Thursday, October 19, 2006

BOOKS: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Have you seen this? Some brave, thick-skinned soul has compiled a list of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

Despite the fact that, like you, I'm appropriately skeptical of such lists, I'm also way too compulsive not to calculate my own tally. (Either 190 or 200 out of 1001. I lost track at one point, and there's no way I was starting over.)

I'll also confess to a few exciting moments when I'd count off five or six books in a row, causing the chorus that constantly plays background music in my head to swell with the refrain "I AM THE SMARTEST WOMAN ALIVE." Though... not really, or else I'd have made the list myself. But I'll be frank and tell you I'm never going to read James Joyce's Ulysses, and I've made my peace with that. And since he seems to be a mainstay of these grand lists, my listmaking fate is settled.

What the 1001 Books list does well is gather together some excellent titles (others, not so excellent: er, Memoirs of a Geisha?) to pad out my already bulbous to-read list. And I like that the list takes a few risks by including populist writers such as P.G. Wodehouse, Ann Rice, and John Irving. And I love that Ayn Rand's entire oeuvre is securely housed elsewhere. There are many lists that I'm sure Ms. Rand belongs on. This isn't one of them.

Also, I really love that this list makes me feel a lot better about myself after my recent revelations about my ignorance of contemporary fiction.

What the list does much less well is provide broad international representation. It was great to see Patrick White's Voss, but where is Keri Hulme's The Bone People? And of course Margaret Atwood belongs on the list, but yoohoo? Whither Alice Munro?

Dang. I'd forgotten how much I love picking apart a list. I've got to go back for another look.

(Link via the always-erudite Karen at Verbatim)

28 comments:

sam said...

I only seem to have 61 books from the list, which made me feel particularly pathetic, but there are at least five in the pile of "plan to read soon" and about another five in the pile of "tried to read and clearly will never finish" (infinite jest? lord of the rings?).

It's a good think I had a brief Thomas Pynchon obsession at the end of college, otherwise my list would be even shorter. I guess I spent too much time reading Stephen King when I was younger and clearly not enough Melville, Joyce and Greene.

Anonymous said...

Lists like this always make me feel inadequate. On the one hand I loved books like Saturday and Memoirs of a Geisha but on the other hand I've started and couldn't get through many books others have raved about such as Sophie's World, Name of the Rose and The Age of Innocence.

I think lists like these are nice ideas but ultimately it comes down to the fact that it shouldn't matter what people read as long as they are reading *something*.

Also, I didn't notice any graphic novels on the list - Persepolis was fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Oops, Sophie's World isn't even on this list - must have been a different one.

Michael Bevel: British Adventuress said...

I don't like the list -- especially the "pre-1700s," "1700s," and "1800s" section. A lot of those aren't necessarily "must reads" but instead sound more like, "Hey, I recognize that book from some Freshman lit class."

For instance, "A Modest Proposal" isn't a book, it's a pamphlet. Daniel Dafoe is over represented. And while I thought The Monk was insanely trashy fun (incest and a bleeding nun? Are you kidding me?), I wouldn't put it on a "must-read" list -- especially since the far better Mysteries of Udolpho is already there.

And Tristram Shandy is simply not readable.

I also would not put Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. on the list, especially since Trollope's Phineas Finn is a better book and cover's the same ground. And I'd replace He Knew He Was Right with Can You Forgive Her?.

And any list that has Life of Pi, Ian McEwan, and Middlesex is dead to me. DEAD.

anna said...

Woohoo! I was SURE I would feel inadequate. Okay, I only had 48 (also, I might have skipped 5 at one point, by accidentally reading the number on the side instead). But still! That's 5%! Nearly!

I think lists like this should have alternatives: score one if you've read 'God Bless You, Mr Rosewater' but if you've read two others of Vonnegut not on the list, you may also score.

And I didn't do my sometimes-trick of counting the books I planned to read. I read at least 15 of those for my history degree though. Weird!

piksea said...

I've only read 83 of the books, but have gladly finished Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow which are both killers. I keep pulling this book out and using it to chart progress and make decisions about near future reading.

I do love this book.

Anonymous said...

64- But some i read in their original French. It's an odd list with some French novels, but hardly a truly bilingual list.
Courtney - The Watchmen (Moore & Gibsons) is a graphic novel that made the list, and an excellent one at that.

Rabrab said...

75 for me, with another 3 or 4 that I tried (honestly, I tried, I really did!) to read, and almost a dozen that I started and then threw behind the couch within the first 25 pages. Unfortunately, roughly a third of that 75 were in English Class in high school, when one by an author would be assigned; I'd find it curiously unsatifying for a so-called classic; and read two or three more to try to figure what was so great about the author (Hesse (3) and Bronte (2) both fall into this category. So does Vonnegut (4).)

quirkybook said...

I think this is a list of every single literary novel or story that this person has ever read. I can't see any other rhyme or reason to the choices -- TWO Zadie Smith novels? Every published novel by the Bronte sisters? All the Jane Austens that have been made into movies? Yeah, this looks like someone's personal library to me, and not necessarily a principled compilation.

Bethness said...

Around 90 for me, and this is wildly slanted towards 20th century novels. Whither the drama? The poetry? Was there seriously no Homer on there? No Sophocles? If I should read Zadie Smith, listmaker should read The Iliad and Leaves of Grass.

Also, a number of those items ("The Fox" "The Yellow Wallpaper" "The Pit and the Pendulum") are short stories, not books in and of themselves, so I felt like a great big cheater for counting them.

