Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Guardian's 1000 Books You Must Read

The Literary Saloon pointed me to this feature from The Guardian: 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read, an imperious title, but one slightly less ominous-sounding than "10001 Novels You Should Read Before You Die." (In Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, she writes that middle age is defined as the point you reach when you realize you'll never read the entirety of À la recherche du temps perdu, though I don't think that means that people who have read it never reach middle age. This may be something to investigate...)

At any rate, the Guardian list is broken up into a number of different categories: Love, Crime, Comedy, Family & Self, War & Travel, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and State of the Nation. Because those category pages are cumbersome to navigate, I have created a master-spreadsheet compiling all the category lists (Although there is a comprehensive list on the Guardian here, it's kind of jumbled and randomly inaccurate—for instance, they call Ralph Ellison's novel "The Invisible Man.") I've only been able to find 998 books, however—I don't know if I've somehow missed them or if they made an error compiling the list, but I come up two short both by looking through the individual pages and by taking the titles off the comprehensive list. If someone finds what I've missed please let me know.

A few thoughts—as this other spreadsheet makes clear, there is a heavy contemporary bias—to be expected, I suppose. But 110 novels from the 1990s?

Also, while I'm sure you'll find your own notable omissions (please leave comments below), a more puzzling aspect of the list is its inconsistency in choosing serieses as a whole or individual books from a series—usually in the case of individual books, selecting the first in the series. For instance, of the Gormenghast trilogy, they choose only Titus Groan, or for Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage, they choose only Pointed Roofs, yet they select the entirety of William Golding's To the Ends of the Earth trilogy and the entirety of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Chronicles. I fail to see any overall logic in their decisions.

Anyhow, enjoy browsing through the list!


James Grebmops said...

Hi Andrew. Can you post the spreadsheet as a downloadable document as well?

Andrew Seal said...

Done--just click on the same links again. You should be able to export from Google Documents, even if you don't have a Google account.

Evie said...

Thanks for this spreadsheet, it's been extremely irritating to read the list as the Guardian set it out. Having looked at the list for crime (a genre/theme I believe I have a good understanding of), I can't say I have much faith in their judgement on genres/themes I know little about i.e. Science Fiction and Fantasy.

As well as the inconsistency you mention, it seems strange to me that they've separated the list into inconsistent categories. Why both genres and themes? What kind of category is Family & Self, can't almost every novel be said to be concerned with family and/or self?

James Grebmops said...

Thanks Andrew!

Well, Family and Self is just as absurd as War and Travel for me...