Thursday, May 22, 2008

Everyone loves a book list - don't they?

In my short career to date as a blogger, I’ve noticed there are a lot of book-related lists that regularly pop up on posts.

The titles differ, but generally they relate to people providing some form of recommended reading list.

Given that reading tastes and responses to stories are so subjective, I’m wondering how much stock book lovers put into lists created by others.

Bob Carr (former New South Wales Premier), has written a book called My Reading Life, in which he discusses his list of recommended books, and how he came to compile it.

In an article in (yes, you guessed it) The Australian Literary Review, he talks about how his reading choices have changed over the years. In particular, how he found himself more interested in classics at the height of his political career.

“In my 20s and 30s, I was restless about my reading choices – too heavy on current affairs, political biography and contemporary fiction. I needed lists, recommendations, guidance. The barrier to reading the classics, certainly for me, was a fear of being bored.”

He talks about changing literary tastes as we age. “…as infants, we read to identify with characters, as adolescents we read to learn about life. But as adults we read books for the sake of their form, their visions, their art”.

Carr says a list of books – assumedly created by another – disciplines our choices and provokes us.

Personally, I’ve never actually taken a list and systematically read everything on it (except the seven required plays in Stuart Spencer’s The Playwright’s Guidebook - a worthwhile exercise).

Probably the only time I would do so, is if the experience promised to deliver a result greater than the sum of its parts; if by reading a certain list I would gain a better understanding of a theme, a writing technique, a particular topic, etc.

So I’m wondering what everyone thinks of book lists. Do you use them? Have you ever read every book a list created by someone else?


BooksPlease said...

I do like reading lists and often make a note of book/s I'd like to read or at least look at, but I've never read or attempted to read every book on a list created by someone else.

I do like to follow a series if I've liked one of the series or read books by an author I like.

The only booklists I've followed have been are those of set books on courses and even then I may have skim read them, rather than read all through.

Gustav said...

Dear Paula Weston

I am reading a "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" published by ABC Books and edited by Peter Boxall.

I love it because it provides a one page summary of each book and also has a wide range of views on what makes a good story.

Linda Jacobs said...

It's interesting to see what others are reading and sometimes I'll get inspired to read some of the books but, in no way, do I follow a whole list.

Wysteria said...

I usually have a list of my own books that I hear about and must continually grows. So, in that sense, I often create my own book list (especially during the summer months!). Other than that, I have a printed off list of the "Time's 100 Greatest Novels" i am determined to read them all, and I mark them off as I go. Many of them are heavy classics, might not be the most interesting, but such a part of history that, as an English professor, I feel I must read as part of my education. I have about 30 left to go!

D'Arcy said...

oops, I meant to publish the above comment under my real blogger name!

Paula Weston said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. It's always fascinating (and often inspiring) to discover how other readers navigate their literary journeys.

I'm particularly impressed with d'arcy's plan to read the '100 great novels' list. The temptation to rush them must be enormous... Only 30 left: that's pretty impressive!

I wonder how your view - as an English professor - is being influenced or changed, as you read each of them.

D'Arcy said...

That's an interesting question. I definitely feel a sense of satisfaction. I feel that there are a lot of metaphors and references floating around in the English teacher realm that I come to understand.

But what I really love most is to pair my readings with the history they represent. Each of these novels, even if not particularly fascinating to my life, had such an impact on their society of the time. or took a key idea wether with relationships or science and technology, or wars, or other events in history. So many of the American novels, like Ragtime, really help you understand this obsession with the American Dream, and perhaps the utter falsity of it's claims.

In any case, from a literary perspective and from a perspective of understand the world that has created my generations and the ones before, it has been invaluable.

Daniel said...

Hey Paula, just saying hi.
Loved the last two posts.

Paula Weston said...

D'arcy - thank you for that response. I agree that sometimes a classic novel's worth is as much about what it represents as it is about the story itself. Thank you again for sharing.

Daniel - hello! I was only thinking about you this week and wondering if you'd ever visit this humble site again. Nice to have you back.

the ink-stained toe-poker said...

The Canterbury Tales, Elizabethan Love poems and the Metaphysical poets, Gulliver's Travels, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, The French Lieutenants Woman, Heart of Darkness, Slaughterhouse 5 and short stories by Chekov, Kate Chopin and Virginia Woolf. This is the reading list for the Great Books tutes I've run this semester. The student's have had a lot to say. Each of the texts has polarised the class. Loving or hating the texts always great for discussion.
With the exception of WH I've loved them all. This is also the first book list I've completed this year, I have another YA fiction one for next semester.

I agree with you Westie d'arcy's reading achievement is inspiring and the fact that you read the history behind each nove/period must add a great deal to the experience. I've found that myself this semester.

At the moment it's Italo Calvino and then some Grass for me. Then back to the football fiction.

Great post Westie.

Paula Weston said...

Thanks ISTP!

I like your list. I've read a couple and would like to read the others. So onto my list they go...