Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can't Resist a List: Update on the Guardian 1000

A while back I stated my intention to try to complete reading the Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. I figured that if I have (optimistically) 25 years of reading left, I could finish the books I hadn't already read by reading 40 of the books on the list each year -- leaving up to 160 books a year for "free reading." How am I doing?

My reading in general has fallen off this year, partly because I was working as an address canvasser for the Census Bureau for a couple of weeks. I fear that Facebook and other computer time-suckers are also partly to blame. I just finished the 75th book yesterday, so if I want to make it to 200 I'll need to step up the pace. Of the 75, 16 have been novels from the Guardian's list. Here they are, in alphabetical order with category:

Eric Ambler, Journey into Fear -- Crime

Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader -- Comedy

E. C. Bentley, Trent's Last Case -- Crime

W. E. Bowman, The Ascent of Rum Doodle -- Comedy

Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest -- Crime

Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck -- Love

David Lodge, Changing Places -- Comedy

Jack London, The Call of the Wild -- Travel and War

Terry Pratchett, The Colour of Magic -- Fantasy and Science Fiction

Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic -- Fantasy and Science Fiction

Terry Pratchett, Mort -- Fantasy and Science Fiction

Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites -- Fantasy and Science Fiction

Terry Pratchett, The Truth -- Fantasy and Science Fiction

Ruth Rendell, A Dark-Adapted Eye -- Crime

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea -- Love

Carol Shields, Unless -- Family and Self

I've posted reviews of all of these on Goodreads as Auntie Knickers, so I won't describe them here. This is as good a time as any to remark that the grand total of the 1000 Novels comes out to 1070 by my count. The Guardian reviewers had an annoying tendency to count a whole series as one novel, for example Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I did not even attempt to count all of Balzac's La Comedie Humaine, which consists of 95 works, not all novels; I think if I make it through Old Goriot and Cousin Bette, which were listed separately, I'll be doing well.

I haven't challenged myself very much with the first 16 books, except for the Jean Rhys and Carol Shields titles. Although some took me longer to get through than others, I haven't yet felt that any was a waste of time nor have I found any unreadable. We'll see if that continues. I haven't yet read any of the books from the most intriguing category, State of the Nation, but I'm remedying that as I've just begun reading Nadine Gordimer's July's People.

So how am I getting hold of all these books? I bought The Uncommon Reader on a trip to Louise Erdrich's bookstore in Minneapolis, and already owned the London and Hammett titles in Library of America editions. I borrowed most of the Pratchetts from Temple Truck Woman, and bought The Ascent of Rum Doodle new, as it was unavailable in my library system. All the rest I've either borrowed from the library or bought at used book sales.

This project has added the thrill of the hunt to my forays into the many local used book sales. Nearly every library and non-profit around here seems to have a book sale at least once a year, and the selection is generally very good. Private garage sales and church bazaars usually have some books too. In most cases the prices range from 25 cents to a dollar, so for a small outlay I've added a shelf and a half or so of books from the list to those I already owned. And the really big book sale at our own local library is still to come at the end of the month! (They hold it in the junior high school gymnasium, and it's big.) I've bought books from the list, ranging from a nearly-100-year-old leatherette bound edition of Lorna Doone, to a battered mass market paperback of The Bourne Identity. After inadvertently buying a second copy of Middlesex, though, I now carry a list of the books I'm still looking for with me.

Speaking of the library, though, I won't need to purchase everything. I've done some catalog searching and have found the vast majority of the books available either at my local library or within Minerva, which includes town libraries and some smaller college libraries in Maine. Many of those not found in either of those catalogs are available through MaineCat, which includes our three most prestigious private colleges, the University of Maine, and the Portland and Bangor libraries. Many books I had thought to be quite obscure were readily available.

So, that's where I am with my list so far. If you've read any of the books listed above or are also plugging along with the Guardian's list, let me know in comments.


Vicki Lane said...

Hi, Auntie K-- What a fine project!

I've read only two of your list -- CALL OF THE WILD which I taught to 7th grade boys at a prep school back in the Sixties -- I liked it but haven't reread it recently. And WIDE SARGASSO SEA which I found slow at first and then fell into the magic of it.

I feel like I've probably read at least a few of the Pratchetts but can't remember which. I've read some Rendell and Shields as well, though not these.

mompriest said...

Oh my....I can't even imagine...reading this much. And I like to read...

Crimson Rambler said...

Auntie if there are things you want and CANNOT find, let me know... it is high time I thinned my shelves... blessings on the endeavour!

Norma said...

I never even make the 100 best--don't think I've seen the 1000 list. I don't seem to read what others do, which is why I belong to a book club. Seems to be the only time I ever pick up a mystery or a novel.