Uli said...

Whatever the genesis of the list, they are always fun to pull apart. 137 for me, with 9 purchased and in the to-be-read pile, 1 currently being read, and a bunch that I started and never continued with and so didn’t count (hello, Lord of the Rings).

But, like Doppelganger, I will never tick Ulysses off any of these lists – I was even known to select college classes around avoiding that book based on previous Joyce experiences – and so will never be complete, whatever the criteria. Hey, maybe we should make our own “must read” list which leaves off that tome…

Kaitlin said...

(to Courtney)

the Watchman appears on the list, although it seems to be the only graphic novel that did.

Cath said...

Thanks....I feel truly inadequate. Only seemed to score 49, and I am ALWAYS reading - what have I been wasting my time on all these years!

Mags said...

I'm sorry, but remembering The Picture of Dorian Grey does not excuse the overabundance of Edith Wharton. I may be alone, but I could not hate Ethan Frome more if he punched my mother. And to leave Shakespeare off completely? Seriously? And The Shining but not The Stand? No, just no.

Is everything by Hemingway on that list? I don't hate him (unlike Wharton, where it's become personal) but I started The Old Man and the Sea around 1992 and it still puts me to sleep every time I think of it.

Brian Sibley said...

I'm not even going to START trying to count...

Anyway, how do we KNOW the person who compiled this list has READ them????

Does he/she answer in-depth questions on these books by e-mail? If so, I'm game to test she/he on one or two those titles! Let's see how much he/she REALLY KNOWS!!!!!!

Kamala said...

Okay. I have 27 (maybe 29, because I can't count), but I'm only 17, so I don't think that's too bad. Especially considering that there are about thirty books on that list which I've started but never finished. I got Sons and Lovers for my birthday last year and I've been "reading" it ever since. I've started Madame Bovary thrice. And don't get me started on The Grapes of Wrath...even though it won the Pulitzer or whatever, I consider it Steinbeck's worst book. I've started it a total of 10 times and never got past the first chapter. That being said, I'm I went through a Steinbeck phase last year and read all his other books, 'cause otherwise my tiny-ass list would be a lot shorter.

Diablevert said...

118, by my count. But that's with 6 half-books -- I lost my copy of Drop City when I was halfway through it, keep meaning to pick it up -- but the rest were ones I started and could not bring myself to finish.

Seriously, I would not have believed it possible for a single list like this to contain so many books I've both read and disliked. Of the 118, I'd say about 30-40 were books I remember fondly. Which I probably lowered my score, I think --- I mean, having trudged through Midnight's Children, it's pretty slim odds I'll ever pick up the 5 or 6 other Rushdie books on this list. Fie upon it, I say.

Marissa said...

As far as I know, this list was published in a glossy, very thick book, with articles on each of the chosen books.
The fact that one originally Afrikaans book (Islands by Dan Sleigh) is on the list, got the list quite a bit of publicity in the Afrikaans press. But it was criticised for the fact that it was centred towards English-language literature.

jagosaurus said...

I'm sad to say that as long as people are reading, I don't care if it is a much aluded book on a must read list or not.

I think this is because there are vast swaths of my family who have never read a book voluntarily.

Anonymous said...

101 for me. And a few that I began, couldn't stand, and gave up on. (Out of the ones I read, there were some I couldn't stand that were school assignments - the one I remember loathing the most was Waterland.)

And yes, where are the plays? How can this list omit Shakespeare? And how about Shaw? Tennessee Williams? How about August Wilson and Tom Stoppard?

-Genevieve

anna said...

Holy crap, Doppelganger, BRIAN SIBLEY is reading your blog! I sell his books!

oathbreaker said...

Quite frankly, I am aghast that Louise Erdrich's LOVE MEDICINE is not on the list considering that Mario Puzo's GODFATHER is.

Kathy said...

I've read between 80 and 90 of them, with another twenty or so I actually own, but are still sitting on the shelves unread (Thomas Pynchon anyone?). It's a pretty fair list. I was pleased to see Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School there, but too many writers were overrepresented, especially Paul Auster and Don Delillo.

Courtney--I wish some graphic novels had made the list, too. I loved Persepolis and Craig Thompson's Blankets.

poodlesue said...

for every literature class I have taken I asked the prof for their list of "must reads". best I've read from these lists "Winesberg Ohio"

Hilda said...

Ah...what Joyce's "Ulysses" is to you, Garcia Marquez's "100 Years of Solitude" is to me.

I know, I knows - anathema! Particualrly being Hispanic, but I'm sorry I just can't get through that book. I've tried in Spanish, I've tried in English, I've tried in English *with* the Cliff Notes - it's just not gonna happen.

I really like your blog - I hope you don't mind if I list it on mine...

Anonymous said...

I have the book at home, in my bathroom and often page through it wondering why so many books i don't like are on it! Then again it does have Day of the Triffids - one of my all time favourite sci fi...I think I also noticed that shakespeare didn't get on but all the Jane Austens didn't mystifying!

Arukiyomi said...

To help you with the 1001 book list, Arukiyomi has created a spreadsheet for you which you can download via the blog at

http://johnandsheena.co.uk/books

happy reading

G_Girl said...

Although I'm only 14, I'm in a top set of English at a grammar school, and I've loved reading since I was tiny. I find it unbelievable that Shakespeare isn't even on there, and how can Harry Potter not be mentioned when Lord of the Rings (a book I found so dull I literally fell asleep) makes it?