1001 Books to Read Before You Die

1001 booksI like lists. More importantly, I like crossing things off of lists. It feels like I’ve accomplished something, a visual representation of a task completed. So, when I discovered the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, I jumped at the challenge.

At first, I just printed the list and manually crossed off the books I had read. Then I bought the book to see why each book was worth reading. Eventually, I realized there were multiple editions of the list/book, with additions and deletions being added every couple of years, which admittedly made my printed list a little unwieldy. Enter the marvels of technology: a spreadsheet which tabulates the number of books you have read, a “master” list which includes all books ever on the list (it currently totals 1305, which is my new goal, making the 1001 book list a misnomer in my case), and a way to rate each book as well as track statistics on your progress.

There is much debate about the usefulness of such a list. It was, after all, compiled by a group of people with their own biases, and the list is admittedly flawed in many ways (no Canterbury Tales?). However, reading books off of the list has been beneficial to me in at least two ways: 1) I get to cross things off lists. 2.) I have been exposed to a number of phenomenal books I might not have picked up otherwise. Due to the nature of this type of list, there will be books you won’t enjoy as much, or even those you will wonder how they got on the list at all. I belong to a group on Goodreads that discusses the merits of the books, as well as strategies for tackling the lists. There are some readers who abandon the list books when they’re not getting anything out of them. I see the logic in this, but I haven’t been able to do that myself (I couldn’t cross it off the list then!). So, sometimes I slog away to finish a book that’s “not my style,” but usually even these books have some value, even if they seem tortuous as I’m reading them.

Some of my favorite books — ones I may never have picked up if not for the list — have included Ian McEwan’s Saturday, Muriel Barbery’s Elegance of the Hedgehog, and Unless by Carol Shields. I could have done without Life of Pi and Dashiell Hammett’s The Red Harvest. Reading other people’s reactions, I know many hated the books I loved and adored the books I hated. Obviously, it’s subjective, and one benefit of the list is the broad type of books and authors included, so there are certain to be books that really speak to you personally, even if there are many that miss the mark. Plus, there’s the whole crossing things off a list thing.

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