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)