language of God, by Francis Collins
Belief, edited by Francis Collins
The Demon-Haunted World, by Carl Sagan
God Is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens
The First Tycoon, by T. J. Stiles
Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed
Just Kids, by Patti Smith
The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, by Rick Perlsetin
Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein
The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons
The Best American Magazine Writing 2010
The Best American Magazine Writing 2009
A Soprano on Her Head, by Eloise Ristad
The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker, by Richard Dawkins
The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins
Play Their Hearts Out, by George Dohrmann
Look Me in the Eye, by John Elder Robison
Fordlandia, by Greg Grandin
The Progress Paradox, by Gregg Easterbrook
Hungry Monkey, by Matthew Amster-Burton
Nudge, by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
American Sphinx, by Joseph J. Ellis
What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell
NurtureShock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky
The Religious Case Against Belief, by James Carse
Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
Manufacturing Consent, by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman
Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins
Hurry Down Sunshine, by Michael Greenberg
Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence, by Geoff Dyer
Bringing up Geeks, by MaryBeth Hicks
The Trouble with Physics, by Lee Smolin

It’s a wide mix. It’s roughly half fiction and half nonfiction. There’s a fairly strong religious theme running through there, with some strong apologetics and some strong atheist writing, too. I could go on and on with the observations about the list.

In the end, though, my goal is to read every title on that list in 2011.

Where will you find time? I currently read just shy of two books a week for personal enjoyment – and this is my “personal enjoyment” list for 2011. Some of the titles are a bit more challenging than my usual stuff, but I plan on coming up with that time by making sure I’m always carrying a book with me when I leave the house so that I don’t find myself idly reading a newspaper at the car repair shop and the like.

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  1. Jules says:

    Looks like a great list. Though be warned, the Baroque Cycle is a tough, mindbending read (well worth the headache). Personally I love Stephenson’s Cryptonomicron better, but the BC is fantastic.

  2. Julia says:

    Jules beat me to it! Neal Stephenson is a great author and the BC is great but long. Cryptonomicron is also great or Anathem. Maybe those can go on next year’s list.

  3. guinness416 says:

    Good goal! I’ve found in the past though with “lists” of “challenging” books that plowing through them one after the other isn’t all THAT rewarding, especially if some of them turn out to be less interesting/more tedious or pretentious than you expected. One year I read all the Booker winners and in retrospect I’d rather have spread them out. Mixing in lighter stuff (which the anthologies and stuff like Franzen may be I guess) and not having the december deadline may help. Just a suggestion. Good luck!

  4. psychsarah says:

    What an ambitious list. I must admit I’ve only read Bel Canto from your list, but if it is any indiciation, you’ve got a wonderful list there. This was one of the only books that all the members of my diverse book club enjoyed immensely. Happy reading!

  5. kjc says:


    Wasn’t one of your 2010 resolutions to reduce your entertainment expenses – including books? Now a 2011 resolution to read 100 books?? Isn’t this a teensy weensy contradictory?

    That’s quite a list, I’ll admit, but I can’t help but think that this will be a joyless experience. I mean, really? You’re going to read Gravity’s Rainbow AND another book in approximately one week? What’s the point??

    I’d suggest you’d be better off reading 10 well written works, reading slowly, truly paying attention to and savoring how a talented writer does what he or she does, rather than speed reading through 100 books as part of some bizarre “resolution.”

  6. SwingCheese says:

    I’ll be interested in what you think about Bret Easton Ellis. I’ve read both American Psycho and Less than Zero, and I have to admit, there are scenes in each that I wish I could wipe from my memory. That being said, I enjoyed Less Than Zero more than I thought I would. But I can’t say that I really enjoy Ellis’ writing. However, I think if I’d read them when I was younger, my interpretation might be different.

  7. Gretchen says:

    What happened to only make one resolution?

    Also, imo, essay series do not make for quick reading like novels. I like to take breaks in between each so they don’t run togther.

  8. Sassy says:

    I think you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao two years ago — so you are already down to 99. I remember it because I chose it for our book club based on your pleasure in the book.

  9. valleycat1 says:

    #5 kjc – Trent uses the library & paperback swap a lot, so this isn’t necessarily a huge expense. I read at least 2 books a week too, and almost are free, from the library.

    Trent – one for 2012’s list: God Is Not One.

  10. Wesley says:

    @Gretchen – I agree. With Short Stories, Essays, or Anthologies of any sort I like to read one piece at a time, generally only one a day since they are all (generally) separate entities.

  11. Jessica says:

    you got a lot of great books on there – maybe you could talk about them as you read them. American gods is one of my favorite books and Hitchens is mindbending…goog luck!

