Stranger Fruit

Slow day: Another book list

Via BikeMonkey I see that DrugMonkey had a "106 Books of Pretension" meme going last October. Namely, "the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users." So here we go – what I’ve read is in italics, what I never finished is struck through:

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  • Anna Karenina
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Catch-22
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Wuthering Heights
  • The Silmarillion
  • Life of Pi : a novel
  • The Name of the Rose
  • Don Quixote
  • Moby Dick
  • Ulysses
  • Madame Bovary
  • The Odyssey
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Jane Eyre
  • The Tale of Two Cities
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  • War and Peace
  • Vanity Fair
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • The Iliad
  • Emma
  • The Blind Assassin
  • The Kite Runner
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Great Expectations
  • American Gods
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Middlesex
  • Quicksilver
  • Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  • The Canterbury tales
  • The Historian : a novel
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Brave New world
  • The Fountainhead
  • Foucault’s Pendulum
  • Middlemarch
  • Frankenstein
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Dracula
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Anansi Boys
  • The Once and Future King
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
  • 1984
  • Angels & Demons
  • The Inferno
  • The Satanic Verses
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Mansfield Park
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • To the Lighthouse
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • Oliver Twist
  • Gulliver’s Travels
  • Les Misérables
  • The Corrections
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • Dune
  • The Prince
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
  • The God of Small Things
  • A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
  • Cryptonomicon
  • Neverwhere
  • A Confederacy of Dunces
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Dubliners
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Beloved
  • Slaughterhouse-five
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  • The Mists of Avalon
  • Oryx and Crake : a novel
  • Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
  • Cloud Atlas
  • The Confusion
  • Lolita
  • Persuasion
  • Northanger Abbey
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • On the Road
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
  • The Aeneid
  • Watership Down
  • Gravity’s Rainbow
  • The Hobbit
  • In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  • White Teeth
  • Treasure Island
  • David Copperfield
  • The Three Musketeers

Heh, not bad: 42 read and a further six unfinished.

Comments

  1. #1 Adria
    April 25, 2008

    51 read, 1 unfinished. I’ve started Vanity Fair four times, and never managed to get more than halfway through. Not sure why. I would have said the same about Anna Karinina two weeks ago, but I finally finished that one. Although in that case, it was a matter of reading the whole novel before losing the book somewhere. I swear I’m on my third copy by now.

  2. #2 Will TS
    April 26, 2008

    32 read, 17 enjoyed.

  3. #3 John Lynch
    April 26, 2008

    Will TS raises an interesting point – which are the books that you enjoyed enough to recommend to another. Short answer:

    # Catch-22
    # The Name of the Rose
    # Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
    # The Iliad
    # American Gods
    # Quicksilver
    # The Inferno
    # The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
    # A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
    # Cryptonomicon
    # A Short History of Nearly Everything
    # Slaughterhouse-five
    # The Hobbit

    A somewhat shorter list.

  4. #4 BikeMonkey
    April 26, 2008

    hey, ya noticed!

    (and for strictest accuracy, I posted that one over at the old DM on wordpress. I’m not entirely sure the DM knows how to read…)

  5. #5 joe
    April 26, 2008

    I don’t see why many of these are “books of pretension.” I might just be pretensious enough to look down my nose at people who thought Angels and Demons was a good book, for example, or those who haven’t grown out of The Catcher in the Rye or Ayn Rand’s dreck.

  6. #6 Julie Stahlhut
    April 26, 2008

    I’ve only read fourteen of the above, and liked most of them. Also started but never finished several others that I really didn’t care for, like Dune and The Hobbit. (Some time later, I did read and enjoy “Come to the Party”, a short story co-written by Frank Herbert and F.M. Busby. Who’da thunk old Frank had a sense of humor?)

    On the up side, I actually read Pride and Prejudice for the first time, during a long flight, only six months ago. I thought it was hysterically funny — I kept laughing out loud. It was definitely one of those “Now I know what all the fuss was about!” moments.

  7. #7 Norm
    April 26, 2008

    Only read 15. Also could not get through “The Silmarillion” (I think I tried 3 times). Nor could I complete “Ulysses”, but oh how I tried valiantly. I even bought a second copy that included explanatory notes at the end. There were just too many clever references to places and events that were unfamiliar to me. If only I’d had a classical education!

  8. #8 Cindy
    April 26, 2008

    28 finished. 9 not finished. The Hobbit is my bugaboo….I have tried to read that probably 4 times and could not get into it. One of my favorite books I had to read in high school was Catch-22, but have since tried to re-read it and can’t get through it. I’ve also tried to re-read Wuthering Heights, but I hate Heathcliff so much, I always quit. I don’t see what Cathy could see in him.

