Sunday, December 07, 2008

A British Librarian's "Before You Die" List

It's late on a Sunday night, and I haven't posted yet today. So it's time to dive into the archives yet again. This list was running around the Internet back in February of 2008, and somehow it became a topic of conversation on rec.arts.sf.written. Here's what I had to say:
> To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I'd put this on the "read before you turn 20" list, with A Separate Peace and all of Vonnegut and Hesse. If you don't read it by then, you
can die without it quite happily.

> The Bible
If the King James Bible was specified, I might agree.

> The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
It's not a trilogy. And, as much as I like it, I'm not sure it's one of the thirty best of all time.

> 1984 by George Orwell
Yes. Absolutely.

Later Note: Of course, in Britain it's Nineteen Eighty-Four, and a librarian should know that.

> A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Why? Because it's short, and has been made into many films of varying worth? There are at least five better Dickens books than this.

> Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I was forced to read it three times for classes. I've never warmed to it, and I doubt I ever will.

> Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I can never remember if I've read it. (Which says something, either about the book or about the culture.)

> All Quiet on the Western Front by E M Remarque
I suppose so. It's another one for the "before 20" list, though.

> His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman
This may be good, but it doesn't belong on such a list.

> Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Not a clue.

> The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

> The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Makes sense.

> The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
This is a wonderful novel -- one of the best of the past several decades -- but it's hubris to put anything this new (especially by a writer who hasn't done anything else at that level) on a life-list.

> Tess of the D'urbevilles by Thomas Hardy
The ending seemed to me as if the 20th century, and modernity in general, was faintly dawning, somewhere not too far away -- and if that meant all of these people would have their lives utterly changed, that was fine with me, since the good people were useless and the bad were hideous.

> Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
I'm a fan, but it doesn't belong here.

> Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I've managed to escape it thus far.

> The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
If they can't even spell the author's last name correctly, why should we believe them? (It's Grahame.") Too lightweight.

> Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Oh god no.

> Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
OK, but I'd add Bleak House, too. And if I had only one Dickens, it wouldn't be this.

> The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
> The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Someone has too close an eye on the bestseller lists of last Tuesday.

> The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
I'd say it's the opposite -- anyone who has enjoyed The Prophet should not be allowed to die, but be tortured eternally. But that would be excessive.

> David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Ah, more of the popular Dickens books. Also good.

> The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
See The Prophet, above.

> The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

> Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Too new, too minor, too sucky.

> Middlemarch by George Eliot
I don't love it, but it is big and important.

> The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Too new.

> A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Only if it has the final chapter.

> A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzenhitsyn


acpaul said...

They forgot Victor Hugo's utterly depressing _Les Miserables_

Ian Sales said...

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
That's the one about miners (sappers) in the trenches during WWI. And it is excellent.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
"Only if it has the final chapter."
Only the US edition was missing the final chapter. In the UK it's always had it.

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