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1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die… Yeah, I’m not going to make it

October 16, 2021
1001 books? That’s a lot of pressure. (image via wikimedia)

When I saw 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die at the library, my first thought was, “What kind of arrogant prick put this list together?

Then I lightened up a bit and thought, “I’m probably not going to get to all of these books, but let’s see what’s on the list.”

Literary websites sometimes cover this topic, but they usually limit the books to ten. If there are ten books I must read before I die, I could probably get to all ten (unless I’ve severely underestimated my lifespan), but 1001 is a little aggressive. I mean, I understand that the authors have to sell books, and saying there are only ten books you must read before you die doesn’t give you much of a page count.

The international critics who contributed to this book discredited themselves by including The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen on this list. I started The Corrections, but I didn’t get very far, and I’m not going back to finish it. The Corrections is pretentious and usually the opposite of insightful. Plus, the author kind of acted like a jerk when his book was published. To be fair, that was 20 years ago, and he might have changed since then, but I’m pretty sure his book is still the same.

I’ll admit, I’ve learned about novels that I’d never even been aware of before by reading 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. For a reasonably intelligent person, I have astonishing gaps in my knowledge (and my brain glitches a lot, which doesn’t help), and these gaps apply to literature. I enjoy reading about books I’d never heard of. If anything, reading about these new books is probably more fun than actually reading the books.

For example, I’ve never had fun reading Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, but I enjoyed the listing in this book by the critic who pretended he’d read it. I don’t think anybody has actually read Finnegans Wake (I mean, statistically nobody has read it), but the critic was pretty convincing. If I didn’t know better, I might have believed that the international critics had actually read Finnegans Wake.

I’m never going to read Finnegans Wake. I know this. But if I absolutely had to read all 1001 books on this list before I died, I’d read Finnegans Wake last because that damn book would probably kill me.

I’ve been manipulated into believing a lot of things that I shouldn’t have believed in, but I’ve never fallen for the Finnegans Wake trap. And I didn’t fall for The Corrections hype either.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Truman Capote is also mentioned. Of course it does. Every BOOK YOU MUST READ list includes To Kill A Mockingbird. If I ever create my own 10 BOOKS YOU MUST READ OR YOU WILL ROT IN HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY list, I’d probably leave To Kill a Mockingbird off the list just to be different.

Unfortunately, the 1001 books you must read before you die list keeps changing. The first version of this book came out in 2006. Since then, several updates have come out, each with new books added and old books taken off the list. That means the list of 1001 You Must Read Before You Die is fluid. If I had read all 1001 books from the 2006 edition and then found out later that there were over 200 new books that I still had to read, I’d be kind of pissed.

I mean, if you’re going to make a list of books that other people must read before they die, you should stick to the list. It isn’t fair to change the list. Readers won’t take you seriously. The next time the international critics publish a new version of 1001 Book You Must Read Before You Die, I’ll think, “Make up your minds already!”

  1. That’s a hell of a list! How did Moll Flanders make it on there? No one should have this on the required reading list. EVER!

    • Well, according to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, “…the novel’s power lies in the force and attraction of Moll’s character which catches the reader’s imagination and sympathy.”

      I guess Moll Flanders didn’t capture your imagination or sympathy. That’s okay; I’ve been there.

  2. I only made it to the 300s before I got worn out. (Looking at the list, I mean, not reading the books).

    • Which list did you look at? The 2006 version or one of the updated lists? If you’re only at 300 on the first list, you’re just getting warmed up!

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