wshaffer (wshaffer) wrote,
wshaffer
wshaffer

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The compelling power of lists...

I think it's possible that I've trained my brain to regard almost any list as a to-do list.

For example, the Guardian has just published the science fiction, fantasy, and horror portion of its "1000 Books Everyone Must Read" (Part One; Part Two; Part Three). And despite fastfwd already having succinctly pointed out some of the list's deficiencies, including a criminal absence of works by fastfwd, I'm peculiarly tempted to set out to read/reread my way through the list.

Actually, doing the whole list would certainly drive me nuts.



I'm intrigued by the number of 19th and early 20th century titles on the list, particularly the ones that I've never even heard of. I'm going to have to track some of those down. I puzzled for a long time over the synopsis of Thomas Love Peacock's Nightmare Abbey (1818), until I realized that those meticulous folks at the Grauniad had embedded a pair of picture captions in the middle of the text:


A series of amiable conversations are strung together on a flimsy but suitably romantic plot in the most literary of Peacock's Right: Audrey Niffenegger. Below left: Scene from David Fincher's film Fight Club "novels of ideas", as he gently lampoons the fashionable gloom of his friends Shelley, Coleridge and Byron, and all manner of associated "romantic transcendentalists and transcendental romancers". Thwarted in love, the hero Scythrop reads The Sorrows of Werther and considers suicide, but settles for the comforts of madeira instead.


Romantic Fight Club: Who would win in a fight between Shelley and Byron? I think either of them could easily take Coleridge, whom I generally picture as a weedy little laudanum addict. (The answer to this question might actually be knowable - it would kind of surprise me if Shelley and Byron never got into a bit of fisticuffs with each other. Anyone know?)

I looked askance at most of the choices that were published after 2000. Of the ones that I've read, I enjoyed all of them, and would describe many of them as very fine books, but I don't think we have the perspective on them yet to place them on any kind of must-read list. (And if I had to put a Neil Gaiman work on the list, it wouldn't be American Gods. It's definitely his most ambitious novel, but I don't think it's his most successful.)

And I'm thinking that I really need to go and reread The Wasp Factory when I dig it out of the box of books it's in. Because I just don't get the fuss about it. And I say this as someone who is a fanatical Iain M. Banks fan, and who cheered to see Consider Phlebas making the same list. But, you know, for years I heard about The Wasp Factory, and the big twist that was so shocking, and it won a retrospective Tiptree, blah blah blah. And then I read it, and the basic point seemed to be, "Girls can be total shits, too." Which...did y'all go to middle school? Yes? And you still thought this was a profound exploration of gender?


Do you have any books you consider must-read? I'm rather reluctant to tell anyone else what they must read, but when I list the books that I think were must reads for me in the sense that I'd probably be a different person if I hadn't read them, the first three that spring to mind are The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and The Once and Future King. All of which actually made the Guardian's list.

(The next three are The Phantom Tollbooth, Dante's Inferno, and D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, none of which are on the Guardian's science fiction, fantasy, and horror list. The last two aren't really novels, anyway.)
Tags: all i know i learned from douglas adams, books, ranting, reading
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