  12. Heather says:

    I’ve read Bringing Up Geeks by MaryBeth Hicks and can strongly recommend it. It’s a great book about raising kids to be enthusiastic about their interests and passions and would be a good fit for the kind of parenting style that Trent and his wife seem to have.

  13. Josh says:


    You have heard of a library, right?

    Trent, The Book of Basketball is fantastic if you are an NBA fan.

  14. Sara A. says:

    Skip the Baroque Cycle! I love his other books but, egads, I found it unreadable. Anathem is good, or Diamond Age.

    Also, I really am not a fan of Michael Chabon. For alternate history, try something like Farthing by Jo Walton.

  15. Madeline says:

    Both Wally Lamb books are long but totally worth your time. I loved them.

  16. chuck says:

    amazing. i don’t think I could read that many books in 10 years.

  17. Rachel says:

    I am a voracious reader myself. 100 books in a year? I would say I read that much, and I am starting a log tomorrow just to see what I am reading in a years time. I notice that almost all the authors are men. I was thinking that I read a mix, but sitting here and giving it some more thought, I mostly read women authors. I wonder why we do that? I highly recommend Bill Bryson. He is an Iowa native and writes mostly travel books, he is great!

  18. kristine says:

    Happy to see Manufacturing Consent on there-it has immediate relevance today. Bourdain’s book is a hoot! And and oldie but a goodie if you are interested in exploring alternative views is “Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches” by Harris.

    I could never read that many books in one year. I like to let the thoughts simmer for about a week after a good read, to contemplate what I have discovered, or just let my mind meander in the fantasy. It’s like savoring a gourmet meal.

  19. Tizzle says:

    I read Infinite Jest 2 summers ago, and it took all summer. There was an internet support group and a twitter feed devoted to it. It still took all summer, although I read other books in there, too. It was a great experience.

    My recommendation about it is to read more than one book at a time. Preferably something light or nonfiction. It’s just that deep and challenging. Also, I suggest reading some of the internet papers about it after. It helped me understand what I’d read.

    I could say a lot about your other choices, but this one fewer people have read, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it. Most of this list sounds awesome.

  20. DeeBee says:

    Great list! I just picked up Oscar Wao from the library. Another reason to love and support your local public library!

    To categorize my to-read list I use GoodReads (www.goodreads.com), a free book reading social-networking site. To categorize the books I own, I use LibraryThing (www.librarything.com). That may seem redundant, but it works for me. Some people use one or the other.

    Best wishes for a happy and productive 2011!

  21. Interested Reader says:

    I’m still confused about the Make 1 Resolution Only so it’s easier to accomplish your goal Post and how it ties in with make 3 resolutions that require a lot of extra time.

  22. Laura In Atlanta says:

    I am a voracious reader as well, reading about 80 books a year. I try to do a good mix of quality fiction and non fiction. Its a great challenge and good luck with it, Trent!

  23. Luci says:

    Good luck with Infinite Jest :) haha. It’s not super hard, but it’s long and takes careful reading…I found my mind straying too much. This is a great booklist. I keep track of all this stuff on goodreads.com!! One of my friends showed it to me before, and I LOVE it now. It helps me remember books I’ve read and what I thought about them. Anyone who’s an avid reader should check it out. It’s free and awesome.

  24. rosa rugosa says:

    I will be honestly surprised if you don’t loathe American Psycho. For me, it had the distinction of being totally boring, while also being totally revolting at the same time. If I met Brett at a cocktail party, I would have to excuse myself and leave. Someone borrowed the book from me, and I only loaned it with the borrower’s promise that they would not return it! And believe me, I ain’t no sissy, but this book was just toxic and corrupt and morally impoverished somehow.

  25. J. says:

    big thumbs up for the Gaiman & Simmons books, as well as Bonhoeffer. Warning: Simmons’ duology is a long read, and it took me three attempts to get into Illium. But very rewarding, and even better than his Hyperion series.

    For Bonhoeffer, see if you can get a hold of the newest English translation from Fortress Press, which is simply called “Discipleship” (closer to his original title) and includes extensive notes.

  26. Jordan says:

    An amazing list and some really excellent books on there – I’ve particularly enjoyed David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, JS Foer, Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Count of Monte Cristo (which I read on my iPhone having downloaded it from The Gutenberg Project for free – it was great to have it with me all the time, and so engaging!)

    I have to agree with the people who’ve commented on American Psycho – be careful about what you put in your head, because you can never get it out again. I don’t know that I was ultimately glad to have given in to my curiosity about the book. FYI, even in Australia, a pretty liberal country from a publishing and censorship perspective, it has an R 18+ rating, and is sold in bookshops covered in plastic wrap. So we’re not being sissies about it – the content is STRONG. It’s pretty much up to how you cope with detailed depictions of sexualised violence against women, with no real redeeming features. The movie is massively watered down and doesn’t begin to approach the sheer nastiness of the book.