  9. #9 Erik A. Kruger
    April 26, 2008

    67 read, including 10 not finished. But the list is uneven vis-a-vis “pretension” (these are merely the ones *unread*)–where’s LotR, since they include the Silmarillion and The Hobbit? Also: there’s a bias towards novels (no short story collections, only *long* poems). What about Paradise Lost? Or Marx’s Capital? Gibbon? Enlightenment works in general (Smith’s Wealth of Nations, etc.). I wonder about the selection process, since there must be a horde of books that are merely “unread”–was this cross-generated with a list of books people *should* read?

  10. #10 Gene
    April 26, 2008

    My favorite that I read of all of those listed is “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Truly a laugh riot in a most bizarre, road-kill sort of way.

  11. #11 Greta Christina
    April 26, 2008

    Read 39 — if you include ones I was required to read in school.

    Enjoyed most of them, actually. Even the ones I was required to read. Gravity’s Rainbow is the only one I really gritted my teeth and slogged through even though I hated it after the first 200 pages.

    And I’m also puzzled by calling the list “pretentious.” Jane Austen’s books are eminently readable, real page-turners. And Dracula is a total potboiler. (Not even a very good potboiler at that.)

    And I agree with Cindy about Wuthering Heights. What a disappointment. A turgidly- written book about unpleasant people. I can’t believe it gets pitched as a romantic classic to young girls.

  12. #12 Grumpy
    April 26, 2008

    I should be able to mark 12 of those as read, since they were assigned in classes from middle school through college — but I never finished them.

    Wuthering Heights
    Don Quixote
    Moby Dick
    Madame Bovary
    The Odyssey
    The Iliad
    The Canterbury tales
    Frankenstein
    The Grapes of Wrath
    Gulliver’s Travels
    The Scarlet Letter
    Watership Down

    …All part of the curriculum, but I wasted my chance to read them all.

    That leaves five that I’ve read and one that I’m still reading.

  13. #13 freelunch
    April 26, 2008

    I’ve read roughly half of these books. I think the pretension is that you read the book. Most of the books, from my experience, are very good. The only one that I did read that I did not enjoy was Gravity’s Rainbow. I don’t understand how Guns, Germs and Steel ended up on the list but A Brief History of Time (alleged to be the least read best-seller ever — though it is short and accessible) was forgotten.

    There have to be a thousand novels more worthy of consideration for this list than Angels and Demons. I have no idea how that one ended up on the list.

  14. #14 Peter Mc
    April 26, 2008

    Some one really needs to put a bullet in the head of Russian and long = good book.

  15. #15 IO
    April 26, 2008

    Read 17, with several others still waiting unread on my shelf (and several more on my “must read/buy in the future”-list). And I don’t intend to keep them unread. Totally agree about Wuthering Heights. It could have been a “nice” tragic love story if the characters had been more pleasant. I haven’t touched the Brontes since, though I might read Jane Eyre again (if just to reread Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels starting with “The Eyre Affair” with Jane Eyre fresh in my mind).

  16. #16 Dusty59
    April 26, 2008

    Title is “A” Tale of Two Cities.

  17. #17 wildcardjack
    April 26, 2008

    I’m an independent book dealer and I’ve seen much used and abused copies of all the books on the list, as well as the occasional one that could pass for new found in a thrift store.

  18. #18 Wes
    April 26, 2008

    Read Completely:
    * Catch-22
    * Don Quixote
    * Madame Bovary
    * The Odyssey
    * Pride and Prejudice
    * The Brothers Karamazov
    * Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
    * War and Peace
    * The Iliad
    * Great Expectations
    * Brave New world
    * A Clockwork Orange
    * 1984
    * The Inferno
    * Gulliver’s Travels
    * The Prince
    * A Confederacy of Dunces
    * Dubliners
    * Slaughterhouse-five
    * The Scarlet Letter
    * The Catcher in the Rye
    * The Aeneid
    * Watership Down
    * Treasure Island

    Started, but did not finish:
    * Crime and Punishment
    * Moby Dick
    * The Tale of Two Cities
    * A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
    * Middlemarch
    * Frankenstein
    * Dracula
    * One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    * Tess of the D’Urbervilles
    * Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values

