Sunday, January 18, 2009

Category 3, Book 1: Books about books - 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, edited by Peter Boxall (2006 edition)
999 Challenge Category: Books about Books/Reading/Writing

In his introduction, Peter Boxall writes about the difficulty of compiling such a finite list. As many books as it contains, it covers hundreds of years of fiction (and some nonfiction) writing, and could hardly cover all books you ought to read, ever. Of course, any such finite list could not possibly encompass all of the "great books" one could read, and the introduction makes clear that the compilers are aware of that impossibility. The chosen titles are organized chronologically by publication date. Each summary begins with the author's birth and death dates, the date of publication, and the publisher. Depending on the book and author, we are also told other information, such as the author's real name or an award the book won. Then, one of the 100 contributors summarizes and offers a bit of literary criticism in approximately 300 words.

Of the completed offering, the editor writes, "this book reflects a set of priorities that are shared by today's readers, a certain understanding of where the novel comes from, a particular kind of passion for reading" (9). This was an interesting way to read the list, as I kept reflecting on what each choice had to say about the world we live in now and the worldview of the contributors. Though I haven't read many on the list (56), and don't really want to read many more (approx. 71), I found it interesting reading all the same because of what it says about today's interpretation of "where the novel comes from, [and] a particular kind of passion for reading" (9). Especially in the largest section - the 20th century - many of the choices seem to question authority, religion, government, or push the boundaries of fiction itself. The editor also hesitates to say that this book should be read as any type of "canon"; in fact, many newer titles (approximately 100 pages of 949 cover the 1990s alone) are included. One thing I found extremely frustrating was the spoilers - many of the summaries summarized to the end of the book. So if you are planning on reading all the 1001 books, I recommend that you use the book mainly for reference and don't read the summary until after, so you don't get any spoilers for those titles you're not familiar with. 4 stars.

Cross posted at the 999 Challenge.

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