Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reeled in by another list!

Has anyone else been watching the "1,000 novels you must read" lists that The Guardian (a UK newspaper) has been publishing? They have divided their books into seven rather odd categories:

Comedy, Crime, Family and Self, Love, Science Fiction and Fantasy, State of the Nation, and finally, War and Travel.

Their placing of various books into the different categories seems a bit strange at times, and I am not the only one who thinks so. However, the irresistible lure of the list compelled me to read through all the lists, and tally up where I stand.

Before I reveal those numbers, however, I wanted to weigh in with my feelings about lists like this. I consider them a sort of measuring stick against which I don't mind measuring my reading, simply because it says something about my reading list in comparison with what others think are worthwhile books. However, I am rather amazed at the audacity of a list 1,000 books long. Let's say you average reading one book per week (and some of the choices on this list could scarcely be finished in a week), so about 50 books per year. That's a low number for some, but far above the average. At that rate, it would take 20 years to read through all the books on that list as it stands.

Twenty years of compulsory reading, without any room for newly-published works of fiction unless you read MORE than one book per week. Twenty years without time to delve into the complete oeuvre of authors like Jostein Gaarder (an author who didn't make the list) or John Grisham (who did), just because you especially enjoy them. Twenty years with no room in the schedule for those delicious rereads of old favorites. Twenty years, by the way, of novels alone, with no time for non-fiction, biographies, poetry, short-stories, or how-to books. Twenty years of assigned reading, even if you hate the book?

I don't think so. In fact, I would boldly make the claim that none of the Guardian staff, nor any of the contributors to this list, have read all the books on it. I'd almost bet money that none of them have read half.

So where did I stand? I'm giving myself credit for 110, since one of the books is a current read and I'm over halfway through. I have read 11% of the list. Rather than the total number, I was more interested to see how my reading broke down by category. I was pleased to learn that I have read books from all seven categories, with the highest number falling (to my very great surprise) in the Science Fiction and Fantasy category (26 books) and the lowest in Comedy (only 6). Please don't tell my family these statistics--they already think I have no sense of humor. (And the Guardian's idea of Comedy is a little strange, anyway.) I've read 20 of the books on the Crime list, and the rest of the categories fell somewhere in the middle, between 12-18 books each.

Also interesting for me was keeping track of the books on the list that are already on my radar and on my (not at all offical) "to be read" list. I had at least one or two books from each category (even Comedy!) that I hope to read in the not-to-distant future. I feel so well balanced.

But this is the best part--and the reason I enjoy lists like this, and don't really care how long they make them (since I feel no guilt over the 89% I haven't read, and probably never will)--I discovered several intriguing new books that I want to read, and either added them to my online wishlist or downloaded the free etext or bookmarked the online audiobook. THAT'S what lists like this are good for.

If you've looked over the list and gleaned some good titles, or criticized their choices, or questioned the categories, or counted how many you've read, please leave a comment or link. I'd like to hear!


At 8:42 PM , Blogger hopeinbrazil said...

Wonderful comments! I never even glance at the 1001 lists because there is way too much modern stuff that doesn't appeal to me. But I regularly peruse book lists with one hundred titles. I need to be reminded of good books that are out there without being overwhelmed.

At 3:13 AM , Blogger Pour of Tor said...

Ah yes! I recently happened upon this list too and blogged about it. I always feel that these lists are a sort of bibliophile's memento mori...


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