Delighted Listiness

You know how I love a good list - of books and of films, in particular. Seeing a "best of" list makes my hands just itch to take up a highlighter and mark off the ones I have already read/seen, and to formulate grotesquely idealistic plans for devouring the remaining works.

Thus the implicit challenge in the titles of the books 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was the red flag before the bull of my list addiction from the moment the tomes were published. I have been pursuing the completion of both lists for years now, and have made some significant progress, especially in the films list, which I have been conquering in roughly chronological order (I have been stalled out since in the mid-50s, I am sad to say, since the great dissertation crunch of early spring.).

This obsession was lent a new fervor when, a couple of weeks ago, I encountered a site that contains a downloadable spreadsheet of the "1001 Books" list. I had a spreadsheet before, I admit geekily, but nothing like this. This sucker allows you to mark off the books you have read, and tallies them up for you automatically. You then enter your age, and it tells you - based on your gender, and with an actuary's grim sense of prophecy - how many books you need to read a year in order to complete the list before you drop dead.

I need to read 16 a year.

"That's not so bad!" my mother assured me.

"It's more than one a month!" I mewled in panic. "And some of these books are, like, $%#*ing Finnegan's Wake!"

So my zeal for the list has been revived. I added a slew of the twentieth century books to my BookMooch wishlist, and took stock of the immense pile of "1001 Books" I already own. I began to consider (savoring the experience like a gourmand lingers over a scoop of foie gras) what the most evenhanded method of attack would be. I recalled Mee's new challenge, which asks participants to tackle the list in sub-lists of ten, choosing one from every group of ten in a grouping of 100 books from the list. But I couldn't confine myself to any group of 100. Sigh.

So here is my new approach (we will see how long it sticks):

  1. Divide the list of 1001 into groups of 20, chronologically.
  2. Choose one book to read from each group of 20.
  3. Starting with the earliest group of 20, progress through my chosen works. When I reach and complete the most recent group, return to step 2.
Here is how the beginning of my new list looks:
  • Don Quixote - already halfway completed. Of course, that means I still have about 400 pages left to wrassle with.
  • Tristram Shandy
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho
  • Ivanhoe
  • The Charterhouse of Parma
  • Walden
  • Our Mutual Friend
  • Far from the Madding Crowd
  • King Solomon's Mines
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • Lord Jim
  • The Jungle
  • Ethan Frome
  • The Age of Innocence
  • The Professor's House
  • Swann's Way
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • The Glass Key
  • Tender is the Night
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
  • Embers
  • Cry, the Beloved Country
  • The Memoirs of Hadrian
  • Watt
  • A World of Love
Summer, with all its travel, might prove to be a tricksy time to start this sort of a project, since lugging around tomes the size of Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy can be a bit of an unwieldy prospect. We will see how it goes, and whether I manage to keep up a pace of about a book and a half a month.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Max Renn says:

    Funnily enough I just checked out Tristram Shandy from the library to read over the next coupled of weeks. Combine that with our long-planned Patrick Chamoiseau project (for which I hope you can take a break from the 1001 madness soon) and this summer looks like the summer of SOFA 2!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I looked at the download. Interesting exercise. I agree with you that lists like that can be quite seductive. I have only read 91 of the books listed. But when I consider that some of those are novels that I hated utterly, the list loses some of its charm.

    Still, I think I will tackle some more of the list, but I think i will go with shortest first. Long books are just impossible while my children are small.

  3. JW says:

    No,no,no! The obvious thing to do is divide the list according the the length of the books. Then start with the shortest and move up. That way you'll have light books to carry while travelling, and all the long books will remain for those leisurely, undemanding days of retirement.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You know that's a great way to tackle the 1001 list too! :) For me personally it's easier to start from the most recent works. My goal is to read 1 book out of every group of 10 books in 6 years time (6 months for every 100 books group). If I keep going, I may be able to do it ;)

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