The quickest way to turn anyone off reading books is presenting them with a long and unsolicited ‘must read’ list. And the quickest way to make yourself look like a prize prat is putting a ‘must read’ list in the hands of an avid reader. Because the avid reader will judge you on the basis of your list.
I’m an avid reader. In fact, I’m an addict. I’m essentially a peace-loving soul, but try to take away from me a book that I’m engrossed in… well, angels and ministers of grace defend you, is all I can say. Because I won’t be defending you. I’ll be doing my best to tear out your spine.
A day spent sans reading is unthinkable for me: I can’t think of the last time such an aberrant and wasted day occurred in my life. Quite possibly the memory of it is repressed, and will only be prised from me by a skilled therapist with a Viennese accent, pince-nez, cigar and goatee.
Emma Beare is the editor of a tome called 501 Must Read Books, a volume which, much as the title indicates, is a guide to the half-thousand or so books you oughta read.
Happily, you don’t have to buy the book because you can find the list of these hallowed texts online (here I’m assuming that this particular version of the list is accurate – but the internet never lies, does it?). And what a list.
I suspect that Mz Beare did no favours to her brain power in the research phases of two of her past books: 501 Must Taste Cocktails and 501 Must Drink Cocktails. This at least would account for the list of books she’s come up with.
Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic makes her list, for example: but this is possibly Pratchett’s weakest novel (excepting, I’m sorry to say, his latest – Unseen Academicals). You’d be better off with Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment, Small Gods, The Nation or The Wee Free Men, just to name six of my favourites at random.
Beare also cites Moby Dick as required reading. Balls. This sort of inclusion proves that she either hasn’t read the books she’s spruiking, or that the four hundred and ninety-ninth cocktail snuffed out her last operational brain-cell. Moby Dick is whale vomit. The kind that doesn’t contain ambergris.
And what about the inclusion of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?
I’d lay a fair wager that Beare hasn’t read that. And I wouldn’t dare to suggest it as required reading. It’s required dipping into, I think – because Gibbon can put together a sentence so intricate that it makes you whistle: but reading? To the end? I don’t think so.
The Golem by Isaac Bashevis Singer makes the list, but The Slave doesn’t; Sense and Sensibility is there, but not Pride and Prejudice; Camus’ L’Étranger makes the grade, but not La Peste. Herzog is there, but not The Adventures of Augie March.
On and on we go.
I find that I’ve read seventy-two of Beare’s recommended list of five hundred and one. I won’t be chasing up too many of the remainder. And should I happen to read any of them, it will be because of more reputable recommendations than Beare provides.
I’m an avid reader. I have judged Beare, and found her wanting.