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wshaffer
The compelling power of lists... 
22nd-Jan-2009 07:54 am
tea-or-book
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.)
Comments 
22nd-Jan-2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
I'm hard pressed to think of two writers whose fight I would consider more boring than Shelley and Byron.

Unless they mean Mary Shelley, in which case I would happily watch her administer a whoopin' to Lord Byron any day of the week.

I, too, am amazed at the number of people who didn't seem to go to middle school, re: girls and our capacity for unpleasantness. Watching crime shows like Numb3rs and Criminal Minds makes it seem like a thin, young, educated, pale woman like myself could essentially go commit murders in FBI offices, waving and smiling at the office cameras, and they'd be like, "Well, we're stumped. Wait--it was the girl? No, but seriously?"
22nd-Jan-2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
I'm quite sure that Mary Shelley could whup both Lord Byron and Percy B. with one hand tied behind her back. And probably did.

22nd-Jan-2009 05:07 pm (UTC)
gah, they like "literary science-fiction" and _depressing_ books :-S

I don't think I have a must-read list of books - though to be considered well-read in the genre I'd expect someone to have tried (in no particular order):

1) Isaac Asimov
2) Robert Heinlein
3) Frank Herbert
4) Anne McCaffrey
5) C.J. Cherryh
6) Andre Norton
7) J.R.R. Tolkien

probably more... but I think those are fairly un-argueable ;-)
22nd-Jan-2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
That's certainly a pretty canonical set for SF readers of our generation. The only writer I'm missing off that list is Andre Norton, and I consider that a gap that I really ought to remedy.
22nd-Jan-2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
I can't say I _like_ all the books I've tried from these authors... but... they gots BIG names ;-)

I'm surprised you havent tried Norton! I found her easy to read just 'cause she's so short compared to modern novelists - I'm very fond of her juvinile _Storm Over Warlock_ which isn't part of her witchworld series and therfore doesn't need set-up to understand ;)
22nd-Jan-2009 05:13 pm (UTC)
Agreed with H2G2 and Alice.

I'd probably also add Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness," but maybe that's just me.
22nd-Jan-2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
I assume that the only reason why The Left Hand of Darkness didn't make it on there was that they'd already included the Earthsea books and The Dispossessed. I'd probably swap The Left Hand of Darkness for The Dispossessed if it were my list - The Dispossessed made a huge impression on me when I first read it, but Left Hand... is the book I've returned to more often.
22nd-Jan-2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, I have books I consider must-read, but I also consider my list idiosyncratic. My list is like yours: the list of books without which I would not have been who I am rather than the list of books that other people have to read to be in the club. For me, it's all of Jane Austen's completed adult novels, Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno, the plays of J. S. Barrie, Plato's Republic, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, Joanna Russ's The Female Man, John Crowley's Little, Big, and A. S. Byatt's Frederica Potter novels. Three of those I can't bear to read any more, and three of them I've read so often that it's hard to say that I'm reading them now rather than opening a page at random and recollecting all the words that are on that page, and the things happening in my life at some other time when I looked at that page.

And of course I'm embarrassed to admit to the Rand now, but adult character is built on youthful indiscretion.
22nd-Jan-2009 08:19 pm (UTC)
Don't we all go through a Rand phase at some point? I think it's embarrassing only in the way that it's embarrassing to look at old photos of yourself as a teenager and think, "Why did I think that haircut was a good look?"

And I'm thrilled to meet someone else who's read Sylvie and Bruno, much less held it in high regard. It oozes Victorian sentimentality, but I still love it - I think it has some of Carroll's most inspired surrealism mixed in with the treacle. ("He thought he saw an argument that prove he was the Pope/He looked again, and saw it was a bar of mottled soap")
22nd-Jan-2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
I took Sylvie and Bruno out of the library over and over and over again. I found it deeply meaningful in a lot of ways that I can remember and in ways I don't think I could possibly reconstruct now. There's no way I'd love Little, Big as much as I do if I hadn't read Sylvie and Bruno.
23rd-Jan-2009 07:30 am (UTC)
"A fact so dread," he faintly said,
"Extinguishes all hope!"

22nd-Jan-2009 07:27 pm (UTC)
I don't entirely agree with their list. For example if I were to put Michael Moorcock on such a list I'd probably place him for The War Hound and the World's Pain rather than Mother London. How they compiled a list of great horror/fantasy without Edgar Allen Poe I can't imagine. And they left of Tolkien??? What were they thinking? Also I'd add The Diamond Age for Stephenson, either in addition to or even instead of Snow Crash

My "must-read" list would include many of their books, especially Lewis Carroll's work and Stranger in a Strange Land. Sticking strictly to fantasy/horror/sf, I'd add the Illuminatus trilogy by Wilson and Shea, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Starship Troopers by Heinlein, and The Lord of the Rings by JRRT.

Edited at 2009-01-22 07:28 pm (UTC)
22nd-Jan-2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
I assume that Poe missed the cut only because they were compiling a list of novels, and he's best at shorter lengths. (In fact, I can't remember at the moment if Poe ever wrote a proper novel.)

The Illuminatus trilogy would rank pretty high on my list, too.
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