Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lock up your women and children! The lists are coming!

This could end up being a very silly exercise, but I’ll try to defend it for now. You see, I used to love making lists. In high school my friends and I would make Top 3s, 5s, and 10s for anything; girls, books, movies, songs, bands, etc., and then we’d break them down by genre or style, decade or year, and so on. This fascination continued into university, and when I read High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby, I felt like I’d found a long lost relative. Was it Hornby, or was it Rob Gordon? The sense of kinship went beyond list-making, but who needs more than one crazy topic per blog post? Twilight Zone this ain’t. No craziness around here. No sir.

Ahem. Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Last week I saw an article about The Ten Most Important Books of the Century… So Far, a totally tantalizing title. (What? You have a problem with alliteration?) This list was going for books that made an impact culturally or financially. Admirable, interesting, but kind of snooze-worthy to me. I suppose they were right... the ten best books would have left blood on the floor.

This morning I saw another list, Newsweek’s Top 100, which is very ambitious. It tries to be well-rounded, but the usual snobbery prevails. War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Lolita are the only Russian lit books present. The only children’s books to make the list are Charlotte’s Web, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and His Dark Materials. Lord of the Rings is the only adult fantasy book. Harry Potter doesn’t make the list at all, and it's not the only notable ommission. Where’s Cormac McCarthy, T.S. Eliot, and Stephen King? Some that made the list ended up with low rankings (Pride and Prejudice at #10? To Kill A Mockingbird at #40?). Some of the rankings are puzzling (1984 could be #2, but Animal Farm is all the way down at #61?). This list looks like one big mess. It’s more of a compilation of other lists rather than a thought-out list with any kind of a plan. At least Dan Brown’s nowhere to be seen.

Before I finish, I should say that I’m not well-read enough to put together such a massive list on my own. So I’ll content myself by putting together a list of 10... no, 20... no, 25!... yes, 25 books (limit one per author) that I think you should read, if you haven’t already. They are:

Surfacing – Margaret Atwood
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Alice in Wonderland, and Through a Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Moonstone – Wilke Collins
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
The Iliad and The Odyssey – Homer (Ok, that’s two books, but you can buy them in one volume.)
High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
The Eye of the World – Robert Jordan
’Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Dracula – Bram Stoker
Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course, there could be several more. I didn’t include any plays, poetry, non-fiction, graphic novels, or medieval work. Some heavyweights (like War and Peace) didn’t make the list because if you haven’t read these books, you should probably work your way up. That’s honesty, not snobbery. I read War and Peace once. It’s great. And it’s massive, both in size, and in literary scope. It’d be crazy to jump into it after reading The Devil Wears Prada (also a good book, but not quite the same). Dare to dispute? I welcome any and all feedback, criticism, and general slagging.

Happy reading!

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