Posted by: Mish | June 17, 2010

1001 Books and Retro Reading

My reading tastes have always been retro. In my youth I was reading Jack London and Marguerite Henry while others were reading R.L. Stine. Actually, I owned several of the Fear Street books, but he’s the only author from that time to come to mind. I rarely read new releases or books that are only a few years old. I guess it goes without saying that those are by my favourite authors who I need to read sooner than later. The majority of my contemporary reading is of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. I love classic literature so tend to read fiction and mysteries from before the 1950’s.

It’s amusing to see what I’ve read from the literary critics’ 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. The only book I’ve read from the list’s small, young 21st century section is Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, and that was due to a friend adamantly putting it in my hands. It was really good and I will read more by Waters, after I read more by Robert Heinlein, Wilkie Collins, and others whose works I’ve been wanting to deeply explore. From the list, I’ve read 21 from the 1900’s, 20 from the 1800’s, and 3 from before the 1700’s. I’m almost finished with Moby Dick so that will be 21, and later this summer, Don Quixote will make the fourth, bringing my total to 47.

It’s interesting to see what made the “must read” list, which I now have on site thanks to Uncertain Principles. I’m somewhat surprised that Goethe’s Faust didn’t make the cut and am intrigued as to why Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and the Sorrows of Young Werther did. Many of the books or authors have been in my reading pile before the list was published, others I’m now curious about, and some I have no inclination to read at this time. With the handy-dandy spreadsheet created by Arukiyomi I can keep track of what I’ve read and want to read from the 1001 books and form my own conclusions about what the 100 or so literary critics deemed must-worthy.

I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but do the genres you read vary according to the time in which they were written? Are you keeping a list of what you’ve read from among the 1001 books? Why or why not? And as asked by BTT:

Booking Through Thursday button “Do you prefer reading current books? Or older ones? Or outright old ones? (As in, yes, there’s a difference between a book from 10 years ago and, say, Charles Dickens or Plato.)”



  1. I almost avoid books that are hot off the press! I would like other readers to do the work—to read and to comment upon them before I decide whether I’ll go for them. Classic and modern (first half of 20th century) books always get to the top of my pile. I guess I am also “retro.” 🙂

  2. I love classics!

    Thanks for visiting my site. I’ll try to keep an eye out for Lion’s Blood on my next visit to the bookstore.

  3. Faith: No problem. I don’t think I mentioned it, but it should be in the SF/F section.

    Matt: Numerous positive comments without a few negatives make me wary. I heard nothing but good things about Coehlo’s the Alchemist from friends and other bloggers. It was disappointingly just okay. At least it was a really easy, quick read.

    Indeed, retro readers are we.

  4. oooh… thanks so much for the linkage mate. Much appreciated.

  5. You’re welcome. Thanks for the program.

  6. I’m pretty evenly split between liking to read older stuff and newer, but that, especially in regards to science fiction, is a relatively new phenomenon. I have always been a fan of the classics and there are still so many that I have yet to read. But I’ve made a conscious effort over the last few years to at least read a few newer sci fi titles every year and it is getting to be more of a habit now and less of something I have to think about. That being said, my reading years will always be filled with a fair amount of the classics. I have a ton of Heinlein and Asimov that I still want to get to, and that is just those two authors.

    Outside of genre fiction I also enjoy the classics. I want to read more of Wilkie Collins at some point. There are a few of Jane Austen’s books that I haven’t read and would like to as well as at least one Bram Stoker novel that I own and haven’t read yet. I also want to try more H.G. Wells, more Burroughs, more Doyle. I have a few Howard Conan stories that I haven’t read yet that I want to get to as well as some of his non-Conan stories.

    The list could, and does, go on and on.

  7. I’ve been exploring classic SF so haven’t read much of the newer. Asimov and Wells are also on my list.

    I have a few books by Collins waiting to be read. My copy of Cain’s Legacy is a worn hardcover from the forties, which will add to the classic reading experience.

    I don’t believe I’ve read any Austen. I’ve been cautioned against Emma and recommended Pride & Prejudice.

  8. Hmm, I read a few Fear Streets. Remember a school/graduation series within Fear Street as well – those had the best covers!

