Beare Goggles

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 PesteHerzog 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.


3 responses to “Beare Goggles

  1. You must have been writing this just as I decided not to read it cover for cover and start searching for my favourite books.
    On the outset I disagree about how lists can put one off the very thing they are reading about. Prior to being informed the editor’s previous efforts included 501 cocktails, I thought that the book was aimed at people like myself, who love nothing more than to shun the world and curl up with a good book. I didn’t think for a second that it would be aimed at people that don’t love reading, hence why I was able to pick it up for a mere $10.00.
    I picked the book up at the Fed Square Book Market and flicked through, saw a couple of my favourite books listed and thought it would be a delightful way to help me narrow down my ever bulging reading list (if only there was a well paid job where I could spend my life reading.) Plus I felt it would be a perfect tome to place next to the toilet.
    I think the children’s list is well selected. Though personally I if I were to choose a Roald Dahl book it would have either been The Witches or BFG, however I can understand why Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was selected, and feel that Dahl presents a major issue when choosing which one to wax lyrical about.
    I am also disappointed that out of Pratchett’s books Colour of Magic was the one selected as I would say it is overshadowed by many of his other titles, one particular favourite that comes to mind is Going Postal. I would like to give Beare the benefit of the doubt on this one though, as I think it was chosen because it was the first little gem to deliver the audience into the wonder of Discworld (and in the book, many of the others are mentioned as ‘further reading)
    I am disgusted to say that To Kill a Mockingbird is not included, nor is One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. I have also noticed Jane Eyre is included, and I must say I have tried; but decided anything by the Bronte sisters is not worth my valuable time. I whole-heartedly agree that Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s most worthwhile book to read, and Sense and Sensibility is nothing but a poor cousin from one of the local towns.
    I was surprised to see that Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was included and due to an obsession with all that went bump in the night in my young teens I have read the entire Vampire Series, and if any of the books were to be included it should have been The Vampire Lestat.
    That said, I do believe out of the 40 or so of the books listed that I have read, the majority of them are what I would refer to as ‘Must Read.’ I love The Little Prince and still read it at least once a year, The Master and Margarita is another favourite as is Lolita, A Clockwork Orange and 1984.
    I was also disappointed that Of Mice and Men was not included as I do feel it is one of the best novels ever written on human nature, and the way that inherently good people act differently in particular situations. I will however, now have to read Grapes of Wrath as if it is selected as Steinbeck’s greatest novel then I might do the female version of ‘jizzing in my pants’ whilst reading it.
    Anyway, maybe I should just keep ploughing through my book piles and adding to the list of books I want to read, instead of seeking out a solution to help me narrow down the selection.

  2. Hmmmm…

    ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is definitely worth the effort. It’s sensational, and the ending will hit you like a falling piano.

    Totally agree with you about no Harper Lee or Ken Kesey: that’s a major blunder.

    I just think that everyone should develop a reading list in a more natural way – rather than having one shoved on them by someone whose only qualification is that they like making lists.

  3. With H2G2 in the list, all other 500 are bound to be inferior anyway.

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