1001 Books- a follow up post...

I went to the library this morning (fiction- it was days ago now) and took out 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. And I was disappointed. Not because a lot of the cliched stuff I expected to be there was (and then some, but 1001 is a hell of a long list I suppose) but because it's (almost) exclusively a list of novels.

A bit presumptious I thought; the primacy of the novel over other books. Why isn't the book called 1001 Novels You Must Read Before You Die? I was reminded of the words of Borges (possibly the greatest writer of the 20th century; he never wrote a novel): It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books -- setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes.

I wouldn't have any issue with a book 1001 Novels You Must Read Before You Die, I probably wouldn't read it, because I gave up reading novels long ago. I have read many novels, but frankly within days of finishing reading them I can hardly remember a thing about them. I'm with Germaine Greer here: she said: I don't read novels! Why do people think that reading a book means reading a fucking novel? You finish reading the book and you think "Well, that's over. There's four hours down the drain." At least in non-fiction you might pick up some information you can trust. My whole world is built out of books, but they aren't Booker prize-winners, which I frankly always think are overrated.
The world of The Novel is a ghetto of snobbery. People read 'good newspapers' which tell them if a novel is any good or not and then they read it (conspiciously). They might even join groups in which they can talk about having read it...
Fiction holds up a mirror to society, to history, to the human condition, but are we only able to comprehend these concerns through what essentially are entertainments, made up stories?
But 1001 Books... now what potential is there! Imagine what a book that could be!
And of course, there would be some novels in it.
Please rip this to shreds:


  1. I'm kind of with you on this.

    A list of 1001 'books to read before you die' should not be limited to novels as that would be madness. (Unless, as you say, they retitled it '1001 novels...')

    I do still read novels but I try to read a combination of that which is considered classic (think Dracula, Heart of Darkness) or that which I have chosen (examples would be anything by Graham Greene or Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy). BUT I couldn't do without some solid non-fiction to provide some educational relief - surely its essential?

    I wouldn't agree that novels are snobby. They can be if they are being read for all the wrong reasons but a good novel provides an escape or a different window on events. I have read books where I enjoyed the writers style and that added something over and above the story itself.

    Get yourself on here and we can compare lists. Won't that be fun?

  2. Thanks for that H, looks like great fun.
    1- It'll take me ages
    2- It'll make me gutted about all the stuff I've lost down the years.
    Still, only paper innit?

  3. I sympathize with your frustration with novels. That said, everyone likes a story. My favorite compromise is to read small scale, case-study type books about local politics/religion/social-structure in a particular town. I especially like:

    Chen Village under Mao and Deng, which gives a very diligent but addictively readable social history of a rural village in Southern China.


    The public security called all of the village to a denunciation meeting. But when Shorty ascended the stage he upset the meeting's schedule. Rather than launch into a contrite confession of adultery, he began discoursing explicitly on his wife's frigidity. In the recollections of an interviewee, Shorty shouted: "Every time I wanted to do things with her, she said she was bleeding." Maiyen, furious, reportedly screamed back, "You're talking a lot of bunk! When you go to bed, all you do is go to sleep." She proceeded to disparage his potency in intimate detail, with withering asides about Lilou. Lilou leaped angrily to her feet, and the two began trading ribald sexual insults.

    The Divine Hierarchy (Lawrence Babb), which, despite its westerner-as-scientist/observer tone, arrives at some interesting inferences about how ritual both reinforces and mitigates the effests of local power structures.


    (PS been a longtime reader: especially enjoyed the Orange Juice Singles and Goalmouth Incident EP)

  4. On a slightly different note : I received the book '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' for a Christmas present about 4 years ago. Up until now I have only used it on the odd occasion for reference purposes or as a bit of bathroom reading. This morning though I started to make a playlist on Spotify featuring one track from every album in the book. I haven't got too far yet, I've done all the 50's albums and most of the 60's. There;'s some obscure stuff in there which sounded really good when I played it back earlier. The only stuff I couldn't get on Spotify was the Beatles' stuff but for me that's actually a blessing ;)

  5. Yes, Meadow- I've been thinking about the 1001 Albums as a basis for a post myself- 1001 is a hell of a long list, and yet they've still managed to piss me off)) No Lee Perry or King Tubby from what I could see- but Justin Timberlake? Also bands like Limp Bizkit in there. Strange strange strange.

  6. Totally agree, the whole reggae genre is very under represented yet they have included some albums with only one 'key' track. Obviously a list of that size is going to provoke some arguments but there are a few things I haven't heard before which I'll be looking into further but needless to say, that won't include Limp Bizkit :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.