I am a very, very sad book snob.
That’s what I realized when I opened 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, edited (or, perhaps more accurately, curated) by Peter Boxall. This book comprises a chronological list of novels, all of which are purportedly unavailable in the afterlife and therefore must-reads on this astral plane. I could embark on a complicated critique, but I’m trying to watch the Jets-Patriots game while I blog, so here’s a pro-con list instead:
- Includes a bunch of books that I have been meaning to read for, like forever, as well as a bunch of books I’ve never heard of (obscurity = +5 hipster points)
- Includes an impressive amount of books written by female authors, challenging the traditional male canon of capital-gee, capital-el Great Literature.
- Includes 45 works I’ve already read.
- Some weird omissions (most notably, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are strangely absent, and a friend got quite offended at the absence of Beowulf.)
- The up-to-the-minute newness of the final books (the last book recommended is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go [circa 2005], while 1001 Books itself is ©2006). Granted, haven’t read the book, but one wonders whether these more recent books will necessarily stand the same test of time his earlier ones had. And …
- it includes 45 books I’ve already read. Upon reflection, that’s … 4.5%, which is less than impressive. Good going, me!
Despite these cons, Boxall’s list looks like a great way of brushing up on all those classics that fall through the cracks of your bookshelf as well as noticing the lesser-known older novels that contributed to the genre. The reviews, contributed by 100+ book critics, are compelling snapshots of the novels.
It is unlikely that I will ever complete this list. However, if I’m going to make a New Year’s Resolution it is damn well going to be an impossible and pointlessly ambitious one. But, on the pro side, even if I read at the unlikely pace of 1 book per week, it will take me over eighteen years to read the 95.5% of the novels I haven’t read. Count ’em, that’s 18 years that I don’t have to make a new New Year’s Resolution. So really, it’s a labor-saving device.