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well-read?

 

 

so, this 1000 books to read before you die has got me thinking. ignoring the debate about what is and what isn’t “good” and even having a list recommended to one, what has really got me thinking is discovering how few of these books everyone has read.

 

does that mean that all these people aren’t well-read? even nymeth, bookalactus (the devourer of books), the most well-read person I’ve ever encountered? hell no!

 

and yet, all those books seem good. i’ve heard of many of them and those that i haven’t heard of i’m discovering are highly rated too. so they’re all worth a look.

 

what this list has highlighted for me, then, is that we have to adjust our parameters regarding what we consider to be well-read.

 

 

we have to seriously consider the fact that the amount of people reading and the amount of books being published has skyrocketed in the last 50 or so years – particularly in the last 20.

 

the upshot of that is obvious. more and more and more awards, tons of bestsellers and tons more books that are critically acclaimed. the fact that it could be rather easy to generate an alternative 600/700 (assuming that there is a core of 300/400 books that it really is hard to replace) list of books (and perhaps twice over) says it all.

 

would this have happened in 1950? say the times made a list like this in 1950? well, i can tell you now they wouldn’t have reached 1000. perhaps not even 500.

 

all of which illustrates that in the past one would conceivably have been able to read the bulk of a contemporary canon and so be considered well-read. today, that would be impossible and so our idea what is considered well-read needs to be adjusted accordingly. i can’t quite say what should considered well-read but i do think that whatever it is it can’t be measured against a finite list anymore as it will always be a drop in the ocean. 

 

on a lighter, but related note, i must also say that i find calling it a list that one has to read before one dies rather stressful! 😀 i know its meant to be fun, but while a part of us may just read the list and for fun count how many we’ve read another part of us is thinking, “hmmm… there are loads of good books I should get down to reading.” which is swiftly followed by the thought “oh my word! there are so many! too many! i’ll never even read half of them before i die! aarghghghhghgh!!”

 

plus, it goes without saying that these lists are ephemeral, especially this guardian one, which has many new publications that may not stand the test of time. so you start this list and then 5 years from now there’s another with loads of books that aren’t on this one!

 

the expectation is an unrealistic one. highly unrealistic.

 

i do understand its meant to be fun. and it is fun, really. having a list of recommendations like that is very cool to see and really sparks interest. also, i understand why its called 1000 books to read before you die, its weightier that way and it really grabs your attention. still, i wish there could be another way to put it.

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Categories: books
  1. February 3, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    I consider myself well-read, even though I have hardly read any of the books on the list! Just because I ‘should’ read them doesn’t mean that I want to read them… 🙂

  2. February 3, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    bookalactus – I love it 😀 I kinda want to get business cards with my name and “bookalactus” underneath 😛

    And I completely agree with you. “Well-read” according to whose criteria? I like lists like this because I like looking at lists of books, but I don’t take them very seriously at all. I also love the conversations they generate, of which your post is a great example!

    Also, I know all about the “aarghghghhghgh!” feeling.

  3. February 4, 2009 at 6:10 am

    I definitely stay focused on the ‘for fun’ aspect of these lists and certainly don’t take them in any way seriously. I consider myself well-read despite how I stack up to anyone’s list. I think anyone who reads a variety of things and truly enjoys what they are reading is ‘well read’. Do I think people should at least try some of the classics? Yes, of course, but not because of some idea that they are better than contemporary stories. I feel that way because there are many classics that I love and I cannot imagine going through life not having experienced them.

  4. February 4, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I haven’t even looked at the list properly yet, but I’m going to comment anyways 🙂 I think that lists like that are a good overview of a genre. But I’d hate to see them as a “must-read” list. After all once you’ve read around you start to know what you probably won’t really love, so why read more of them, even if they are “must-read” books 🙂
    Search out new books, new authors. Then you can proclaim yourself well-read in obscure and original works 😉

  5. February 5, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    I like lists. They give me ideas and I’m always open to authors unknown to me.
    I consider “must reads” much like “award winning” lists. Somewhat snobbish and often over-rated.
    Don’t even get me started on Oprah’s book lists.

  6. Fiona
    February 5, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Excellent points. And I think you are totally right. Those of us who pick up books and read them can count ourselves as well-read, even if none of the books we read make any of these lists. However, I am enjoying looking through these lists and working out which ones I have read, which ones I haven’t (but think I “should”) and those that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. So long as we approach them with a large pinch of sodium chloride, it’s a whole lot of fun!

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