This morning, before I left for work, I sat down with a piece of paper and a pen, cracked open my borrowed copy of The Oxford Shakespeare (second edition), and copied down the Table of Contents. Turns out, even when the sonnets and poems are combined as "Sonnets (1593-1603) and 'A Lover's Complaint'" and "Various Poems (1593-1616)", it's a long list of forty-six, not including introductions, user guides, or the rest of the book's substantial front- or back-matter.
"Holy crap," I said, turning to face my cats (both of whom were watching me from the other end of the couch). "I agreed to read 1,344 pages of Shakespeare, and this book is due back at the library next Thursday. What was I thinking?"
When the cats gave me no answer, I turned my wide-eyed gaze back to the list of plays and crossed out the ones I'd already read (or at least skimmed, or the ones I'd read in junior high but didn't fully understand, or the ones for which I'd read the cliff notes so I could ace the many quizzes in my college Shakespeare class). There were fifteen in total; if I also removed the sonnets and poems, that brought my to-do list down to twenty-nine.
"Twenty-nine," I mourned. My cats looked at me impassively. After a moment, one jumped off the couch and wandered off into the kitchen, clearly having deigned my problems far less important than his breakfast. The other cat looked from me to his brother, then followed after. Left alone with my grief, I looked back at my list and realized that, having been so young or busy or apathetic when I read (or skimmed) some of those plays, I had no idea what a few of them were about. I added them back to the list. Thirty-three.
There are, according to the Kübler-Ross model, five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. In that brief span of fifteen minutes between when I copied out the table of contents and finally closed the book, I quickly whirled through the first four. "This isn't true," I said aloud to my now-empty living room. "There aren't really thirty-three plays for me to read. And seriously, some of these may not even be Shakespeare. 'The Booke of Sir Thomas More'? Give me a break." Then, "Why did I agree to do this? It's a stupid list! Everything is stupid! Shakespeare is stupid!" Finally, after considering my list again, "You know, I did technically read these, even if I don't remember what happened or who the characters are. If I can take those back out of the list, then I'll read some of the poems instead..."
At this point, I shut the book. "No," I said. "It doesn't matter. Even if I manage to read all of these plays, that's still only one thing on an entire list of twenty-five. I can't do all of these things. What's the point of even trying? I should give up now."
And then I went to work. Four hours later, as I sat down and prepared to eat my lunch, the list I'd copied down happened to fall out of my purse. I picked it up, smoothed it out on my desk, and reconsidered the forty-six titles (yes, including "Sonnets" and "Various Poems"). Then, because it was my break and it's really hard to type emails and eat lunch at the same time, I opened up 25 at 25 and carefully scrutinized my entire list. Aside from salsa dancing, I had yet to even start checking off any of them.
I like to think I'm the kind of person who can rise to a challenge and succeed against all odds. The truth is, I am probably not that kind of person. But I have a list of twenty-five things I want to do this year, and that list includes reading the collective works of Shakespeare. All forty-six plays. All 1,344 pages.
I'm starting this weekend.
Wish me luck.