    I’ve probably read about sixty from the 1001 list, although would love to read at least a tenth of that in the next couple of years. Can’t remember if I’ve already recommended this to you, but read Cloud Atlas from the 2000s. Think you’ll enjoy it.

  9. I was newly married and working in a small mall Waldenbooks bookstore when the Fear Street novels became popular. I resisted for awhile and then Halloween Party came out, with a deaf girl as the protagonist, and I could no longer resist. I still have that book, actually. I read and enjoyed a few more of them before I moved on to something else. Never read any of the Christopher Pike books which were also so popular at the time.

  10. Crumbles: I had moved onto other reading by the time those came out. It was a fun & scary series though. At that rate, a tenth is definitely doable. Cloud Atlas looks really good and is in the reading queue. You may have, but reminders are always welcome. Thanks.

    Carl: I can’t remember the last time I heard Pike’s name mentioned. Years. I never read his books either. Fear Street was good. Now I kinda wish I still had a few.

  11. It is odd, because over the years of multiple moves, etc. I lost all kinds of books that were more important to me yet somehow kept hold of a couple of Fear Street books. Life is odd. 😉

  12. It is that indeed.

  13. Ah, you’re plowing your way through Moby Dick! 😛 What do you think of it?

    I almost joined a read-along but decided I do not need to read it — there’s so much more on my list! I seem to like the classic chunksters just for reference: when I’ve *finished* reading them at least I know what they’re all about and I might be able to recognize things relating to it in other books. But I usually don’t particularly like the big ones, like Don Quixote, Max Havelaar (Multatuli) or Soseki’s I Am a Cat.

    But hey, I’m not saying I don’t love classics! I guess it’s just a certain (not plot-driven?) type… Last year’s fav was The Grapes of Wrath 😉 And at the moment I’m reading The Pillow Book from the years 990…

  14. I’m liking Moby Dick. 60 more pages to go! I would read it again, later down the road. The intimidating book is better than expected and not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. I’ve been wanting to read it for a long time and my first read-along provided the perfect opportunity.

    I’ll also be knocking Don Quixote off my list thanks to a read-along, but I’m ‘cheating’ with an abridged version I already have. I don’t mind chunksters, but like you, there’s so much more I want to read. Besides, books get added to the pile faster than I can read them so I need to speed things up occasionally.

    I’ve heard Pillow Book mentioned before. What do you think of it so far? I couldn’t get through Grapes the first time, possibly because I had more interesting things to read at the time. I may try it again at some point. I loved of Mice and Men though.

  15. Let me know what you think of the abridged version of Don Quixote. I have not let go of reading that book…not yet. I do have it sitting in my closet.

    I read the 1001 books you must read list and found myself overwhelmed by it all. Then I asked myself, who in the heck decides upon such a list? and Why?
    When it comes down to it, the list is not important to me…they are not my must reads…way too many of them to truly be must reads.

    So, when all is said and done, I want to have read a variety of genres but with the books that I want to read, not because it is on some “must read” list or because of the year it was written. The only lists that are important are my own. 😀

  16. I’m going to read whatever catches my attention, but it’s amusing to see what made the lists and compare opinions. I think the 100+ literary critics who made the 1001 list probably did so out of boredom…and marketing, of course. Some of the titles seem to be drawn from a hat. I also just like book lists, whether I agree or not.

    No worries about Goodreads.

  17. True…it is fun to read lists and book lists are by far the most fun. Actually, for me though, it is more fun to create the lists. 🙂

    At one point, I decided to try and read through a list of along the lines of a “well-read mind”. I quickly realized, at that point, my mind did not want to be well read. At least not in that amount of saturation. LOL

  18. I’ve only made 3 book lists: those I want to read, those I’ve read, and suggestions for the SF challenge.

    Lighter reading provides good mental breaks when trying to be well-read.

  19. Very true Mish…lighter reading does provide a good mental break, but for more than just complex reads. 😀

    Your 3 lists are good ones, and ones that continue to be changed and added to. It is the to-read list that seems to grow exponential, or least mine does. 🙂

  20. Yep, indeed it does.

    I was doing fine finding books to read on my own. Thanks to bookish folks I’m adding to the pile on a weekly basis, faster than I can read. Not that I’m complaining or anything. 🙂

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