One-Minute Book Reviews

June 25, 2008

‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.’ Or Not.

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:28 am
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Not long ago, I picked up the alarmingly titled 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (Rizzoli/Universe, 960 pp., $34.95), intending to review it promptly. But every time I open it, I am reminded: The editor, Peter Boxall, thinks that while I still have a pulse, I need to read ten books by Ian McEwan. Ten! Is this man mad? Yes, that’s ten books in addition to McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, which I read shortly before it made the longlist for the 2007 Bad Sex Awards

Boxall also thinks I need to read only one book by Willa Cather, and it is neither her wonderful Death Comes for the Archbishop or nor her classic tale of prairie life, O Pioneers!, nor her My Antonia, which many critics regard as her greatest work. It is, bizarrely, her The Professor’s House. I would happily listen to arguments about why that book is her best, but 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die doesn’t offer them. So it’s going to take me a while to sort out this doorstopper.

In the meantime the Telegraph has posted a list of 110 books that would make up “the perfect library” That list has its own quirks but is much less pretentious than Boxall’s. Among its virtues: It is refreshingly unstuffy and includes books like Gone With the Wind and Murder on the Orient Express along with The Iliad and The Odyssey.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. The Gaia Atlas of Planet Management by Norman Myers et al. An incredible book that sums up everything wrong with the planet and gives what little solutions science and politics has come up with. A must read.

    Comment by Paul — June 25, 2008 @ 8:24 am | Reply

  2. Ten by one author does seem bizarre!

    Have you seen Entertainment Weekly‘s list, new this week? It’s called “The 100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years” and lists “The Road” as #1. I thought it was a pretty good mixture of titles and authors overall (although I’m not a huge fan of the some of the books listed). If you have a chance to check it out, I’d love to hear what you think.

    Comment by sarahsk — June 25, 2008 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks so much for reminding me of the EW list. I did see it and wanted to comment on it, but it got away from me. I’ll try to weigh in before it goes off the stands.

    One of my first reactions to the list was that I’ve always thought Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” was a better book than “Beloved,” which is on the EW list (though “S of S” probably came out closer to 30 years ago than 25 and may not have been eligible). The critics I know seem pretty equally divided on that one …

    Were there any books that you thought shouldn’t or shouldn’t be on the list?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 25, 2008 @ 11:10 pm | Reply

  4. Ooh, let’s see. I loved the first part of Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” (#35) but felt increasingly disappointed as I read, so for me, that book wasn’t necessarily worthy of being included. I’m glad “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich is on there (#60) and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Donna Tartt’s “Secret History” (#69) so that was a treat to see! I was also happy to see Stephen King’s “On Writing,” which I think works very well as both a memoir and a writing class, though I may not have put it up quite so high (he’s a columnist for the mag, though, so I can’t really blame them…) A favorite of mine that wasn’t included is Carrie Fisher’s “Postcards From the Edge.” I’ve probably read it 5 times; I love the wordplay she uses in it.

    I think they did a good job of appealing to a wide variety of tastes and readers (the list includes Maus and the 5th Harry Potter, which I think is pretty cool), so as a whole, I think it’s a manageable and diverse enough list that I can see myself turning to it when I’m looking for a good recommendation (assuming my stack of holds at the library ever goes down, ha ha).

    How about you?

    Comment by sarahsk — June 26, 2008 @ 12:46 am | Reply

  5. “Nickled and Dimed” was an inspired choice, wasn’t it? It’s such a good book … and one that will be in libraries forever, I hope. I haven’t read “The Poisonwood Bible” but have heard quite a few people say the same thing you did.

    I may not have time to comment on specific titles on the EW list this week, but I’m about to post a list of some noteworthy books that didn’t make the cut (but would have made mine). Thanks for your encouragement.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 26, 2008 @ 2:28 am | Reply

  6. You make an excellent point about 1001 Books. My lovely niece gave me this book as a gift a couple of years ago and I love reading through it, thinking about what to read and what to collect.

    I will agree, though, that there were some authors who were “a bit overrepresented” in my (most extremely humble)opinion.

    Having said that (and having recently crossed swords over the value of a book vs. the value of its first 50 pages), we have to remember that “One man’s fruit; another man’s candy” applies to literature, too.

    I love your post – especially the part about the “alarming… title…”!

    Comment by draabe — June 26, 2008 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

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