I finally got my copy of Otis and Needleman's Outline History of English Literature! Now it is time to read ALL THE THINGS!
That's... a lot more self-explanatory than a reasonable person would allow it to be. The Outline History of English Literature is a two-volume outline of the history of English literature. Chronologically, it lists... everything. There are roughly five to ten items per page, with three or four of those items identified as "major works". My goal for my 'gap year' is to familiarize myself with everything listed, and to read as many of the major works as I can manage.
I have, naturally, created a spreadsheet. As I work my way through the Outline History, I'll note all of the major works mentioned, and whether or not I have read them. As I read the works, I'll update their status. My spreadsheet has, at the top, a ring displaying the percentage of read vs. unread works as of that day. To the side, it has a chart of the read/unread totals over time. (The "unread" numbers will be going up as I add entries, after all!) The percentage ring is just there to be immediately satisfying, but the chart will get WAY more interesting over time. There are also some numbers wandering around to make everything work. Here's what it looks like right now:
As you can (hopefully) see, I'd already read Beowulf when I started, but I read a couple other short Anglo-Saxon poems this morning. I would never have heard of these poems-- let alone voluntarily read them!-- if it weren't for this project, but it was incredibly satisfying to be doing "real" reading again. I don't think I've read anything but fanfic and Temeraire novels since finishing my thesis in March!
I'm also really enjoying Otis and Needleman as authors. My copy is from 1952, but the book was originally written in 1936-- like all old criticism, I find it endlessly endearing. None of this postmodern, post-textual deconstructionist shit! Just on page 14: "The Fates of the Apostles is insignificant as poetry." BAM! "Juliana: Unpoetic, unemotional; tendency to wordy speeches." POW! Nothing more to be said!
But also-- I am endlessly charmed by their old-fashioned willingness to express adoration
. Also on page 14: "Andreas: Explosive descriptions of man's titanic struggle with the tempest." "The Dream of the Rood: Probably the noblest and most imaginative of all Anglo-Saxon poems. ...Broodingly emotional, lyrically passionate, intensely imaginative, deeply religious." Nobody allows themselves to get so earnest
Sure, there is a place for more modern, "sophisticated" criticism-- that's the kind of criticism I myself write, after all, since I don't live in 1936-- but in my heart, I will always believe that literature is meant to inspire enthusiasm
So, I think I prefer to be embarking on this quest with two endearing antiquarians as my guides. It'll be more fun.
And now-- to read!