Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On lists and the fact that exams are over so I can read more.

I like to read from a list. I've occasionally copped a bit of flak for this. Some people have real problems with lists. I even feel (ever so slightly) ashamed about it, which is ridiculous.Like everything, a balance must be struck. I'm sure a list can be restricting if followed too religiously, but I don't believe in that.

I've tried a few lists. The first was just a list of the favourite authors of someone-or-other, and I discovered the odd good book there, such as Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper that I was into for a while and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card which I am still into because hey, it's great! But overall it wasn't really that good. My next list - the Angus & Robertson Top 100 (except that it wasn't actually that list, it was a previous year's) - was a bit better. I discovered some good books, such as Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (which was like, wow - an Australian, writing something good about Australia!) and little else that was special enough to rate a mention. I think that that year's list had (possibly?) been decided upon by the staff of Angus & Robertson, which isn't a great bookshop anyway, and it is my belief that bookshop staff are rarely any more discerning than the rest of us. So, that list was way too highly weighted towards the popular stuff that I tend to hate (or at least not enjoy reading, I'm cool with it existing) - The Da Vinci Code, The Alchemist, Harry Potter, Across the effing Nightingale Floor, Jodi Picoult, Stephen King and everything by Paullina Simons (a jihad on Paullina Simons!)

I realised after some time that what I really wanted to do was read all the great classics. Because I had heard of so many of them, but never remembered to borrow them from the library or whatever. I wanted to read the things that consensus says is the good stuff because I am a literary snob and think thrillers and trashy romance are beneath me (and hypocritical too, because I can't help but love trashy fantasy). So I started to covet this book edited by Peter Boxall and eventually managed to get it given to me for my birthday. Immediately I abandoned the A&R top 100 and turned to this instead.

It's completely wonderful. It's a collection of 1001 of the most critically acclaimed novels ever written, and while there's a lot of controversy (why, for example, are there five books by Douglas Adams?), most of the greats are there. There's a short review on each book chosen, which is really helpful in deciding whether I want to read it or not and also in helping me interpret it once I've finished it. Most of the books I've written about in this blog are featured in that wondrous, wondrous book. Not only does it have all the books I want to read but was never organised enough to do so (namely, all the great classics ancient and modern), it also has many other brilliant and not-so-brilliant books that I would never have read otherwise, such as The Master and many others.

It's confusing though. I assumed that it was only a list of novels, hence the absence of Shakespeare, Sophocles etc. But then why is A Modest Proposal in it? It's like a 5-page essay, albeit a very good one. I'm pretty certain there are some short stories in there too. No matter! It's the novels I care about

I don't let it limit me, though. I disapprove of that. Whenever I want to, I read a book that's not on the list. Also I don't believe in setting time limits. At this stage I've read something like 50-60 of the books on the list (a miniscule number - I started with 30 which is even more shameful) and it's taken me about 1.5 years to get that far. I believe reading should take its own time. None of this "50 book per year challenge!!!!!" stuff for me, though I do see how that could work for some people by forcing them to set aside time to read. But reading is always a priority for me and I don't think it should be rushed. I want time to read slowly and let the language settle on the floor of my head, sinking into the soft peat of partially-digested words... I want to give a book time to settle into my consciousness and memory before I cast it aside for the next.

So, nothing works for everyone, and a lot of people hate lists (with Peter Boxall's being a typically loathed example), but it works for me at the moment, and that's good enough.

As for the other subject of this post, I think the title says it all. I'm going to go read now.


Amanda said...

Hahaha :) I'm doing the same thing with 1001 Books to Read Before I Die and like you I'm not limiting myself to just those books. Thanks for posting your reviews!

Placemats Galore said...

Yay! A kindred spirit! I'm so used to people giving me funny looks when I tell them about my list.