    Enjoyed:
    * Catch-22
    * Don Quixote
    * Madame Bovary
    * The Odyssey
    * Pride and Prejudice
    * The Brothers Karamazov
    * Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
    * War and Peace
    * The Iliad
    * Brave New world
    * A Clockwork Orange
    * 1984
    * The Inferno
    * Gulliver’s Travels
    * The Prince
    * A Confederacy of Dunces
    * Dubliners
    * Slaughterhouse-five
    * The Catcher in the Rye
    * The Aeneid
    * Watership Down
    * The Canterbury tales (even though I didn’t read the whole thing–the parts I’ve read were very enjoyable)

  19. #19 Jud
    April 26, 2008

    I’ve read 28 of these. I knew my favorite novel (Gravity’s Rainbow) would be on the list. Besides Gravity’s Rainbow, I’d recommend:

    Catch-22
    One Hundred Years of Solitude
    The Name of the Rose
    Moby Dick
    Ulysses
    American Gods
    The Canterbury Tales
    A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
    A Clockwork Orange
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    Dune
    Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
    Dubliners
    Slaughterhouse-five
    On the Road

    I was very disappointed in A Confederacy of Dunces, and don’t see what all the fuss is about regarding A Catcher in the Rye.

  20. #20 Chris Bell
    April 26, 2008

    This list almost mirrors my list of favorites, what is wrong with you?

  21. #21 Bill Dauphin
    April 26, 2008

    Listed books I’ve read (35):
    Catch-22
    Wuthering Heights
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    Life of Pi : a novel
    Moby Dick
    The Odyssey
    Jane Eyre
    The Tale of Two Cities
    Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies (audiobook)
    The Iliad
    Emma
    A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
    Brave New world
    Frankenstein
    A Clockwork Orange
    The Inferno
    1984
    Tess of the D’Urbervilles
    Gulliver’s Travels
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
    Dune
    A Confederacy of Dunces
    A Short History of Nearly Everything
    Dubliners
    Slaughterhouse-five
    The Sound and the Fury
    The Scarlet Letter
    Lolita
    The Catcher in the Rye
    On the Road
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an inquiry into values
    The Hobbit
    Treasure Island
    The Once and Future King
    The Grapes of Wrath

    Books I’ve read at least part of (6):
    The Silmarillion
    Ulysses
    Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
    The Canterbury tales (even in an upper-division seminar on Chaucer, you don’t read the whole thing)
    Eats, Shoots & Leaves

    Books I’ve taught (6):
    The Canterbury tales
    Jane Eyre
    Wuthering Heights
    Brave New world
    1984
    Treasure Island

    Books I haven’t read but someone in my household has completed (22):
    Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
    Crime and Punishment
    One Hundred Years of Solitude
    Pride and Prejudice
    The Time Traveler’s Wife
    The Kite Runner
    Great Expectations
    American Gods
    Memoirs of a Geisha
    Angels & Demons
    Sense and Sensibility
    The Picture of Dorian Gray
    Mansfield Park
    Oliver Twist
    Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
    Neverwhere
    The Mists of Avalon
    Persuasion
    The Aeneid
    In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
    David Copperfield
    The Three Musketeers

    When you count the her overlap with my list, I’m afraid my daughter has read more of these allegedly pretentious books than her multiple-degrees-in-English-Lit old man!

  22. #22 Bill Dauphin
    April 27, 2008

    Ooops…

    For those of you who didn’t recognize my name, it’s no surprise: I got here through a link on Pharyngula, and somehow managed to post here a reply I meant for there.

    That’s what comes of ScienceBlogs all looking alike!

    Sorry to bother y’all…

  23. #23 arensb
    April 27, 2008

    Just to save you some time: “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” can definitely be skipped. If I remember correctly, so can “Madame Bovary”.

  24. #24 Dana Hunter
    April 27, 2008

    Thank you for giving me a book meme to play with!

  25. #25 Nan
    April 27, 2008

    I’ve read most of them — it’s an odd mix of truly classic and incredibly well-written books that show up on every high school English teacher’s reading list of acceptable sources for book reports and over-hyped best sellers. Wicked, for example, is just astonishingly bad writing. If I hadn’t been stuck in National Park Service seasonal housing for the summer with extremely limited reading choices (I’d already gone through every thing I’d brought with me) it would have been back on the shelf in the common room after the first 15 pages. The Mists of Avalon was pretty hideous, too, although I did do that one cover to cover. I know a lot of pagans who love it because of the goddess worship and strong female characters, but Marion Zimmer Bradley is definitely one of those writers who succumbed to her own hype and got worse with every book she wrote after 1980.

