Preface Author: Jennifer Byrne
General Editor: Peter Boxall
Publisher: ABC Books
Date published: 2006
I owe a lot to ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’. When I received this book as a gift it opened up a whole new world for me. It has given me 1001 options just to begin with. It has also restored my faith in the pleasure of reading as I have been exposed to brilliant novels such as George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and T.H White’s ‘The Once and Future King’. I have read through the selection once and am going back through to attach post its to all the books I’m interested in reading (a labor of love).
Luckily, there isn’t very much stuffy preface – its right into the action. The layout is very effective and easy to read. Generally there are two columns for every page (each book usually gets one column). The images selected are often relevant and build on the description of the book. The books are in historical order and broken into sections (Pre-1700s right up to current) , which offers an interesting chronology of the development of the novel, what books meant in each age and what authors were pushing the boundaries on.
The book also offers a wide range of genres and writing style, though it has been said that it offers favoritism to western (particularly English and American) literature. I tend to agree with this.
What lets down this book is its elitist English faculty nature, the self importance of its contributors and what I call ‘Teacher Slang’. While some columns are helpful in giving a general overview of the selected book and the reasons why it has been given a place amongst the top 1001, other columns are nothing more than an exercise in elitist mumbo jumbo teacher slang and don’t seem to describe anything other than ‘vacuity’ and ‘paradigms’ and other random ‘smart words’ they can attach to the book.
Perhaps the greatest moment of utter bullshit elitist drivel was when in the preface Jennifer Byrne says ‘As this long list reminds us, the latest and hippest is not necessarily the best, and a dull cover may nurture a reader’s greatest joy. So its raspberries to J.K Rowling’. While I do agree with her sentiment that what is popular is not necessarily the best, I cannot agree with the other element of this statement – that books the ‘common people’ enjoy have no redeeming qualities in the eyes of those who really appreciate literature. It also makes me think that Jennifer Byrne is a tosser. I’m sure that many would agree that the Harry Potter series should definitely be within the top 1001.
‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ is a inspiration, a launch pad, a list – people have to remember that it is not an obligation. It will offer debate over what should have been included, what is, isn’t, why and what you would add. But most effectively, you will never have a ‘what the hell do I read next?’ moment, in fact the challenge is choosing what to read first.
♥♥♥♥ – 4/5