March 07, 2006

30 Books Meme

via various:

The Museum, Libraries and Arts Council's list of 30 Books Every Adult Should Have Read.
Bold the ones you have read.
Italicize the ones you would like to read.
Strike out the ones you never plan to read, or started but couldn't finish.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

The Bible
I had enough of it in school, ta very much. A useful resource, more easily navigated via online searching and commentaries. And why is this included but no other sacred texts? No Koran? No Sikh scripture? No Vedas?

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
by JRR Tolkien.
Out of a sense of duty. It was widely known to be The Classic Fantasy/Hippy novel, so I read it because I thought I should. I far prefer the Hobbit which covers the majority of the same themes but without all the waffle. Or the Ents.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.
Just a few times.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Yes, but not twice. I only like A Tale of Two Cities, a novel which Dickens's fans always tell me is atypical. I love his work in adaptation, but I simply don't enjoy reading his prose.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Reader, I read it a few times.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
See all my previous rambles about Jane Austen.

All Quite on the Western Front by E M Remarque.

His Dark Materials
Trilogy by Phillip Pullman.
I felt the last book dragged rather compared to the first two, and I can see why it provokes lots of discussion about plot flaws, theolgical flaws etc etc but I would rather a child read this and those dubious Narnia books than Harry Potter since at least Pullman and Lewis can write imaginatively and originally.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.
I recently read Charlotte Grey which is the third in Faulks's war triptych. Whilst I enjoyed it I was ultimately left rather cold by it, so I doubt I'll bother with other work by him.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
I have this memory of doing it at school, despite recalling nothing of it. Then again, given some of my other school texts and how keen I was to forget them, this should not be surprising. One for the reread pile, maybe?

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
by Mark Haddon.
Yes. I could have sworn I wrote about it, but apparently not. There's a short note on my kidlit tag about it, which reveals I read it in December 2004. That's when I wasn't blogging here due to writing my own stuff.

Tess of the D'urbevilles by Thomas Hardy
See 'Hardy, T. Why I Don't Like His Work'.

Winnie the Pooh
by AA Milne.
And The House at Pooh Corner, which is better on account of having Tigger.

Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte.
Read the book, sang the song, sniggered at the semaphore.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham.
There was a subcatagory of children's fiction I never liked and that was anthropomorphic stuff. I never read Beatrix Potter as a little girl, or this, or anything else. Winnie the Pooh is different because we all know Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore were anthropomorphic toys. Animals were...animals. They didn't wear little blue jackets or drive motor cars.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
After all, tomorrow is another day in which I could read a long epitaph to a dubious past. I'm always torn about Gone With the Wind: it romances the Deep South, which is something I find rather distasteful, but I'm a sucker for a Beatrix/Benedict romance and Scarlet/Rhett have got it by the wagonload. Even better, in the book she ends up with a whole passel of brats.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
See Christmas Carol.

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
See my comments.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.
Already on the TBR pile.

The Prophet by Khalil Gibran.
Don't know it.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
3 Dickens novels out of 30? Are the compilers of this list sadists? Surely there are more interesting and diverse options than bloody Dickens?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
already on the TBR pile.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
already on the TBR pile.

Middlemarch by George Eliot.
Tried. Hated.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.
Don't know it.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
I was a Freaks & Geeks kinda teen. So as I skulked around the corridors of my school, with my pierced ears, and lace ribbons and liquid eyeliner, one of my badges of freakery geekery was my copy of this, always visible in a pocket or my bag. I love novels with constructed languages like this, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Riddley Walker. Also, the film was illegal in the UK at the time, so having the book was like saying "hey, I'm rebellious and literate!".

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzenhitsyn.
already on the TBR pile.


So I've read thirteen out of the thirty, plan to read eight more, don't know two and have no plans to read the other seven. Of those seven, six I'm rejecting due to previous experience of either the book (the Bible, Middlemarch) or the authors (Dickens, Faulks) or both (Great Expectations, Tess). The remaining one is rejected on the grounds that, having avoided it as a child, I'm not convinced I would like it as an adult. Also, frogs don't drive cars.

Obviously, these lists exist more to bring in some handy publicity to some organisation who wants to get a few chattering heads going in culture vulture circles but that British librarians think Gone With the Wind is a more important book to read before you die than, say, any non-Christian religious text makes me wonder about other choices. When a librarian is picking some books to put in the display racks - the 'quick reads', or 'we recommend' or 'classics' displays designed to make choosing a book in a library faster - what preconceptions are they bringing about their users? The Bible should be read, but not the Vedas? If the books on this shortlist end up being displayed in libraries across the UK as part of the promotion what message do they give about libraries? The classic Dead White Males are there, white chicks write romances, we're still not over WW1 and we like our Russians (more Dead White Males, you notice) to be repressed.

I'm not sure whether to be pleased or annoyed that I have read over a third of these and intend to have read two-thirds before I die.


Philip said...

I think my responses would line up rather closely with yours. I think the problem with the Bible is less with it being the only holy book on there -- it is, after all, the basis of a vast amount of Western literature, and it's clearly Western literature the librarians are concerned with -- and more with it being on a list which is otherwise entirely composed of fiction. Trying to be altogether too comprehensive, I feel.

Otherwise... The Prophet is New Age pseudo-mystical claptrap, and is probably on there as a "non-Christian spirituality lite" option. George Eliot was a white chick, but Middlemarch -- which I also disliked, but I had to finish because I was being taught it -- is hardly a romance. Great Expectations is fab, but A Christmas Carol looks like it's on there to crowd-please. The characters in The Wind in the Willows may look like animals, but are clearly turn-of-the-century English bachelors of dubious sexuality. And there should be more SF.

I think that's everything.

Mags said...

It could, of course, be argued that the Bible is a work of fiction. No, let's not go there...;)

I was about to say that there is no SF there, but of course there's Nineteen Eighty-Four and perhaps Time Traveller's Wife both of which use a SF conceit (a dystopian future, a man who unwillingingly travels in time) at the core of their ideas and both of which get the "it's good, so it's not really SF" treatment.

Hmmm. I bet if this were drawn up in 1986 then the Handmaiden's Tale would have been on it.

Philip said...

There's A Clockwork Orange, as well -- a futuristic dystopia with human behavioural conditioning. Although like Nineteen Eighty-Four it's written by a proper author, so doesn't count as SF in the eyes of people who make these distinctions. Audrey Niffeneger seems to slip through entirely on marketing considerations.

The bias towards books from the past five years is annoying -- while I very much enjoyed The Time-Traveller's Wife, for instance, I'm not sure it's a more vital book for all adults to have read than, say, Paradise Lost or King Lear. And I'm not sure that The Handmaid's Tale shouldn't be on there even now -- with some of the things that are going on in the US it's looking more relevant now than ever.