    But, whatever your decision, good luck with the books on this list! I know what it’s like to keep a “to read” list, and I wish you great enjoyment from making it through yours.

  27. Charles Cohn says:

    One book I consider very important is “Transcend” by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, MD. The most important chapter is the first chapter, in which the authors give us science-based hope that we could live forever. The remainder of the book consists primarily of health hints to help us attain this goal.

  28. mer723 says:

    Wow, I haven’t heard of about 95% of those books! However Shogun is one I have and read. I enjoyed it immensely. It will lead you to the rest of his books, all which have a common thread that you don’t realize. Good luck with your goals!

  29. Julia in UK says:

    Oh Trent you don’t have to read these books. Some of these authors are very tedious e.g. Richard Dawkins. Reviewers often seem to rave about books that nobody enjoys. I now get books out of the library, and if I don’t like them I take them back unfinished.

  30. christine a says:

    I’m with Julia, reviewers certainly do rave about tedious self-absorbed nonsense (I’m thinking The Northern Clemency & White Tiger here) however, Best American Short Stories 2009 has several gems which literally altered my world view – Alice Sebold is a very fine editor.

  31. nancy says:

    What a dark list. Depressed much?

  32. gail says:

    Great book list. Wally Lamb is amazing. Enjoy!

  33. elderly librarian says:

    I’m with Julia in the UK also. I would consider a lot of the list disappointing and tedious, but to each his own.
    Many votes for the oldies but goodies — Count of Monte Cristo, Sons and Lovers, and the Idiot. (great old French film was made of that latter one) Leave 95% of this list unfinished if warranted. It would be good to investigate some great children’s literature to offer your kids too.

  34. Gretchen says:

    “Freedom” is another example of an okay book that reviews (and NPR!) wet themselves over.

    (While the middle was tedious, I did enjoy the ending and therefore, the book overall.)

    What is your plan for books you don’t like? (ie, the Wally Lamb. terrible. Terrible. Sadly and annoying Terrible. )

  35. guinness416 says:

    Gretchen – one of the best “resolutions” I made for myself a few years ago was to stop feeling I had to finish a book once I started it. In my early twenties I felt I had to drag myself through something worthy or well-regarded because I wanted to impress with my impressive reading list or because my friends read it or the NYT said I should. Now I toss ’em after 100 pages without a second thought if I want to!

    I did finish Freedom though, I liked it better than The Corrections :)

  36. Gretchen says:

    I “knew” the Franzen would get better and I skipped large parts of the Lamb.

    There are way too many good books to keep going on bad books, I totally agree!

  37. Lisa says:

    Good luck with Infinite Jest. I’m a fellow voracious reader who loves high quality fiction, and I consider that book to be as pretentious a pile of nonsense as I’ve ever encountered. I honestly think not one critic could make any sense of it, so they figured they’d better give it a great review so as not to be perceived as un-hip. A Soprano on Her Head is a great book, and highly recommended for anyone whose mind often gets in the way of any kind of performance (can include speaking in front of others). Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion is fabulous!

  38. Mel says:

    I second mer723 on Shogun – I tend to read a lot, but I have brain like a sieve, and often forget or jumble stories. Not so Shogun – several scenes were clear as day to me when I read them, and remain so today. I wouldn’t say it was life-changing, but I think it improved my mind!

  39. Amanda says:

    I would recommend just reading the abridged version of the Count of Monte Cristo…so little time, so many books!!

  40. Briana @ GBR says:

    I have a similar goal but with all the things I’m doing, I have mine at 1 book a week. I have so many books in my Kindle but I vowed to not buy another book until the ones already in my Kindle are read. So everything else is on my wishlist

  41. Systemizer says:

    “2011 Resolution #3: Read 100 Unread Books”

    You go Superman.

  42. sjw says:

    I’m going to suggest skipping _Windup Girl_. _And then we came to an end_ was very good.

    And for Dawkins, reading three in a short time period is going to get repetitive.

    You have a bunch of doorstoppers in there.

  43. AnnJo says:

    You seem like such a nice guy. A year from now, after that list? Not so much, I fear. It puts me in mind of those of my younger relatives who won’t watch any movie that’s in black-and-white. A little, or rather, a lot more – call it “temporal diversity” might balance it out.

  44. Steve says:

    Infinite Jest and Gravity’s Rainbow together could take a whole year. This is quite an ambitious list, good luck!

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