I’ve been reading lists – mostly The Guardians list of 1000 books you must read, and a glance at ‘A 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’. The Guardian list is marginally less annoying seeing as it has the good manners not to adopt the slightly sinister intimations of mortality that the 1001 things series implies, but still these lists annoy the hell out of me (which doesn’t stop me reading them).
A list of ten books to read before I might reasonably expect to shuffle off this mortal coil I could get behind, a hundred I would contemplate, but a thousand? I’m afraid not – realistically that’s twenty five or more years of prescribed reading at my current rate of progress (some of those books are long) and never mind all the books not on the list I want to read. Really though it’s the Must in the title that I object to. Who says I must? Reading some, many, or all of the listed books would probably make me better informed, broader minded, sleepy, and insufferably smug; I’m doubtful about how much of a bonus that would be.
The Guardian list is interesting (I feel I should confess that I found it in someone else’s blog, and now I can’t remember whose it was which is no end frustrating –if anyone can tell me please do). As far as these things go I think it’s a good list – this is based entirely on the percentage of books on it that I own/have read. I should also say that it’s only a fiction list – which is making me wonder should there be an accompanying list of 1000 nonfiction books which must be read, and just how much time do these people think we have?
Of course the list of 2000 books you must read before you give in and build a little hut out of them from within which you can shout abuse at any passing list makers doesn’t really have a ring to it, so which books do you cut to get back to 1000 books to read before it’s too late and the world ends because you couldn’t read fast enough? And what value does that give these lists? And what about the new books that come along whilst your reading through the first list that are so good they should be on the list? If a new list is written which books get knocked off?
Okay so I’m probably being a little bit literal minded about this but I do find these things mystifying as well as infuriating. Anyone who’s likely to peruse any or many of the excellent books listed is, in my opinion, more than capable of choosing their own reading. Looking at The Guardian I counted up 157 books that I owned; 94 of which I’ve read, 18 more started and abandoned, and 45 left waiting to be picked up. Apart from a slight feeling of inadequacy over having clearly read so little considered of worth over the years I’m wondering why out of all the Georgette Heyers to choose from ‘Regency Buck’ made the grade (‘The Infamous Army’ is on there too which makes more sense). I love a Georgette Heyer as much (probably more in most rooms) as the next person but of all of them it wouldn’t be ‘Regency Buck’ I recommended first or that I grabbed if I thought I was about to be marooned on a desert Island.
If I have a point it’s this; apart from being fun to compile what are these lists for, what do they say about us, and do we even seriously aspire to them? Oh and why do I get so worked up about these things – anyone with an answer to that will probably have the undying gratitude of the Scottish one. Something for me to think about whilst not reading James Joyce...