Since I could not think of much else to comment on right now (too many thoughts and too few anchors, if that makes sense), I decided to comment on the recently posted list by Amazon on 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.
I have said this before, but I generally abhor lists of these kinds. They are not constructive, nor are they helpful when choosing a book for tomorrow’s reading. They are simply lists of things a person is meant to achieve because someone (in this case, Amazon) says so. This list has been created by similarly random rules (and even if somehow democratic, I am not certain that would create a more representative or better list of books).
Now, probably on one fine day in the distant future, I will make a list of this sort myself, but before that day I would rather recommend books I know to people on an individual basis. I think this is a better approach since people’s personal approaches to topics also detail that different books apply to different people. And people don’t need to read a hundred books aimed at everyone. They need to find and read and enjoy the five (ten?fifteen?) aimed at them. So maybe that should be our next goal?
Back to the topic at hand. What do I think of this list? It is certainly an interesting one. I have not read the majority of books there… I have read eight, I think. Closer inspection might bring that number to ten, but the two are not firm enough in my mind that I would say I have read them.
Of these eight, not all are what I consider good books (‘On the Road’, while maybe good in a practical sense is truly bad in a technical one). In my opinion, some of the listed are not the best books by the writer (‘The Silmarillion’ is of a higher quality of writing than ‘The Lord of the Rings’), and some others are very ‘compulsory’ (‘Lolita’, ‘Catch-22’, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’). That does not necessarily mean they are good or bad, but rather that they feature in nearly every list. In many ways, ‘Ulysses’ (which Amazon has ignored) is part of lists largely for the reason that people think they should have read it. And people really don’t need to read things they don’t like when there is plenty of what they would like out there.
A list, if I were to compile one, would probably include more science fiction titles but I cannot pinpoint the ones I would choose. Also, probably more German and Japanese writers as well (and I do not think I would ignore Borges) as they do generally seem to be underrated by the Western (well, Anglo-American) populations. But, it would be a list as every other list and have its great built-in weaknesses.
And that leads me to conclude that as little as I like lists, their probably benefit has been achieved if they have managed to make one more person who was not reading before to pick up a book. Either from that list of a hundred, or from their own bookshelf, or from a friend they know. Let us all go and read!