Saturday, November 26, 2011

1001 Books and me

I'm sure everyone's seen this list, the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die thing. I saw this rendition on Miscellaneous Mum and A Permanent Flux when archive-hopping yesterday evening in a vague attempt at either inspiring myself to keep on writing on my Nanowrimo book, or at least pleasantly procrastinating some time away until it became obvious that no more writing could take place.

I copied and pasted it into Notepad, thinking I might go back to it later, but actually I find myself drawn to have a look today. I flicked my eye through the list to discover that I've read 147 of them, with a heavy emphasis on 19th century female authors (the Eyres and Austens account for over 10) and on texts I was set in high school (the Tolstoys, James, Hardy, Dickens et al all came from there). The books on the list that I've read just from sheer affection and delight are mostly modern women writers, and genre fiction (crime and sci fi / fantasy). I recently read the three Jules Verne entries for the first time and really enjoyed them all, and I have a bit of a taste for both Latin American and spy fiction, as evidenced by the Allende & Marquez and Flemming & Le Carre entries.

147 seems like a lot, and I suppose it is really, but if you included in the count the books I've started but not finished, because I found them dull, too difficult, unpalatable in some way, it'd be closer to 250, maybe more. Frankly, the three goes I've had at Ulysses are enough for any one lifetime, and unAustralian as this may make me, I cannot STAND Peter Carey's prose (I've tried, I really have, but I haven't been able to finish a single book of his. And the one I liked best and got the furthest with, The True History of the Kelly Gang, isn't even on the list!)

I'm sure people could argue until the cows come home as to what books 'belong' on such a list, what the near-exclusion of certain kinds and genres of books says about the listmaker's biases, and why some exceedingly popular and highly-regarded authors don't appear at all while others have just about everything they ever published included. I was frankly astounded to find just one Agatha Christie book on the list, and, in fact, the entire Golden Age of crime fiction represented by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and two titles of Dorothy Sayers', and not even her best two titles at that. And where is Ray Bradbury? Ursula LeGuin? CS Lewis, for goodness' sake?

Anyway ...

I'm not going to make it my mission to chew through the 1001 list, but I might use it as a prompt to step outside my comfort zone every now and then and try something that other people have loved over time.

I won't reproduce the whole 1001 here, it'd be painfully long - check out Karen or Amanda's pages if you're interested. But anyway, for what it is (or isn't) worth, here's the list of the 147 I've read. In my opinion only, the best 10 of the lot of them are: Possession (AS Byatt); I, Robot (Isaac Asimov); Beloved (Toni Morrison); Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte); The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Attwood); A Secret History (Donna Tartt); The Hitchhinker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams); The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien); In Cold Blood (Truman Capote); and Smilla's Sense of Snow (Peter Hoeg). Likewise, the worst five (again, YMMV) are the tedious Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the incomprehensible Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the horrifically wordy A Tale of Two Cities, the massive and depressing War and Peace, and The Mill on the Floss, a book which I cannot comprehend the attraction of, even now (and certainly not as a 14 year old being force-fed it under threat of exam).

What I've read
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
Dead Air – Iain Banks
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
Veronika Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker
The Crow Road – Iain Banks
Jazz – Toni Morrison
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Smilla’s Sense of Snow – Peter Høeg
Wild Swans – Jung Chang
Possession – A.S. Byatt
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams
The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Perfume – Patrick Süskind
Neuromancer – William Gibson
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera
Smiley’s People – John Le Carré
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
The Virgin in the Garden – A.S. Byatt
Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison
Interview With the Vampire – Anne Rice
Autumn of the Patriarch – Gabriel García Márquez
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum – Heinrich Böll
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John Le Carré
Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The Book of Daniel – E.L. Doctorow
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
The Magus – John Fowles
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
The Once and Future King – T.H. White
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
The Talented Mr. Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
The Quiet American – Graham Greene
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
Foundation – Isaac Asimov
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Cannery Row – John Steinbeck
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Outsider – Albert Camus
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
The Nine Tailors – Dorothy L. Sayers
The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy L. Sayers
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
Orlando – Virginia Woolf
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
Howards End – E.M. Forster
A Room With a View – E.M. Forster
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson
King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There – Lewis Carroll
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Water-Babies – Charles Kingsley
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
The Purloined Letter – Edgar Allan Poe
The Pit and the Pendulum – Edgar Allan Poe
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Emma – Jane Austen
Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
The Thousand and One Nights – Anonymous

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 26 down, 4 to go!


  1. I'm late checking in! If I counted up all those I've read and started and not finished, I don't think I'd match your number. I'm really going to try to 'up my stats' as it were. My problem is sourcing them some of the time, as many have gone out of print and aren't available on kindle. Like you, I'm pretty 19thC heavy :)

    And I hated Captain Corelli's Mandolin too ;)

  2. I read it to the end in the (vain) hope that it would improve, but it SO did not!

    I think I only score highly because of the bulging of particular writers whom I happen to like - such as AS Byatt, Jeanette Winterson and Margaret Attwood. Because I like them & have read several books of each AND everything they've written is on the list, it bulks me up.

    Also studied American history for years and things like Last of the Mohicans, the Tom Wolfe books, Catcher in the Rye etc came in there!