feeling calculating

Today I read a lil snippet about 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, a book which we clearly must steal from the bookstore and return for a refund in order to depress the sales figures.

Then I calculated.  I estimate I have 50 years left, which feels like an immense stretch of blank canvas considering I’ve only been me for the past, oh, let’s say 15 years.  That’s a prologue and Act I over, with 2 acts and an epilogue to come.  When calculated in books, though, at 50 books a year, in front of me are 2,500 books and behind me are 900 books (fudging numbers since I’ve been reading longer than I’ve been alive).  If 30% of my books are re-reads, that only leaves 1,750 new books.  Anguish!

Why am I going to buy the Absolute Sandman set (massive, expensive) if they’ll suck away 11 books in an 11-book chunk each time I accidentally open one of them?  Why bother assembling a library — even my strictly edited Bookcase — at all?

Mr Tulip raised a trembling hand. “Is this the bit where my whole life passes in front of my eyes?” he said.

“No, that was the bit just now.”

“Which bit?”

“The bit,” said Death, “between your being born and your dying.”

The Truth, Terry Pratchett


10 responses to “feeling calculating

  1. Upon consulting the actual list, I’ve read 77-ish. I’m not sure because many enjoy the distinction of being utterly forgettable and, indeed, forgotten. I’ve picked up lots more and judged them unworthy. For example, I fully intend to die before reading:
    Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
    Lady Chatterley’s Love, D.H. Lawrence
    Ulysses, James Joyce
    Finnegans Wake, James Joyce
    The Once and Future King, T.H. White
    Passage to India, E.M. Forster

    • To be fair, with 1001 darts they did manage to hit a bunch of books on the Bookcase, some of which are pretty damn obscure:
      Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
      The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
      God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Kurt Vonnegut (the only Vonnegut worth reading all the way through)
      Everything that Rises Must Converge, Flannery O’Connor
      One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Gilman
      Cane, Jean Toomer
      Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
      The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
      The Little Prince, Antoine St. Exupery
      The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
      Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
      Plus 2 uber-obscure titles in the queue:
      We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
      The Thirteen Clocks, James Thurber
      But I deduct a billion points for not including any children’s books.

      • What? Those aren’t obscure, ‘cept maybe the last two, but even I have heard of We. I mean, reading widely read stuff is my first plan in literacy, and those are basically where I started. Half of those are in Opra’s book club or something.

      • It’s not a list of obscure books, it’s a list of books that are on the Bookcase and on the list. And some are obscure. As in, I’ve seen one copy of Mr. Rosewater, ever.

    • I’ve read The Once and Future King and liked it, and coincidentally, I just bought Ulysses. Why not Ulysses? (Or, why do I need to believe that many people can’t be wrong about it?)

      • Indeed, why do you need to believe that so many people can’t be wrong? I’d be okay with this list if it were retitled 1001 Books You Could Sample Before You Die. So let me know how Ulysses measures up against an afternoon on your bike. Or an afternoon of Star Trek TNG reruns. Since God isn’t giving us a pop quiz in capital-L Literature, there’s no sense in wasting time.
        I found The Once and Future King irksome for:
        – self-conscious bits like “only humans and 4 species of ants make war on their own species”
        – itchy internal inconsistencies (I’ve since learned that the parts are 4 novellas written over many years)
        – wandering narrative, including the oddity that Arthur magically forgets all that shapeshifting stuff Merlin taught him as a kid
        3 strikes –> OUT

      • Bit more on Ulysses
        Amusing BBC synopsis below to keep you oriented, and one reader’s comment that ought to be on its bookjacket but isn’t:
        This book is the greasy pole of literature. You simply cannot get past page 10 without sliding back to the beginning and trying again to understand what on earth is going on.

      • Well, I’m pretty sure Kim is the hardest book I’ve ever read, and it is absolutely one of the best, so I guess I’m just a masochist. It’s not just the quantity of fans I’ll listen to, but who they are. I mean, going by best seller lists, I’d still be stuck in Deuteronomy. As you point out, if I’m reading a finite number of books in my life, I should think about taking someone’s advice on what I pick up. It’s not hard for me to imagine enjoying Ulysses more than I would a few hours of Star Trek, but I can totally read it AND watch Star Trek.
        Interestingly, I was interested in less than half the Literature assigned in high school, all those monoliths like The Great Gatsby and Grapes of Wrath, but almost every classic I’ve gone and picked up on my own I’ve loved dearly. Main exceptions: Catch 22 and Catcher in the Rye. But I like having my own opinion on them so I’m glad I read them. What else is there to talk about? I’ve loved Hemmingway, Bradbury, Rand, Orwell, Bronte, Morrison, Camus, even if people have analyzed them to death. I’ve no intention of reading their theses.
        I’m in the habit of sticking to recommended science as well; they’ve got a pretty good system to save me time- expert peer review.

      • You don’t like to know who begat whom?
        Because it’ll be on the pop quiz.

      • Actually, the vast majority of my reading is in anticipation of the citizenship exam for when the Czarina takes over Englmeristan and deports the failures.

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