It seems every time I go online yet another site has yet another list of Forty-Eleven Whatevers You Should Do Before You Die, always written by someone who is an expert in that Whatever. Literature professors and librarians make lists of the books we should read before we die. Movie critics do the same for film, outdoor enthusiasts the same. I used to collect these lists. It was a harmless little obsession I had. I like lists. I like marking things off lists and I looooove completing lists. 1001 Books To Read or 100 Craft Brews To Try Before You Die? Sign me up.
In 1987, I started keeping a notebook of titles I wanted to read, books others recommended to me, books mentioned in interviews in Vanity Fair or in movies. In 2009, I finally admitted I was never, ever going to read all of these books. The notebook was filled with roughly 4,000 titles. I had come to resent the notebook. It seemed to be prima facie evidence of my intellectual inadequacy and the ridiculous notion I could somehow make my way into a world so different from whence I came. I finally accepted I was intelligent. I could hold my own with friends who had diplomas from the top universities in the world. I didn’t have anything to prove to any longer. I let it go. I tossed the notebook. When I came across yet another list in a magazine article or website, I could pause a moment to count how many books I read or movies I’d seen and then move on without feeling less than because I hadn’t read Henry James or seen a certain Rene Clement film.
Then, I was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2011. My focus became less on the 1001 Books and more on the Before You Die portion of the title. And I think, while it is great that some literature professor or art critic takes the time to put something like this together, I mean they have some idea of what is good and what isn’t and good for them for trying to spark interest in whatever field. But what they don’t know about is, is it really worth spending time reading this or going to see that National Park before.you.die. We are all mortal. None of us has an infinite number of hours to our lives. And when we begin our lives, none of us knows exactly how many hours we are going to be allotted.
I’m not a professor of anything. Hell, I dropped out of community college. But I was born curious and as Dorothy Parker said, there is no cure for curiosity. I’ve read a lot, some of it good, some of it mediocre, some of it earth-shattering. I’ve taught myself about art and music, philosophy and theology, history and literature, enough that I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s decent and what isn’t. But my expertise now lies in deciphering whether this piece of writing or that whatever is worth spending a few hours of your life dealing with it.
Over the next few months or until I run out of things to say or get tired of doing it, I’m going to publish for you my list of things to read, watch, see, drink or eat, etc. before you die. And before I die. It will prod me to get up and out and try new things. I’ve been clinging tightly to the familiar for two years now and it is time to let go and step out, take some risks. Also, you will know if I tell you it’s worth the time, you’ll know it’s for real. Cause I don’t fuck about with time.