on 25 June 2008
I received this book as a birthday present from a friend who shares a passion for reading. When we see each other every few months we always ask "what have you been reading lately?". Like my friend, this book is a great source for a selection of new books to read.
A few broad categories separate the 501 selected books. Each book has an excellent one-page synopsis or mini essay which are definitely worth reading - either as a guide to a potential purchase - or to check against your own assessment of an already encountered book.
To limit the entire world's output of books to a mere selection of 500 sounds a ridiculous idea - and no doubt a different 500 could just as easily have been selected. However, everyone should find a few here they haven't yet read - I've already picked out a few books for my Amazon Checkout basket!
Readers, of course, will never agree on which books ought to be classified as `must read'. I don't know about anyone else but as soon as someone recommends a book to me it puts me off reading it. This means, of course, that I have missed out on some excellent reads in the past, that only much later, I have found to be so. But that generally depends upon who recommended them and my age and the context in which they were recommended. I remember a work colleague about twenty years ago being horrified by my admission that I couldn't get on with `Birdsong': I finally tried again about 6 years ago and found it to be excellent - in parts!
This book is a truly weighty tome so not something that you can or would want to carry around with you: it is definitely meant to sit on a coffee table, or reside sturdily on a shelf somewhere. The must-read books are classified into 8 sections comprising; Children's Fiction, Classic Fiction, History, Memoirs, Modern Fiction, Science Fiction, Thrillers and Travel all capped off with separate book and author indices. Each entry is given its own full page spread and nicely illustrated by the dust jacket of its first edition.
My own sense of outrage was stimulated, initially, by the omission of To Kill a Mockingbird and then fortified by the omissions of Cancer Ward and Dr Zhivago while Captain Correlli's Mandolin is featured! Well, I guess Lincoln was as wise in this as he was in almost every other way when he (is purported to have) said `you can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time'!
Nevertheless, as a means of stimulation for both reading and debate it is, in common with its more grandiose rival ('1001 books you must read before you die'!) an invaluable resource that will provide hours of reading pleasure and a 'snip' at the price for which it's now available.