Sometimes I can’t resist. A friend had posted one of those Facebook surveys, “The Greatest Books of All Time Forever.” I’m a sucker, and consider myself reasonably well-read, so I went through the list.
Such lists are always suspect to me. What I think is great may not be what you consider great. For example, I might list J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings as one of the top books of at least the last century. I don’t think my wife shares that opinion. I don’t think she ever finished it, she just wasn’t interested enough. Supposedly the choices on this particular list were “taken from multiple “Greatest Books” lists and issued numbers according to their rankings on those lists to create the closest thing to an “objective” list of the greatest books from English-speaking sources.”
I scored abysmally. May as well get that out of the way immediately. Of the 400 works (all fiction by the way) I had read 61. That’s 15 per cent. Below the average score of those taking the test. Mind you that still ranked me in the top third of the people who had taken the test. My suspicion would be that only those who read a lot would even look at a 400-book-long list, so the sample is skewed.
In my defence, there were a few books that I didn’t mark as read because I couldn’t remember. My memory isn’t what it used to be and I have read thousands of books in the past half-century or so. It isn’t surprising that I can’t remember every title.
There were probably 20 books on the list that I have not read but I have seen the movie. Maybe more than that. Certainly there were more than 20 books that I have started and didn’t finish. Rarely, if ever, should there be a sense of obligation when reading fiction. Just because someone else thinks it is a great book doesn’t mean you have to. If the book doesn’t grab me I usually just move on to something else.
I read fiction to relax, not because I feel obligated to be able to say I have read a particular book. There were a number of Jane Austen novels on the list. I’ve never read any of her works – though I own a set of the novels. I understand they are fine examples of their genre, but I’m not overly interested. Robert Heinlein didn’t make the list, not even Stranger In A Strange Land, which I understand, but at the same time find surprising. Certainly it ranks up there with Stephen King’s The Stand? As I said, such lists are arbitrary. So there were a lot of books on the list that I have made a conscious choice not to read. I don’t think that makes me a bad person.
Quite frankly, a lot of the choices seemed a little odd to me. I doubt anyone has read The Epic of Gilgamesh for pleasure in the past couple of millennia. Yes, it is an important historical work – but no-one reads it unless it is required for school, it just isn’t that gripping. Or is that merely my opinion? Are Sumerian poems the next big literary thing?
At this point you are probably expecting me to provide a link so you can take the quiz too to see if you are better read than I am. I’m going to disappoint you, though I am sure if you really want to take it your search engine of choice will direct you there.
Instead I suggest you go to the library or your local bookstore find something that looks interesting to you and read that. Don’t worry about what others think, just enjoy a good book.