    Haven’t read about a dozen on the list, including Gravity’s Rainbow, Watership Down, The Kite Runner, and Ulysses. The last is the only one I’ve started, set down, and never got back to — but I was a lot younger then, so I’m thinking about giving it a second try.

  26. #26 Vincent
    April 27, 2008

    * Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
    * Crime and Punishment
    * Wuthering Heights
    * The Silmarillion (LOVE it)
    * Don Quixote
    * Moby Dick (A fave)
    * Ulysses (Reading it & loving it)
    * The Odyssey (Many times)
    * Jane Eyre
    * The Brothers Karamazov
    * War and Peace (Rereading it!)
    * The Iliad (Many times)
    [American Gods – I hate Gaimen]
    * Atlas Shrugged
    [Wicked – As an ardent Oz fan I despise this book!!!]
    * The Canterbury tales (In ME no less!)
    * A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
    * Brave New world
    * The Fountainhead
    * Middlemarch
    * Frankenstein
    * The Count of Monte Cristo
    * Dracula
    * A Clockwork Orange
    * The Once and Future King (Snore…)
    * The Grapes of Wrath
    * 1984 (A million times)
    * Angels & Demons
    * The Inferno
    * One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
    * Gulliver’s Travels (Many times)
    * The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
    * The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
    * Dune (20 times at least)
    * The Prince
    * Dubliners
    * Slaughterhouse-five
    * The Scarlet Letter
    * The Mists of Avalon (Hated it)
    * Lolita
    * On the Road
    * The Hunchback of Notre Dame
    * Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    * The Aeneid (Many times)
    * Watership Down (Many times)
    * Gravity’s Rainbow (Started, unfinished)
    * The Hobbit (100 times!)
    * Treasure Island (100 times!)
    * The Three Musketeers

    Why so many adventure stories? What’s pretentious about The Hobbit or Treasure Island…?

  27. #27 kim boone
    April 27, 2008

    @24: No, “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel” cannot “definitely be skipped”. That’s one of the best books I’ve read in years.

  28. #28 Unsympathetic reader
    April 27, 2008

    Which version of “Inferno”?
    Dante or Niven & Pournelle? Do you get extra points for both?

    Anansi Boys: Not one of Gaiman’s best.

  29. #29 Elwood Herring
    April 27, 2008

    I’ve read a fair amount on that list, and there’s plenty more I could recommend that aren’t there (Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach for example).

    As Carl Sagan pointed out, there’s only so may books one can read in a lifetime. The trick it to know which books to read.

    (I just wish he’d told us which ones they are!)

  30. #30 sibosop
    April 27, 2008

    I’ve read 88. I obviously need to get out more.

  31. #31 Bartholomew
    April 27, 2008

    Can we have a “seen the movie/prestigious BBC TV adaptation” subset?

  32. #32 outeast
    April 28, 2008

    It looks to me like it’s largely a mix of classics and hip bestsellers; I’m ‘missing’ quite a few of the latter, but it’s nothing to do with their being pretentious.

    I’ve read 57 of them, and remember having really enjoyed at least 44 of those. But many of those I enjoyed Then, I’d probably never pick up Now.

    There are another six 6 I left unfinished… and yes, the Silmarillion is one. Seems to be a trend…

  33. #33 ck1
    April 28, 2008

    Read 63.

    I sent this list to my book group. Our question – how was the list developed? Do you know, or know how to find out?

    thanks,

  34. #34 Russell Claus
    April 28, 2008

    Came here through a Pharyngula link:

    I’ve read eleven and finished them all but one.

    Moby Dick
    Catch-22
    Frankenstein
    1984
    Angels & Demons
    Les Miserable (not finished)
    Slaughterhouse 5
    The Scarlet Letter
    The Catcher in the Rye
    Freakonomics
    In Cold Blood

    We definitely need a “seen the movie/BBC mini-series” category as well, because if you add that in, then my total at least triples. How different are the movie versions of let’s say Watership Down and Lolita from the actual books anyway?

  35. #35 Virginia
    April 28, 2008

    Vanity Fair is one of my favorite novels, but I sympathize with the person who could not get through it. The problem is that, like many earlier novels, it is very difficult to keep track of all the characters, who often change names as the story goes on due to marriages, inheriting titles, etc.

    For this reason, I’m a great believer in using Cliff’s Notes or the like for the right reason, as an aid to reading rather than a substitute. When you don’t have to worry about figuring out every twist of the plot, you can enjoy these works on their own merit. The same is true of Ulysses, War and Peace, and many others.

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