Sunday, November 19, 2006

Does Watching Book Television Count?
So my pal Crissy sent me this link to a site where they talk about a book called The 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The author of the website has created a link where you can click to a spreadsheet of the complete list of books, and put ones beside the books you've actually read, and then when you reach the bottom, you'll see your total. So, I hunkered down, clicked on the link, and prepared myself for complete depression. The spreadsheet started with the newest book at the top, and went down to the oldest. By the time I hit #379, I emailed her back and said, "OK, officially depressed." I took 4 years of English literature for my undergrad, and then another year of intense reading for my Masters degree, which focused on the Modernists and the Victorians (I'm a big fan of the Modernists... the Victorians, not so much). Then I read a gajillion books while working on Finding Lost (ok, maybe only about 11, but STILL) and most of those were classics.

But the thing is, my true interest is in modern books. I love Canadian authors, and graphic novellists. I love Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Lethem. I thought The Corrections was one of the best books I've ever read, and I cried so hard during Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees that when I finished it, I started all over again.

Yet by the time I hit somewhere around 1940 on the list, going backwards from the 2000s, I had only racked up about 55. In the end, I scored 108. I killed in the Virginia Woolf and George Eliot sections, and was horrified to suddenly realize I've read one Margaret Atwood (ONE). This might be an admirable score to some, but to someone who spent as many years as I have being a "reader," it was measly. And I hated seeing that so many of the books I checked off were ones that I'd been told to read, not ones I'd chosen to read for myself.

Is the list fair? Well... the judges have a serious predilection for Woolf, Dickens (surprise), Ian McEwan (in fact, if you ever held a British passport and wrote a book that was nominated for something, you're probably on this list), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (OK, some of the guy's philosophies were interesting, and I'll admit I read Confessions in first-year university and felt like I was seeing things differently, but was the writing any good? Not really...), any Bronte, and, gulp, Atwood. But there are notable omissions: You're going to include Carol Shields' Unless, but NOT Timothy Findley's The Wars? I haven't actually read The Satanic Verses (though I do think Rushdie is one of the most brilliant writers alive today, if not THE most), but most people believe the book's controversy far outweighed the book's merits. And there isn't a single Gaiman on there.

But I can't really talk. I scored 108. That means there are (wait, subtract the 8... carry the one... and... um...) 893 books I have to read before I die. Aside from the ones I WANT to read that weren't on that list. And considering, with a toddler, I read about 10 books a year now, I have to live to be about 120, and hope that no more books are published for the next 90 years.

Anyway, go check it out, and post your scores here. I'm interested in what people are reading, what they thought of the list, and if, like me, they read it and were equally depressed and inspired to read more. (Corey, I'm dying to hear your score on this one.)

So if you suddenly see my posts turn from the television to literature, you can blame Peter Ackroyd for editing this book.


Anonymous said...

Credit must go to where I found the link to the list in the first place.

My score was a measly 85.5. (Yes, I gave myself a half point for a book half finished. I was desperate for points.)

leor said...

wow i was disappointed in my score...a paltry 27! although going by crissy's comment, i can probably at least double my score with half-books that i've read, and i probably missed a couple here and there.

i think every book written by don delillo was in there. and i thought there were many serious omissions. no jasper fforde? no james clavell?

Anonymous said...

Woo hoo, 35! S-M-R-T! Thank you Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams for giving me this much. But damn, only 3.5%. I've failed courses with higher scores than that. In my defence, I'd probably seen an equal amount of film versions, so that's gotta count for something, right?

Anonymous said...

Wheee! 135! But man that list is skewed. Thanks to my high school reading frenzy days and the Russian masters...

Anonymous said...

I propose

0.5 for books half read
0.25 for film adaptations seen
and 1.5 points for books finished that we really did not enjoy but had to read.

Nikki Stafford said...

I second that one, Crissy. In that case, my score is 384. hehehe

Corey said...

109. But the number goes up when you include the 'on my shelf waiting for me' list, and way up when we include film adaptations.

Boy, there's so much missing from the list. Where's The Corrections? Where's The Fortress of Solitude? And the Godfather? Sure it's influential, but does anything by Puzo belong on such a list?

But kudos to the unexpected. My favourite novel of all time, Stone Junction, is represented, as are follow-ups Henderson the Rain King, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Midwich Cuckolds, and The Long Goodbye.

And while it is an entirely subjective list, any list that includes Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Chandler, Jim Dodge, and Dashiell Hammett is a fine, fine thing.