While I had no idea of its existence, my first step towards the 1001 happened at the end of 2006. Incidentally the same year the first edition was published. Must have been something in the water. Anyway, at the end of 2006 I started tracking what I read, when I read it, and how long it was.
Step two was actually discovering the book 1001 Books to Read Before you Die. I actually have no idea when this happened. Based on the fact that I didn’t start actually using it until a number of years later, I guess I was initially pretty skeptic of the whole idea. Who did this book think they were, telling me what to read before I died?
The final step was acceptance and obsession(ish). In 2011 I graduated from university, moved back home, joined the underemployed, and had a quarter life crises of sorts. Part of this crises was an overwhelming feeling that despite all my years of education, I remained ignorant and uncultured. A lot of this boiled down to my own low opinion of my own reading habits. My TBR of “important” books was miles long and seemed overwhelming. I had to do something!
The reason I chose 1001 Books to Read Before You Die is because of the nature of the list itself. Because it is a list that follows the development of the novel, it had most of those books that any self-respecting bibliophile feels a need to read. It also had more obscure books that you don’t necessarily hear as much about outside of academia. Because yes, my ego longs to have a reason to be gargantuan apparently. I also just really like lists and statistics in general, so following the 1001 was just another natural step for me in that direction.
Obviously lists in general and this list specifically are not for everyone. But since I do like discussion/debate/argument I will briefly touch on the three main reasons that people say they dislike the list that I find silly.
The list is too long. Just because one is reading from the list does not mean that you have to actually read every single book on the list. The list was actually compiled by a number of different editors, many of whom I suspect have not read the entire list either. Perhaps 1001 Books That Represent The Development of the Novel would have been a better title, but controversy,challenge and over the top statements sell better.
I just read for fun. To which I reply, most of the books I’ve read on the list have also been fun. Yes, some of older books took a bit of getting used to. But after reading a couple of great examples of 18th and 19th century literature I found even some of the more difficult works enjoyable because I had context and understood where the book was coming from. In fact, reading these older works helps me enjoy modern works more because those are the books that inspire modern authors.
Who are they to say what I should read? I think it’s important to keep in mind that these books are not just one person’s opinion. These books simply are important, for all the reasons that people read novels in general. They teach us about different times and spaces. They inspire us to reconsider the statuesque. They Show us where we came from and where we might be headed. They entertain us. They teach us how to live.
That’s not to say the list is perfect. On the one hand I’m sure bias has lead to more then a few books being overlooked. But on the other, I know in more recent editions they have been working on becoming more international. So they are obviously trying to have take everything into consideration. My main complaint is that some author’s have a lot more books then others. I do think the list would be better if they chose only one book per author, maybe two.
So, in the couple of years since I really started paying attention to the list, while I have yet to break even 100 read, I do feel like I’ve had a lot of positive results. First off, I do feel more accomplished and don’t feel so bad about my reading choices -even if not all my reading adheres to the 1001 list. And not only do I feel better, I understand better. Reading from the 1001 lead me to reading more classics, and now I understand literature better because I have more of a context to put them in.
And that is why I like the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list.