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What to read
March 20, 2006 7:59 PM   Subscribe

What to read. A list of lists for book recommendations, includes a compiled "Great Books" Lists with a World Literature list and lots more.
posted by stbalbach (50 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
The average person can read about 2000 books in a lifetime (3 books a month for 50 years). There are somewhere between 30 and 150 million books. Choose wisely.
posted by stbalbach at 8:01 PM on March 20, 2006


IMO, reading should be a pleasure not an endurance battle.

If the "great books" interest you, then by all means read them. But there is also no point torturing yourself with literature that doesn't interest you -- just to say that you've read such and such.

As a lifelong avid reader (and no, I'm not talking about romance novels), some of what people like Harold Bloom would recommend would bore me to tears. I read reviews and such, but ultimately I'll just read what seems to speak to me.

And bear in mind that book reviews these days are far from objective affairs. There's a lot of back scratching going on. And the New York Times Sunday Book Review section is getting worse by the minute (in my estimation). But I digress.
posted by bim at 8:23 PM on March 20, 2006


I was looking for Bloom's list a little while ago - thanks!
posted by Dasein at 8:29 PM on March 20, 2006


These previous threads might be of interest: 1 and 2.

Regarding lists -- check out St. John's College Reading List and Mortimer Adler's The Great Books, as well as:

Great Books -- by David Denby

The Know-It-All -- by A.J. Jacobs

The New Lifetime Reading Plan -- by Clifton Fadiman & John S. Major

The Well Educated Mind -- by S. Wise Bauer & Susan Wise Bauer.
posted by ericb at 8:38 PM on March 20, 2006


I love the "Modern Library" link to Random House's 100 Best Novels.

Top 3 from "the board": Ulysses, The Great Gatsby and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Then the readers bring it strong with their top 3: Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and Battlefield Earth.

Take that, board!
posted by mullacc at 8:42 PM on March 20, 2006


Ulysses.... Atlas Shrugged

It's good to know that, despite their differences in taste, both the board and the readers agree that unreadability is an important characteristic in a great novel.
posted by dersins at 8:56 PM on March 20, 2006 [2 favorites]


Can't read...too busy reading Mefi.
posted by iamck at 9:24 PM on March 20, 2006


Ulysses.... Atlas Shrugged

It's good to know that, despite their differences in taste, both the board and the readers agree that unreadability is an important characteristic in a great novel.


And with Battlefield Earth, "suckage" takes it's place next to "unreadability".
posted by kjs3 at 9:24 PM on March 20, 2006


great links--thanks! The Guardian has good, idiosyncratic Top 10 in each genre too, picked by authors in that genre.
posted by amberglow at 9:41 PM on March 20, 2006


Also of interest might be the Foundation Year Programme reading list from King's College, Halifax.
posted by Dasein at 9:41 PM on March 20, 2006


Fucking establishment. No one tells me what to read!

Except for the MetaChat book club, that is.
posted by Eideteker at 9:58 PM on March 20, 2006


Stbalbach - thank you!
posted by BinGregory at 9:58 PM on March 20, 2006


ericb, if you like those links, be sure to check out the second FPP link, in particular the bottom of the page.

bim, sorry to hear so many of the great books are boring to you. I wouldn't want to read many of them either.. unfortunately the ones I do want to read exceed my lifetime library card quota.. need to hack that somehow.
posted by stbalbach at 10:06 PM on March 20, 2006


ericb, if you like those links, be sure to check out the second FPP link, in particular the bottom of the page.

Thanks. Your links have provided many interested links -- many new to me.
posted by ericb at 10:19 PM on March 20, 2006


*many interesting links*

Time for bed!
posted by ericb at 10:20 PM on March 20, 2006


It's good to know that, despite their differences in taste, both the board and the readers agree that unreadability is an important characteristic in a great novel.

Bah.
I know I'm being purposefully dense by ignoring the snarkiness of this comment, but neither of these books are in any way "unreadable." AS may be obnoxious in its philosophy, but its pretty easy stylistically.

Ulysses is certainly a challenge, but one that has been far overstated. The book rewards effort, certainly, but it is in no way insurmountable. I think a bright college undergrad can read this without a problem and get a significant amount out of it.
posted by papakwanz at 10:22 PM on March 20, 2006


Atlas Shrugged is not unreadable by any stretch, but those monologues that go on forever and forever are quite tiring. Ulysses, on the other hand, has never been read by any human being from cover to cover...
posted by Harald74 at 10:41 PM on March 20, 2006


I love lists of books. :)

Can't read...too busy reading Mefi.

