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29 December 2006

Wyndham Lewis ? 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
edited by Peter Boxall
Cassell £20, pp960

On one of these blogs that exist with just one post on them . . the ephemeral sort that draw me back to see if the author has returned after abandoning his or her initial web posting . . I discovered an unlinked, unattributed list of books that are must-reads.

Browsing, I found the source and a pertinent review of the list (from last winter) on the Guardian site:

Sunday February 26, 2006
The Observer

1001 Books and surveys of its kind exist to remind us of what we have known and half-forgotten, what we are vaguely aware of but have never quite fully apprehended and what we have never even heard of.

. . .

Part of the snobbish parlour-game appeal of compendiums such as these lies in spotting the omissions, but, in all truth, why would anyone want to read - or read

about - no fewer than 11 books by JM Coetzee and seven by Wyndham Lewis, and yet forgo making the acquaintance of Rose Macaulay, Rosamond Lehmann, Olivia Manning, Rex Warner, Elizabeth Taylor, AL Barker or Ivy Compton-Burnett?

The review makes a passing mention of 'Man Without Qualities' (1933) by Robert Musil, calling his book an ' exhaustingly cerebral novel . . . '

Regarding the Musil book (and many others listed in my opinion) Guardian review states:

Bearing in mind the death sentence hanging over our

heads, we might balk at spending precious time reading

2,000 plotless pages.

My own (Blogaulaire's) scanning of the 1001 books listed revealed some huge gaps in my reading, especially for authors published within the past half century:

177. Vertigo - W.G. Sebald
178. Stone Junction - Jim Dodge
179. The Music of Chance - Paul Auster
180. The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
181. A Home at the End of the World - Michael Cunningham
182. Like Life - Lorrie Moore
183. Possession - A.S. Byatt
184. The Buddha of Suburbia - Hanif Kureishi
185. The Midnight Examiner - William Kotzwinkle
186. A Disaffection - James Kelman
187. Sexing the Cherry - Jeanette Winterson
188. Moon Palace - Paul Auster
. . .
212. The Afternoon of a Writer - Peter Handke
213. The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy
214. The Passion - Jeanette Winterson
215. The Pigeon - Patrick Süskind
216. The Child in Time - Ian McEwan
217. Cigarettes - Harry Mathews

Click THIS LINK to see the entire 1001.

This blog you are on is 'Cheap Priceless Editions' and, in keeping with the name, there is a search box at the top of every page that lets readers search for secondhand books across nearly a dozen vendor sites for used books. But that is not the way I would go to 'discover' the authors I do not yet know.

What I will do, if I ever decide to read the ones I've ignored so far (before I die) is to look for these books in brick 'n' mortar bookstores (before USED BOOK BOOKSTORES die and disappear).

By my calculation, to fill a few gaping holes in my reading list, I need to make up a spending budget.

Knowing in advance that some of the books I have not read nor heard of are unavailable at local used bookstores, I am facing either the cost of shipping and handling plus purchase price OR many, many trips to my local and our provincial library collections. Even at that, I keep staring at unread authors and titles (especially specific titles) that will probably have ticket prices high enough to break even a $2,000 budget . . with a mere dozen books. (Maybe, I hope, I'm being overly pessimistic.)

The problem lies in finding the precise title, not just any title, by a given author.

Of course I can quibble with the list. But if I have enjoyed one or two books by an author yet have ignored the title on the list, how can I claim that it is not far and away a better pick than the title I've been lucky enough to find and to have read?

I give up. Screw the list. I'm back to catch-as-catch-can for my fiction reading.

The review in The Observer Magazine (a Guardian tip-in publication) concluded with its own pared-down list:

10 heavyweight must-reads

Clarissa Samuel Richardson
War and Peace Leo Tolstoy
Ulysses James Joyce
USA John Dos Passos
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes
The Unconsoled Kazuo Ishiguro
Bleak House Charles Dickens
Middlemarch George Eliot
A la recherche du temps perdu Marcel Proust
The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoevsky

I still cannot decide whether my reading glass is half full or half empty. Damn these reading lists . . and the reviewers tauting every new title as if it tops all of the 1001 by every measure.

(Does it strike you reading this that the unique female author listed used a masculine pen name or that the British rate three books while Americans and the rest of Western Europe come it at but one? And then what about Canada, Australia, Africa?)

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