By Chris Stucchio
I finished a critically acclaimed novel recently from 1996 titled “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. That got me thinking about some of the great works of literature I’ve already read, and how many more I’ll be able to complete in my lifetime now that I’m almost 50.
The first truly classic book I can remember reading is Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Unfortunately, at the age of 14, I didn’t have the perspective on life to truly appreciate its themes of pride and perseverance in the face of a difficult and painful task.
In 1994, I decided to read that book again while I was working full time in corporate America, and it really resonated with me. In fact, when I ran my first marathon in Columbus, Ohio, in 1996, I kept thinking of the aging fisherman Santiago, the protagonist in the story, not giving up during his Herculean struggle to catch a marlin, and it helped inspire me to keep going after mile 20.
During my junior year as an English major at Buffalo State College in 1988, I was assigned to read Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” for a literary criticism class. I remember we had so many interesting and intellectual discussions about that novel, is was like being part of the ultimate book club.
Years later, when I joined a couple of traditional book clubs, I found the superficial analysis of the stories incredibly boring. Instead of talking about symbolism, underlying themes, foreshadowing, character traits and the insights into human nature that the authors had provided, people only focused on what they liked and disliked, as if those things were more important than what the writers had to say. I guess that’s why I haven’t been in a book club for more than a decade.
In 2000, I read two classic novels by another Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy: “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.” Up until that point, I had been working in sales positions at technology companies, and although I did well at them, reading those books made me realize that I needed to pursue a career that was more intellectual and more harmonious with my interests, which include reading, writing and editing.
Eventually that led me to a position in the marketing department at Phillips Lytle, one of the biggest law firms in Buffalo, where I did all of those things regularly for nine years.
While I was working at Phillips Lytle in 2004, I was also writing for Buffalo Spree. For my bio in one of the pieces I wrote for that magazine, I mentioned that I enjoyed reading complex novels.
One of the attorneys there saw it. He stopped by my office and said that if I enjoyed complex novels, I should read “The Count of Monte Cristo” by the French author Alexandre Dumas. That night I went to Talking Leaves Books on Elmwood Avenue and purchased it. It has been my all-time favorite novel since I finished it, and it always will be.
Sometime in 2006, I read “Sense and Sensibility” by the English novelist Jane Austen. While I was reading it, I realized that all of my girlfriends, except for the one that I would eventually marry in 1995 (we’re still together today), were way more sensibility than sense. If I had completed that book at a much younger age, it probably would have saved me a lot of trouble.
I don’t know how many more great books I have left in my lifetime, but I do know one thing: I’ll keep reading until the end.