"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Man Who Read Too Much

I've been asked about my reading OCD and how I choose what to read. In every generation, there's someone who tries to make a list. Here's a list list and book review book review!

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006)

Tries to follow the development of the novel, so it leaves out authors like Shakespeare, who you'd expect on any must-read list. It also is heavy on authors known for an innovative style and always chooses the most obscure work by an author (I'm a Beckett-ophile and never heard of "Worstward Ho"). It's extremely weighted toward recent novels, 69 of them between 2000 and 2006, and some authors (not everything by Ian McEwan and Iain Sinclair is worth reading!). The biggest surprise is that it intentionally ignores classics: no Austen, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy or Trollope!

List (I've read 460 of 1001)

Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994)

Opposite to the above, this discounts the recent. Too heavy on poets and too heavy on the Jewish diaspora. Does not include non-fiction or Asian works. Bloom's taste is exquisite; if you want to know what works by an author are worth reading, check the list - and if they aren't listed by date or alphabetically, they're listed by preference and so far, I've always agreed.

List (I've read 855 of 1503)

A Lifetime's Reading (1984)

Nicely corrects the weaknesses in Bloom's work above. Largest problem is how some titles expand (e.g. the one Balzac title is 17 volumes). Many of the titles cannot be found even in the best libraries, so titles must be purchased.

List (233 of 500 read)

Lifetime Reading Plan (1960, 1978, 1988, 1997)

Still probably the best introductory work, but to make the list something one can accomplish, excludes far too much.

List (all of about 200 read)

How to Read a Book (1940, 1972)

Very much classical works by European authors. Very dry. Some works ridiculously long (e.g. Aristotle's "Works.") Unlike other lists, includes scientific treatises. Basis of "Great Books of the Western World."

List (all 264 titles read)

Harvard Classics and Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction (1910, 1917)

First attempt to compile "what one should read." Preposterously outdated.

List (all 70 volumes read)


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

toyBuM left a comment on my blog asking what happened to my header pic, and it, indeed, is not displaying. But then, neither is yours. I have two hypotheses:

1. Blogger is having issues and just not displaying headers currently (most likely)

2. Blogger hates YOUR ugly mug and since it appears in both your header pic and mine, we're the only ones whose blogs are being affected (less likely, but more satisfying)

Teh Works of Aristotle? Teh 'Dad would TOTALLY approve. Teh Dad thinks A-tot is teh bees knees and his (Aristotle's) peripatetic Greek @$$ is the only pre-Jebus one upon whom Teh 'Dad has conferred Honorary Inclusion in Teh One Holy Roman Catholic Etc. Church.

Take THAT, Plato, with your stupid Realm of "Ideals"! Go peddle your papers to that LUUUUZER Augustine!1!

Anonymous said...

Wow! That's a lot of books. I admit to only reading two books in the past year.

Arukiyomi - the spreadsheet guy said...

that's one of the highest scores for the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list that I've seen. I'm about 200 behind you!

This link might interest you if you are a fan of the list...

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

ZOMG, SteveQ! I am one of the THREE librarians in the US to whom you can mention the name "Nicholson Baker" and not be threatened with a beat down! Ever since he wrote that article "Discards" in Teh New Yorker, in which he (rightly) admonished librarians for actually celebrating the destruction of their card catalogs in favor of online systems, his name has been anathema for nearly everybody in the library world.

Except me.

Because his basic argument was that many of these card catalogs were works of scholarship (and he makes this case well), and here were librarians themselves acting as though trashing Card catalogs were entirely a reason for celebration! His article was, in essence, a defense of librarianship as a form of scholarship ... and librarians were all up in arms about it! "He's not a librarian! How DARE he ...etc."

As a librarian, I found their reaction embarrassing.

He later included this essay (expanded, I think) in his book The Size of Thoughts.

I have always meant to pick up a book of his fiction, but haven't, as yet. "Discards" actually made me think about something I hadn't given a first, much less a second, thought to.