Friday, May 23, 2008

Library Fodder- 1001 Books

I'm sort of at an impasse on my reading list. The list hasn't disappeared, but sometimes my interest has waned. Like my Netflix queue, my public library wait list can get a little stale. So the great NY Times review Volumes to go Before You Die came just in the nick of time.

It's not the book, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, so much as The List.

The book is British. Of course. The British love literary lists and the fights they provoke, so much so that they divide candidates for the Man Booker Prize into shortlist books and longlist books. In this instance Peter Boxall, who teaches English at Sussex University, asked 105 critics, editors and academics — mostly obscure — to submit lists of great novels, from which he assembled his supposedly mandatory reading list of one thousand and one. Quintessence, the British publishers, later decided that “books” worked better than “novels” in the title.

Even without Milton or Shakespeare, Professor Boxall has come up with a lot of books. Assume, for the sake of argument, that a reasonably well-educated person will have read a third of them. (My own score, tallied after I made this estimate, was 303.) That leaves 698 titles. An ambitious reader might finish off one a month without disrupting a personal reading program already in place. That means he or she would cross the finish line in the year 2063. At that point, upon reaching the last page of title No. 1,001, “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro, death might come as a relief.

I haven't done a tally yet, though I suspect I'm more of a quarter to a third of the list through already (I've read Ian McEwan, but not eight of his novels). No matter, that leaves a good 700+ books to sift through and plug into the Brooklyn Public Library search page. I don't put much stake in the authority of these literary lists, but I do love finding new authors through them.

1 comment:

frugal zeitgeist said...

Aw, rats. I missed that article. I'll have to go digging around for it. Thanks for the heads up!