Budget and Finance Analyst Kerry Keller-Ash is on the verge of an impressive feat. She is about to complete all of the books on Modern Library's list of 100 Best Novels.
Keller-Ash is actually a bit squeamish about having this impending achievement broadcast to the campus at-large, but after some cajoling, she reluctantly acquiesces and explains how it all came to be.
"I was looking for something read and realized there were a lot of basic literature books I hadn't read. I was an English major at UCLA, so I had read quite a few classics, but there were gaps, so I Googled around and found this list. It looked reasonable, and I decided I was going to read it."
That was January 2010. She has now read 99 of the novels; only James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake stands in the way.
She intentionally left the gargantuan, 600-plus-page book for last, knowing it would be a long slog. "It's a collection of words, some of which are English and some of which are not. I think what James Joyce did is break the novel and I think it was definitely done intentionally.
"For me it's like floating along words rather than being guided through a story in any way so it can be as frustrating as gibberish, but for me, if I get into some sentences, it's super entertaining because he's just having such fun with words and with language. My mom was a big reader and Irish-American. She tried to read it before she died (in 2000) and she couldn't. I do recognize that I'm not going to get that much out of it, but I will finish it."
No stranger to spreadsheets, Keller-Ash has been diligently tracking her literary quest within the cells of Excel. She admits to cheating a little-giving herself credit for books on the list that she had already read-and yet many of the titles on the list are multiple volumes, so it all evens out.
She's had some pleasant surprises along the way such as Catch-22: "I was kind of dreading it, but as it turned out, it was hilarious. From Here to Eternity was the same way. All I knew was the beach scene in the movie with Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster, and that was a really complex story."
Along the way, she's noticed some common strands in the novels she's read. "There's a lot about the disruption of the working man rising up and a sort of loss of the individual. Society is becoming less stratified as time is passing but it also seems that the individual is being subsumed by society and we're becoming cogs in a machine. So kind of the Aldous Huxley and Kurt Vonnegut view of how much of life isn't ours anymore."
There have been some side trips. "I read lots of other stuff, especially if I was going out town with my kids and family. I didn't need to put myself through some awful exercise. I ended up reading pretty much everything (Kurt) Vonnegut wrote. And Philip Roth was the same way-I really liked Portnoy's Complaint and ended up reading tons of stuff by him."
Keller-Ash enthusiastically reports that she took out most of the books from the Seattle University library. The rest she already owned or borrowed from the public library. She does most of her reading over lunch, preferably near the chapel's reflecting pool if the weather cooperates.
Keller-Ash joined SU five years ago, first working in the Provost's Office in Faculty Services before moving over to the Budget Office in 2009. In her current role, the San Francisco native tracks budgets and helps people across campus manage and understand their budgets so they can make better financial decisions.
She is very much in tune with SU's values. "I grew up Catholic--I'm not a practicing Catholic anymore--but my dad was Jesuit-educated, my sister was Jesuit-educated. After I had my kids and I knew I had to go back to work, I wanted to do something that I felt was making a difference. It's really important to me that I'm able to do something every day that in some small way is adding to educating leaders for a just and humane world."
So what's next-what will Keller-Ash read when she finishes the Modern Library list? "Some of the novels I've read mentioned Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, which seems really difficult and awful. I might read that. There's a competing list to the Modern Library list, the Radcliffe List, so I've looked at that and thought about tackling it."