Understandable, but I gotta say I feel a huge qualitative difference between reading blogs and reading books. The difference seems to get bigger and bigger the more I read, too.
posted by mediareport at 11:27 PM on March 20, 2006


bim: book reviews these days are far from objective affairs

Here's a good article on MobyLives covering that very subject (from a few years back).

2000 books doesn't seem like nearly enough for a whole lifetime. (Actually, my math puts it at 1800 books.) Isn't that like only half of Dickens's corpus?
posted by whir at 1:20 AM on March 21, 2006


Ulysses, on the other hand, has never been read by any human being from cover to cover...

Um, I read it.

But to be fair, I'm a Dubliner, so it was like taking a tour of the city as it was a century ago in my head. Also, I only read 25 pages a day. Unreadable? No. An easy read? No. Did I get a lot out of it? Somewhat. It's not the kind of book I'd recommend for some light reading, but I think I'm better off for trying it.

Now as for Finnegan's Wake, well, that's just taking the piss.
posted by macdara at 1:32 AM on March 21, 2006


I like reading lists of books I should read instead of actually reading the books themselves. I feel like this optimises the process somehow.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:44 AM on March 21, 2006


After reading a few Booker prize winners I set out to read the entire list. I am about halfway and my conclusion is that most Bookers are not that great.
posted by srboisvert at 2:16 AM on March 21, 2006


bim, sorry to hear so many of the great books are boring to you. I wouldn't want to read many of them either.. unfortunately the ones I do want to read exceed my lifetime library card quota.. need to hack that somehow.

No need to feel sorry for me. I've got plenty of good books to read. And I've read numerous "great books." If you'd like to read every "great book" off a list somebody gave you, well good for you. I'm sure you'll be superior to everyone else -- which seems to be your goal for reading judging by your snide comment. Reading isn't a contest. But you keep checking them off your little list and puff yourself up. Besides, I suspect a lot of folks like to talk more about reading classic books rather than actually doing it.

Spare me your elitist crap.

...and thanks for the good link, whir!
posted by bim at 2:44 AM on March 21, 2006


One great way of finding good books to read is to rank books you've read at Amazon.com. They compare your rankings with others' and recommend books based on books ranked high by others that have the same tastes as you. This helps avoid the problem of book lists, which is that they can't take individual tastes into account.
posted by Bort at 3:49 AM on March 21, 2006


Nice suggestion, Bort. I hadn't noticed the ranking option thingie, but I'll take a look. I have, though, seen several good suggestions on the readers lists that pop up sometimes in the sidebar. :)
posted by bim at 4:17 AM on March 21, 2006


Ulysses, on the other hand, has never been read by any human being from cover to cover...

What mindboggling idiocy. "I'm too lazy to try to actually read this book that's so famous for being difficult, so therefore nobody reads it, and if they say they do they're lying!" Enjoy your solipsism. (Actually, it's a fun read, once you get used to the style, which doesn't take that long.)

Also, I feel compelled to say that Abu Bakr Muhammad bin 'Abdulmalik ibn Tufail should be filed under I(bn), like Ibn Battuta (misspelled in list) and Ibn Khaldun, rather than under A(bu), where nobody will find him if they're looking for the author of Awakening of the Soul (Hayy ibn Yaqzan). Which I know you all are.
posted by languagehat at 5:30 AM on March 21, 2006


I think readers who get too caught up in the idea of Great Books and classic canons should make Bordieu's Distinction : A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste next on their list.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:32 AM on March 21, 2006


I love the "Modern Library" link to Random House's 100 Best Novels.

Does that make Catch-22 the best.book.ever? I might even agree.
posted by nowonmai at 7:06 AM on March 21, 2006


Languagehat, I took 'Ulysses, on the other hand, has never been read by any human being from cover to cover...' to be a joke. Like saying that 'nobody gets through War & Peace' which is obviously not true and just plays on the fact that it is a somewhat hefty book.

Not having read Ulysses, I can't really comment, but I can't imagine it to be any 'harder' to read than your average Shakespeare play or Naked Lunch. Am I mistaken?

