Amazon have released a list of 100 books that they recommend you should read in your lifetime. I was pretty impressed to have read 35 of them by 23, and also quite chuffed to see some of my favourites in there, like Birdsong, Atonement, and The English Patient. I also think I have over 20 more on either my bookshelf or on my Kindle, so there’s time yet!
People often get quite heated about these sort of things: I like to read them for inspiration for future reads more than anything else (I added To the Lighthouse, Murder on the Orient Express, and My Man Jeeves to my Amazon wish list), and just to see how many I have read. Often it seems like the angsty academics (or more likely, failed wish-they-were-angsty-academics) kick off about the lack of classics, or the choice of classics, or the inclusion of this many modern books at the cost of a few more dusty oldies, but this isn’t a definitive guide. It’s subjective, obviously. The Guardian have been running a series on The 100 Best Novels, and the comments are always rife with criticism, outrage, and uproar from the keyboard warriors who think because they read this book, it is simply better. Calm down!
One book that often crops up on these lists that I’ve tried time and time again to get into but never get past the first fifty pages is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. It’s just impenetrable to me, and it sits on my shelf like a constant reminder of reading failure. Then again, when I was fourteen or fifteen I must have picked Dracula up about ten times and failed to get past the Brides in the Castle, and then for my Masters entry essay, I threw myself at it and read it in about an afternoon. Similarly, I’m not the biggest Dickens fan, but after reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood twice now and watching the excellent BBC TV show, I am now swiftly becoming a convert.
It’s all about growing! When I was 16, Birdsong was my favourite book. And yet now, I have no one single favourite book, but rather a selection that I love, and they are invariably individual and personal, and for the most part, remind me of a certain time or person or feeling. At that point, is it less the book and rather the personal connection that makes them memorable?
Isn’t that one of the themes in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, which I finished recently? Another book missed off the list!