1001 Books: You Must Read Before You Die

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1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (1001 Must Before You Die)

Last year I bought 1001 Children’s Books: You Must Read Before You Grow Up and spent many happy hours (and far too much money!) investigating books for my children. I therefore jumped at the chance to review the adult version, 1001 Books: You Must Read Before You Die.

Weighing nearly 2kg, this chunky book contains a wealth of information. It is divided into four sections (pre 1800, 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s); with each book summarised in around 300 words. As an example, (and a great excuse to mention my all-time favourite book!) here is where it mentions A Fine Balance:

The text gives a brief summary of the plot (without a hint of spoilers) and then goes on to explain why the chosen book is important. Each review is bursting with positivity.

a beautiful and devastating novel whose genius lies in its refusal to allow the reader to escape into either pathos or cynicism.

It is easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm of each page, buying lots of books on a whim (I know that from my year-long relationship with the children’s version!). I’ll take that as a good sign – anything that encourages reading is fantastic.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it doesn’t just focus on classics from the English speaking world and so, although I was familiar with the majority of the titles mentioned, there were still lots of interesting books for me to investigate.

Don’t these sound interesting?

The Taebek Mountains by Jo Jung-rae
A Korean epic which “skilfully conveys intimate personal dramas” whilst playing them “out in a climax of suspicion and terror”

Lady Number Thirteen by Jose Carlos Somoza
A Cuban novel “full of supernatural portents”. “A novel as exciting as it is intelligent.”

The only problem with this is that many of the books (including the two mentioned above) aren’t actually translated into English yet and this can be frustrating. This isn’t the fault of the person compiling the book, in fact I admire them. It just highlights the number of amazing books that we are missing out on in the UK. I hope that the stigma around translated books reduces with time and more of these outstanding books can make their way onto our shelves.

Overall I can’t fault this book – it is perfect for all bibliophiles. The only problem is the fact it highlights how many amazing books there are and simple calculations show it will be difficult to fit them all in before we die.

 

 


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30 Comments

  1. Athira says:

    I love this list mainly because it opens me up to tons of books that I would not hear of otherwise. I have read a few (very few) of the books in this list and would someday like to make a project out of it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Athira, I love all book lists, but this one is especially good as it is so long! I have discovered lots of new books and hope to try a few more in the near future. Good luck with the project – that would be a massive undertaking.

  2. David says:

    I think I might have to get myself a copy of this (or better still: hint at it for Christmas!). I’ve just been looking through the contents of the earlier 2008 edition on Amazon and looking up a few titles I hadn’t heard of – already three books added to the wishlist! There are a few choices I’d disagree with from the 2000s section (‘The Inheritance of Loss’ surely can’t be considered essential?) but it looks like it could inspire lots of reading and the discovery of many new (to me) authors.

    PS: the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ cover looks dreadful with that big sans serif type!

    1. Jackie says:

      David, I’ve been adding books to my wishlist all week! I’m going to start with Death Sentence by Maurice Blanchot and move onto War with the Newts by Karel Capek. I hadn’t heard of either, but both sound fantastic.

      I’m afraid I haven’t read ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ so can’t comment on its worthiness.

      I think this is the perfect Christmas present for a book lover, so I hope someone is generous enough to get you a copy.

  3. Lindsay says:

    I love looking through books about books. I will have to get round to reading A Fine Balance one day, this writer has been recommended to me before and I still haven’t read one of his books yet.
    By the way, I am just catching up a bit with blogs and blogging, hope all is well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lindsay, Good to see you back blogging :-) Mistry is a fantastic writer. I hope that you get around to reading him one day.

  4. Laura says:

    I’ve never bought the book, but I got hold of a list of the books and tried to track my progress using a spreadsheet. But then every couple of years a new edition is published — some books go off the list, new ones come on. It threw a real spanner into tracking my progress!

    Still, it’s a great list to expand your TBR pile.

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura,
      Yes. I’ve seen the spreadsheets, but they intimidated me! I don’t like to see my percentage complete when it is so low and not really acheivable. I prefer flicking through the book and discovering new reads, instead of worrying about how I’m ever going to get through all those Victorian novels. Good luck with your challenge though.

