1001 books you must read before you die
Last week, I took a little departure from reality: I unplugged (to a certain extent), decompressed, and reorganized. It was a much needed break after an incredibly happening year for me and my little family. Lots of firsts which necessitated lots of changes, most, thankfully, for the better. As grateful as I was (still am) for them, I was understandably overwhelmed enough to seek a little respite so I could catch my breath. Overflowing is probably an adequate description of my cranial status at the time. I'm not quite sure that the break helped though... see exhibit A below.
Peripherally registering the tragic sinking of a cruise ship, the escalating (almost unbridled) expansion of the Department of Defense in its futile attempt to
Thoughts of one's own mortality are not usually undertaken with glee. Especially on one's birthday. So the sneaky way-- which Peter Boxall chose to arm-twist me to begin reading the literary masterpieces that he highlights and showcases -- aside (ah the pressure... what if I die halfway through the list, wouldn't that suck?), I reluctantly must confess that perhaps a little persuading was necessary in getting me to allot the requisite time to delve into this worthy exercise.
Okay, so there are some great books out there, most of which I have not read (and many of the ones I have were not read of my own volition, owing chiefly to the mandatory reading requirements of my thorough French education). Now what?
I don't want to die having missed out on the most impressive and groundbreaking literature of human mankind (okay, largely Western Civilization, if you want to get specific). Damn you Boxall, you hit a nerve!
Boxell's book is organized by eras, chronologically, starting with the pre-1700s, which features books such as Aesop's Fables, Ovid's Metamorphosis, and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's Don Quixote; and after proper due to the 1700s, the 1800s, and 1900s, ends in the 2000s, with Salman Rushdie's Fury, Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, and (the last entry) Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Left to my own devices, a head-first dive into another one of my (frequent) descents into madness is all but imminent.
Presenting, Exhibit A:
Do I read them chronologically?
Assuming that I give myself a good enough pace to tackle this massive undertaking in a relatively short time (short enough to finish it before my latent Alzheimer's develops into full-blown dementia), do I start at the beginning, with the pre-1700s books, you know, how they were written? There is something to be said about following the progress of the written word through the ages, appreciating man's steady progress to literary sophistication, right?
Do I read them in reverse chronological order?
Let's face it, old stuff is, well, old. Dated, archaic, no longer applicable. If the reasoning is that practice makes perfect, that man definitely got better through time, then why bother with the half-ass stuff, albeit the best of its contemporaries?
Establish some sort of pecking order then jump through the different eras in a rule-governed manner?
Why be tied to the old-to-new or new-to-old order? How about alternating? Say, pick one book from the pre-1700s, the next one from the 1700s, then, sequentially through the eras until current times? Or vice versa? So that I am not either stuck in the present or stuck in the past? I did warn you about the insanity, didn't I? You thought I was being facetious? Well, haha! the joke's on you!
Fuck rules and just randomly select the next reading material?
This might be a big problem for me: Every part of my being resists chucking methodical reasoning of a linear nature to replace it with the unknown. Perhaps I could have a random number generator choose page numbers (or book numbers) for me (of course that would entail entering the data one by one and don't think that I'm not OCD enough to do it!) I could maybe flip at random pages and just read whatever I land on? (that would be sort of cheating because I know that the book is in chronological order so I would more or less determine based on my flip which part I will read: too shallow and I'm go back in time to the "enlightened" ages, too deep and I get back to the present, see what I mean?)
Let practical matters decide?
I recently vowed to never again buy a printed book if it is available in digital version. My Kindle (or Kindle app on my iPad) is the best invention for de-cluttering my life that has EVER been invented, umm, so far that is (alongside my handy-dandy ScanSnap S1500, my trusty scanner, turner of my paperwork-junk into organized folders in my computer). Should I then just read whatever is available in eBook or Kindle format first then move on (maybe) to the available-only-in-printed format books? Even then, how do I decide which to read first? Price? Size? Alphabetical? (Argh!)
Fuck Peter Boxall, who is he anyway and what gives him the right to torture me with his evil book?
What gives him the credentials to authoritatively decide what is and isn't a worthy read? Can you really judge art objectively? And why 1001 books, how did he decide that that was the magical number? Was it a wink and a nod to Elf Layla wa Laylah (One Thousand and One Nights) featured on p.28? I just had an interesting conversation over the weekend with someone who introduced me to the work of the Italian psychiatrist Luigi Morelli, who questions the very idea of torment that we inflict upon ourselves in the name of musts and shoulds in our lives. Am I a slave to obligation of my own doing? Why must I care about these arguably arbitrarily-decided 1001 titles? 5 centuries of work, and only 1001 books made the cut, come on, does that even make sense?
As you can see, this can go on and on until grey matter starts oozing out through my scalp in utter protest.
Help me out will ya? Tell me, what would you do?
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Addendum: Since posting this, I was told about an excel spreadsheet, floating about on the interwebs, that lets you mark off the titles as you read them, giving you some interesting statistics (how many left, percentage read). Here's the addy http://johnandsheena.co.uk/books/?page_id=1806 for a free basic download, or more sophisticated versions, which require some payment.
In case you are interested in my stats, at first glance (owing to my deteriorating memory), I was able to ascertain only having read, for sure, 54 of the 1001 books, which puts me at 5.39% completion. Some of these books I have read back in the 6th grade (i.e. Les Trois Mousquetaires), and some I am not entirely sure if I have read the book or seen the movie. I'll post an update as soon as I get to the bottom of this.
If you care to share, I would be very curious as to what kind of stats you get...
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Addendum to the addendum: Denise was right, there are several editions to the book. And this download doesn't match mine. But since I've just decided that anything I have not read in this century shouldn't qualify, the point is moot...I'll be starting from scratch anyway. Stay tuned for updates!