1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die


Preface Author: Jennifer Byrne

General Editor: Peter Boxall

Publisher: ABC Books

Date published: 2006

Pages: 960

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

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3 Responses to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

  1. lucidlunatic says:

    While I agree to some extent with your notion that what is popular among most people has merit, I probably land a little closer to the author in the agree/disagree spectrum (once things were simple; black and white, you either agreed or disagreed with a statement- then they invented grayscale).

    My theory about popular books such as Harry Potter or Twilight is that their wide appeal adds a multiplying (or perhaps exponential) factor. If everyone lived in an isolated bubble with no contact between themselves and other readers, the majority would like these books, and a select few might love them. But start connecting the dots (bubbles) and you see each individual’s reaction increase as they discover they are not alone. This is the phenomenon which causes huge segments of the population to wish they had glittery boyfriends or Golden Snitch keychains.

    Yet despite mass appeal, it is quite possible for such books to not be incredibly good. Let’s visit bubble world again and use that sample pool to create a graph in two variables. On the X-axis we have the people who read a book. Not the number of people, mind you, but the people. On the Y-axis we have how much each one liked it. For the sake of organization we’ll put all the people who liked the book the most closest to the Y-axis itself (working only in the 1st quadrant). Thus for a book such as Harry Potter which has a wide fan base we will see, well, what looks like a low, squat building stretching almost all the way across the graph with a smoke stack or two on the leftmost side. Now, take a niche book, or a classic such as Moby Dick. You’ll find yourself with a skyscraper on the Y-axis with a sudden drop off which goes below the height of Harry Potter’s low, squat building.

  2. goldnsilver says:

    I find your bubble theory very interesting and a great explanation of the strange wildfire reaction that makes something go from unheard of to a household word. Also, your graph should be drawn out and showed to people!

    I do believe that a great deal of popular things are quite, to put it bluntly, shit. I think this is because the average person turns to books/TV for light enjoyment and doesn’t have very much requirements or a critical mind. I’ll use my friend as an example:

    She watches an Australian TV show called ‘Mcleods Daughters’. It is poorly written and acted. But all she needs is a light love story and a little drama and she is hooked. She is addicted to something which is basically crap because it ticks the little boxes.

    So I understand why ‘smart’ people get an attitude against popular things, because the majority of popular things are very shit.

    What I was fighting against in my review is the attitude of taking this a step further into elitism – that everything popular must by default be nothing more than the result of small minds banding together.

    I think that sometimes elitists forget that a book is more than the sum of its parts, more than the writing techniques. I think the hardest thing for any writer is to create characters that people absolutely love (such as out of Harry Potter). Sometimes a book being popular is a result of it genuinly connecting with people. I think this quality should be included in the top 1000 credentials. Though I guess the line has to be drawn somewhere.

  3. Pingback: Theory on Fandom Phenomena « Lucid Lunacy

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