      1. Laura says:

        Jackie, I actually gave up on this as a challenge, both because 1) “the list” turned into a moving target, 2) as you said, it’s not really achievable, and 3) there are definitely books on the list I have no intention of reading, EVER.

        Still, a fun list to peruse.

        1. Jackie says:

          Laura, Yes – there are a few books on there that I have no intention of reading too!

  5. Sandy says:

    I think this book would send me spiraling into a malaise! It is bad enough I can’t even read the books on my damn shelves, but this would send me right over the edge! Ha! But maybe if I had a glass of wine or two, to take the edge off, it would be fun to look through.

    1. Jennifer says:

      Ha ha, I’m with Sandy! I’d probably be so stinking depressed at the sheer number of books that I wouldn’t get to!

      But I do think it would be awesome to have a copy of this book anyway, lol

      1. Jackie says:

        Jennifer, I hope that someone is generous enough to buy a copy for you soon. :-)

    2. Jackie says:

      Sandy, LOL! I can see why it might have that effect – that is exactly why I don’t fill in those spreadsheets and attempt to complete them.

  6. parrish says:

    Not a great book for controlling my TBR, but as an introduction to authors it would be wonderful

    1. Jackie says:

      parrish, Yes. Very bad for the TBR! I’ve somehow managed to buy 2 books from it already. It is a dangerous book to own :-)

  7. Charlie says:

    Your last statement, I’m thinking that. It was around 5000 or so I seem to remember, the quoted number of books per life, so if so, the books in this book would take a good chunk. I guess for that you’d hope you’d already read quite a few of them. It would be good to have more translated books, though, especially from countries that aren’t as highlighted as others.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, I’d estimate that I’ve read around 100 of the books already – only another 900 to go! I think us book bloggers are likely to read more than 5000 books in a lifetime so it would be far easier for us, but I’m still not going to attempt it.

  8. stujallen says:

    I ve the app with all three lists on ,I reckon take good ten years to do all the books in the book ,but love loooking through it have borrowed it a few times from the library ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I didn’t know there was an app too. Glad you’ve had a chance to see a copy – I know you’ll love all the translated selections.

  9. Chinoiseries says:

    I was just thinking of the latest edition of this book earlier this week! It’s going to take years and years before one has read all 1001 (and counting!) books that are listed. But it is a great way to discover new and exciting books :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Chinoiseries, I’m not familiar with the previous editions of this book so I don’t know how much as changed. All I can say is that I’m impressed with what I see now – a great way to discover new books.

  10. Jenners says:

    I always love books like these … seeing what I’ve read and what I still need to read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Yes. Perfect for all us book lovers :-)

  11. Brenna says:

    I got this book for Christmas 2010 and I have gone back to it countless times. It is by far my favorite reference for choosing books. But you’re right, there is no way I’ll be able to read them all before I die.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, I’m really pleased to hear that you are still looking at it several years on. I’m sure I’ll go back to it too.

  12. mee says:

    I’ve been following the 1001 Books list for years now! They seem to have a revision every two years. Some books are taken out of the list and some are put in. If you put all the books that ever appear in all the editions you’ll end up with more than 1001 books! (around 1200+ actually) But my goal has always been to read the percentage of it, not everything (won’t even try! :) . I’ve read about 40 (4%), and will be happy if I read 10% of the list before I die.

    ps: I just reviewed a huge tome too (a dictionary/encyclopedia). I would love to review this tome! *hint* :D

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, 1200 books? wow! It must be annoying if you are trying to read them all and the target keeps moving. I think I’ve read about 10% already, but I could be kidding myself. I’ll have to do a quick count and see one day.

      PS. Good luck with the hints!

  13. Alyce says:

    These sorts of books/lists are both inspiring and depressing. It makes me do the math and think, ok… if I live for another 40 years (being conservative & freaking me about a bit concerning my own mortality) then I’d have to read 25 of these books per year, which seems doable, if I’m willing to drop everything else and not read many new books. I say that because even though I read about 125 books a year, most of them are newer (review copies or library books) and many of them are lightweight in content. I have a feeling many of these books would take much time and attention, which is not a bad thing – just daunting.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, 25 books a year seems like an easy target, but then you actually sit back and look at what you’ve read for the year and it seems so hard. I create mental targets like that all the time and always fail :-( I think I’m getting better, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to sustain it. Good luck getting through them!

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