Man, when I was younger I read about a book or two a week. Then the internet came along. I blame the interents from making me stupider and less eager to read. Nowadays it's a lack of time. At least that's what I tell myself...
posted by slimepuppy at 7:33 AM on March 21, 2006


Bort,

I signed up for Amazon because I liked your idea. The recommendations from them are exclusively other books by the authors I rated. Any suggestions how to get amazon to suggest new authors?
posted by MotorNeuron at 7:38 AM on March 21, 2006


The Know-It-All -- by A.J. Jacobs

This is one of those books that starts off really well and then by the time you've finished it you're left with a deep loathing for the author.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:49 AM on March 21, 2006


slimepuppy- it's tougher than reading Shakespeare, certainly. Naked Lunch I haven't read, so I can't make any comparisons.
posted by papakwanz at 8:03 AM on March 21, 2006


I think readers who get too caught up in the idea of Great Books and classic canons should make Bordieu's Distinction : A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste next on their list. - mrmojoflying

You could send it to them as an anonymous gift.
posted by raedyn at 8:14 AM on March 21, 2006


Actually having read Ulysses (because I had to) I can honestly say... wow...it's ... really long. Dostoevsky is like Dr. Suess in comparison and far more digestible.

A friend used to keep a copy of Atlas Shrugged on the top of his toilet (Before Maxim). He explained it had less to do with alleviating boredom during certain times, than he found it amusing the comparison between the novel and the activities taking place. I couldnt agree more.
posted by elendil71 at 8:14 AM on March 21, 2006


MotorNeuron,

You should see a tab at the top of the page that says "[Login name]'s Store". Select that. Right below that tab at the top of the page are 2 links: "Improve Your Recommendations" and "Learn more". These should help you.
posted by Bort at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2006


What mindboggling idiocy. "I'm too lazy to try to actually read this book that's so famous for being difficult, so therefore nobody reads it, and if they say they do they're lying!" Enjoy your solipsism. (Actually, it's a fun read, once you get used to the style, which doesn't take that long.)

Gosh, you're always a treat. Thanks as usual for taking the most humorless possible reading of a comment. Glad your awesomely advanced brain had no trouble at all with what most mortals acknowledge is a pretty challenging book.
posted by Skot at 8:46 AM on March 21, 2006


Another great use of Amazon is to find new music. I tend to search for bands I like and see what other bands are listed under a section called something like "Others that bought this also bought". The cool thing is that most of the albums/CDs have 30 second clips of all the songs. So I can see what bands sound decent and then download them using P2P.
posted by Bort at 8:54 AM on March 21, 2006


Languagehat, I took 'Ulysses, on the other hand, has never been read by any human being from cover to cover...' to be a joke.

Ah well, if so, I apologize. But I've heard people say that kind of thing perfectly seriously so often the idea didn't exactly leap to mind. As ever, it's even more difficult deciphering tone around here than reading Joyce.
posted by languagehat at 9:06 AM on March 21, 2006


Finnegans Wake is a riot.
posted by muckster at 9:20 AM on March 21, 2006


Personally, I think Ulysses is great reading, and quite entertaining. Finnegans Wake -- though I did force myself to finish it -- not so much.

Ayn Rand, though: gah.

Thanks for all the links!
posted by trip and a half at 10:16 AM on March 21, 2006


I usually read Proust while fucking - it takes the pain away.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 10:53 AM on March 21, 2006


I've been looking for a list like this, but I never found this particular site, and it's easily the best one I've seen. I think my reading list is about to get longer... Thanks, stbalbach!
posted by a louis wain cat at 1:12 PM on March 21, 2006


After reading a few Booker prize winners I set out to read the entire list. I am about halfway and my conclusion is that most Bookers are not that great.

Having just given up on the tidepool of tedium that is Banville's The Sea, I couldn't agree more.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:20 PM on March 21, 2006


The Jesse Helms: Step away from the madeira cake. That's not what it's for.
posted by Sparx at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2006


So whats the top ten reads in the bathroom?
I used to keep Finnigan’s Wake in there - (it’s meant to be read aloud and I like the acoustics).
posted by Smedleyman at 2:25 PM on March 21, 2006


Here is a large online selection of Kenneth Rexroth's superb little "Classics Revisited" essays. And if I may be so bold, here are my own recommendations.
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 2:34 PM on March 21, 2006


bim, hats off to you. I take it the books you have read that on the list don't count as elite. Like War and Peace for example.
posted by stbalbach at 1:38 PM on March 22, 2006


So what's the top ten reads in the bathroom?

Dunno about the top 10, but the oddest book I ever kept in the bathroom was a pink covered paperback of the selected writings of Charles Fourier. Not a subject I'm particularly interested in, can't even remember why I picked the book up on one of my used bookstore raids, but darned if I didn't get through the whole thing eventually, all while at stool. The book is apparently worth a bit of money (if, you know, one hasn't kept it in an untidy bathroom for the better part of a year).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:03 PM on March 22, 2006


stbalbach -- You really need to work on your reading comprehension. I've never seen anyone so consistently misread things. ;)
posted by bim at 7:03 PM on March 22, 2006


Loser. ;) whir!
posted by stbalbach at 8:19 AM on March 23, 2006


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