Thursday, October 19

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

If you consider yourself a well-read person, try to check out Listology's 1001 books you must read before you die. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing these so-called lists accomplish is to remind me that I'm pretty much a barbarian. It's like when the American Film Institute came up with their 100 Most Important (American) Films Ever. While I was familiar with most of the films in that list and at the time I averaged a hundred films watched annually, I found out I haven't even watched half of it. We're not even touching the New York Times list.

The same is true with the Thousand Books List. After I crossed out all the books I've read and my batting average is so low that the percentage of what I've read is but a single digit. And I'm supposed to be an English major who loved books. Shameful.

I found out interesting things though. The only comic book in that list was Alan Moore's Watchmen. Paulo Coehlo made the list twice--for Veronika Decides To Die and The Devil and Prym. The only Stephen King in the list is The Shining.

The list was arranged from the most recent (2000s) to pre-1700. Of the 69 books deemed important and published since the year 2000, I've only read two: Chuck Palahniuk's Choke and Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex which totally bowled me over and the only book I've read this year that I really, really, really loved. It was so great that after every other page I was probably muttering, "Shyet, ang galing niya" and yes, that's a totally unintellectual reaction.

Of the over 700 books from the 1900s, I read around 20 and I read most of them during college. There's Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes, novels by Winterson, Kundera, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip K. Dick. Only 25% was required reading. The Catcher in the Rye and The Little Prince I had already read and would read on my own even if they weren't required in class. I was asked to read The Bluest Eye in the same course where Catcher was required. But Heart of Darkness was a different matter. I read the first page over and over again because my brain just rejected what my classmates dubbed as Joseph Conrad's "constipated" prose. But that's just half of the Joseph Conrad double bill--there's The Secret Sharer to contend with. What made things worse was that both texts had to be read using the post-colonial framework and our teacher was always asking, "And what's the political implication of that?" The only good thing about that experience was that we also got to watch Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Then again, maybe I'm just compensating for the trauma. I think some books need a certain frame of mind for you to finish them. Maybe if I gave Conrad another go and it wasn't required, things might have flowed more easily. It's more difficult if you had a week to read both pieces and Jane Austen.

Which brings us to the 1700s and the 1800s, where all the books I read can be classified into extremes. It's either the high adventure of the Robert Louis Stevenson and Daniel Defoe kind or the high drama of Dickens. Of course there's also Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott--little girl favorites really. The early sci-fi from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells made an appearance. There's also the adventures offered by Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift. The weird thing is that I read all these so-called classics in grade school, before the age of twelve, between forays in River Heights and Wonderland. It's either the school librarian thought highly of us kids. Or perhaps I disdained the Ewoks story collections and I hadn't discovered Sweet Valley Twins yet.

Before the 1700s, there's really just Aesop's Fables, and that I went through before grade school. My mom got me this book that came with a cassette tape with a man and a woman reading the fables. At the end of each reading was a lesson usually as simple as "save for a rainy day" or "do not be boastful." I really liked the one about the frog who got really puffed up and burst and the one with the fox going through a vineyard sourgraping. Hmmm...

If you view this list chronologically, I seem to be reading less and less, even with the 50 book list and conscious efforts to read more. In my head, I can hear my former professor's shrill admonision: "My god, you're all so culturally impoverished!" Then again, even if all I devoted my existence to reading and forget about the world and the assumption of a life, it'll take me a lifetime or more to read all these damn books we really should be reading. Feh.

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