Friday, October 20, 2006

1001 books

So there's a new list of 1001 books you must read before you die. I downloaded the list, and started reading through it, ticking off titles I've read.

Then I realised that reading isn't a competitive sport. I remembered that half the books I've been told I 'must' read have left me cold. Half the big phenomenon books don't live up to the hype - I don't know that many books could live up to the ecstatic, foam-at-the-mouth ravings you find on the back covers.

And also - reading takes a varied, forking, tangential path. I don't think I like the idea of moving steadily through a list, nodding along with every other reader in the Western world, accepting the 'greats' and discarding all the other oblique, strange, off-list books that never make it for some reason. What about the 'withdrawn' library books that have never been borrowed but turn out to be phenomenal, unpopular revelations? I think all we can do is write our own lists.

Sod the official list. Here's mine, in no particular order, of some books I've loved and loved:

The Saddest Pleasure, by Moritz Thomsen
Living's the Strange Thing, by Carmen Martin Gaite
Snow is Silent, by Benjamin Prado
Chekhov's shorts
A confederate general from big sur - Richard Brautigan
Toward the end of time - John Updike
Norwegian wood - Haruki Murakami
The Unbearable lightness of being - Milan Kundera
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Old man and the Sea - Hemingway
Unless - Carol Shields
Living Dead girl - tod goldberg
Enormous changes at the last minute - Grace Paley
Things you should know - AM Homes
My life in heavy metal - Steve Almond
Janet Evanovich's Plum books


....at which point I give up and wander off to read something new, lists losing interest after a few minutes or so.

4 comments:

kristina lloyd said...

Nice list. At the risk of straying too far off-message so early in the game, have you read Geoff Dyer's The Colour of Memory? It's set in 80s Brixton (ie Thatcherite Britain at its finest). Not a pretty place but the book's full of poetry, wit and warmth. I think it's stunning. You might like it.

(I know, I know, your pile of 'Books I Want to Read' is taller that Rapunzel's tower but, hey, that's not a bad problem to have. I also have it but then I plan on living forever.)

Nikki said...

Hi Kristina, nice to see you here!

Not read Dyer at all - I shall look it out, thanks.

And the Books I Want to Read list has plenty space for more titles...

Tod Goldberg said...

That's some pretty nice company! Thanks for making my day.

Nikki said...

Tod Goldberg? No way! Imagine you write a list of your favourite books and then the authors get in touch to say thanks?!

(I'm not holding out for a note from Chekhov, though.)

Cheers Tod - I really did love that book. It was so much more than a murder mystery.