My Experience with the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List

Posted October 27, 2012 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 0 Comments

One of my favourite bookish podcasts is The Readers; if you haven’t heard it before go and subscribe, it offers random book-based banter which has been both enjoyable to listen to and offers some interesting ideas for future blog posts. This post is inspired by the latest episode about the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list.

With the newly revised book being released earlier this month, I thought I would share my experience with this list. As most people know I was never much of a reader, I think I read about one or two books a year. In 2009 something clicked in my head (thanks to Craig Schuftan) and I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on. But I had a problem; I really didn’t know where to start. I found plenty of books that looked interesting but I wasn’t sure if they would fulfil my yearning.

So with no idea of what my literary tastes were and not knowing what books would be required reading. I turned to a “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list which I found while searching books that were considered required reading for everyone. The thing I loved about this book was the fact that it was a combination of old and new books ranging from all different genres. This helped start my literary journey and find a real joy in being a literary explorer.

While I don’t read many books from the list now, I discovered the types of books and genres I really like and what hasn’t worked for me. Personally I would love to read every book on the list but as I discovered there are now four different editions. Do you read the entire list from one edition or combine the lot and read every book ever mentioned? I’ve come to the conclusion I would rather use the list as a guide in addition to discovering new books on my own accord as well.

I will always hold this list close to my heart because it did nurture my newly formed love of reading but it also helped my pretentious level as a book critic. I wish the publisher released a list of the books that have been removed from the new edition, I know there was a spread sheet that had the first three lists on it, so you can see which ones disappeared from each update and tick off all the books you’ve read but sadly that was taken down for copyright violations.  The publisher should look into something similar as I’m sure there are people out there that are willing to pay a small fee to have access to all the lists for referencing.

As a point of reference since beginning my reading journey back in 2009, I’ve now read over 400 books and seventy six of them were from the “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die” list. The list is still a point of reference for me when I feel like I’m not reading books that are literary enough. While the list covers most genres and offers an interesting perspective on your reading life, it never really felt like it was full of highly literary novels. For me it was just a way to explore and cover the essentials in reading. Here are ten books from the ones I’ve read that I loved and highly recommend;

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  6. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  7. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  8. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  9. Perfume by Patrick Süskind
  10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

  • I bought an edition of this a couple of years ago when I first began to branch out, reading wise. I wanted like you, to find some books that were considered stand outs, or required reading for the their genre as a place to start with exploring. I armed myself with post its (pink for ones I wanted to read and had to buy, blue for ones that we already owned around the house somewhere and wouldn’t require tracking down). I have one of the spreadsheets on my computer – so far I’ve read 2.3% of the 1001 books haha.

    • I love the post it idea, I might have to steal it. I’ve ordered the latest edition (thought I better support them)

  • I have the 2006 edition of the book. I had no idea there were different editions. The cover of your edition is interesting – ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, I think??

    I love this brick of a reference. I have spent lots of time simply browsing the recommended books and I have read so few of them….

    Your story is fascinating. You are a latecomer to books indeed! I am too – about 5 years ago. I’ve always loved books and reading but my ‘serious’ reading didn’t happen until much later.

    • It looks like they revise the list every two years. I’ve ordered the latest edition but it hasn’t arrived yet.

      Nice to know I’m not the only late comer to reading. I went from not reading to a very serious reader (which seems weird) but I’m glad I did.

  • Violet

    I wish they’d stop bringing out new editions of the 1001 Books, because it gets confusing. Why do they drop certain books and add others? Who makes the decisions? I guess they have to keep changing the lists in order to justify publishing another edition, but I want a definitive list! 🙂 I’m glad it acted as a guide to get you into reading and helped you to explore what was out there so you could find out what sort of books you enjoy. I think maybe that’s the real value of the 1001 Books concept.

    • I would love a definitive list but they need to include recent gems in the list too. I want a list of books that have been removed from each list, so I can read them too.

      As for who compiles the list, I believe it’s a group of editors and book critics.

    • I agree with you Violet. I was very surprised to know that the edition I have is not the only one – until Michael talked about it here. It seriously confused me.

      • Unless people stop writing books it’s hard to have a definitive list

    • Stephanie Campisi

      I definitely agree, Violet. I think it’s more awareness raising than it is a definitive list of what to read.

      • It has been great for that. I’ve discovered some great books because of this list

    • Duggy

      There is no definitive list. There can never be. 1001 isn’t enough. 2001 isn’t. There will always be more that need to be added. And stop bring out new editions? Did no important books get published after 2006?
      The book doesn’t claim to a definitive list, but rather an exploration of books and an entry into reading. I often see complaints about “Interview With A Vampire” being on the list. It isn’t great literature. But it is an important book to read as a door to the Supernatural Romance genre. Maybe you’ll enjoy it, maybe you won’t, but its there not as a definitively great book, but a door into a different world of books.

      • There will never be a definitive list but would be nice. I agree Interview with the Vampire isn’t great literature but thr list is more about giving people an entry way into different genres

        • Duggy

          Exactly.

          And if there was miraculously one list… wouldn’t it be a bit boring?

          That the list changes is an interesting part of the story.

  • I don’t trust any list that says i need to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

    • This isn’t a list of good books; more of a list of interesting books

    • Duggy

      The book changed laws in the US, Australia and England. That makes it important.

  • I would love it if you also wrote a blog about books you think should not be on the list and why.

    • Interesting idea, while I do loath some of the books on the list, I can’t fault them for putting them on there. For instance the WTF moments of Lady Chatterly’s Lover has caused a lot of discussion and hatred in my household, so it did its job.

  • We have a similar way of searching for books to read, but I didn’t follow the 1001 list. I have issues with it, so I turned to Time Magazine’s list. It’s more in line with my literary taste.

    • I like the Times and Modern Library 100 best books too. I hope to cross all those books off my list too.

      I prefer the 1001 list because I started with that list so it’s close to my heart

  • Deirdre

    I did a post like this one on my book blog and it sparked much conversation. My list was from The Guardian Weekly. It’s a little old but interesting to keep track of what we’re lacking in. I found 71 books on this list that I read. Your list seems to be more aprroachable. Mine seems to be a little more challenging. However what I don’t like is the lack of African/African-American and foreign writers on these types of lists. I’ve decided to use mine to expand my reading. I find your blog very interesting and found it via the Best 2012 Survey. 🙂

    • Yeah I have problems with list like these but they do help explore

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  • Duggy

    Checking the various lists, I’ve read about 35 of the more than 1001 books. Half of which were for my BA (Eng Lit) unfortunately since I’ve graduated I’m mostly stopped reading. Which makes my own book review blog very strange.