The OF Blog: The perfect library?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The perfect library?

Sometimes, I want to swear that British newspapers (good as the better ones might be in covering actual news, compared to the US papers) set out to piss me off. The latest is from the Telegraph, with their 110 book "perfect library."

Oh, I'm not going to deny that the books on there aren't "worthy" choices (I've read slightly over half of those, and if I were more into reading biographies, the number would have been much higher), but in a day and age where everything, including literature, is global, that was the best that could have been devised? It read more like an Oxbridge required reading list than of anything that reflected much of anything from the past 30 years.

Let's see what notable omissions there have been. Borges immediately comes to mind. One would have thought he would have been considered due to his Anglophile tastes, but nope. Chinua Achebe? No, despite writing one of the most powerful looks at how imperialism changed African social systems. Same holds true for Ben Okri, alas.

In the poetry section, no Beats. I guess Ginsberg would have been talking about the best minds of my generation being destroyed reading such an antiquated list that seems to summarily dismiss so much of the past 60 years of poetry. But then again, he was an American, which perhaps accounts for so little of my country's writers and poets making it on this list. But no Miguel Cervantes? The oft-presumed "founder" of the modern novel? What sort of shit were the list's constructors on when they devised this skewed parody of a broad library list? Putting Tolkien in the Children's section? Excuse me while I ponder sending a rabid berserker Hobbit after them...

If the timestamp had read 4/1/2008 (or 1/4/2008 or 2008.4.1, if you prefer), I would have dismissed this as an antiquated April Fool's Day joke. But now I have to wonder if the list's contributors have read much of anything outside of pastoral English literature, sprinkled with the near-obligatory mentions of the more "daring" fictions of the 20th century. Because if this shitty 110 book list constitutes a "perfect library," then I guess my personal one of 1500+ is an ultra-double Alpha plus library, since it has most of these along with greats from dozens of global regions.


Cheryl said...

Larry, no one who reads the Telegraph is willing to admit that the 19th century has ended. Some of them still cling fondly to the 18th Century,

Lsrry said...

I know, but was like shooting fish in a barrel, getting a rant ready out of reading that :P What's amusing is that the Telegraph people left out some of the best of the 18th and 19th century literature, but who even reads Tom Jones these days, right?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I thought the list was rather Whig from a look at the history section - Gibbon, Runciman etc, read together with the comments provided by the unidentified author of the piece. Also, look at the section named "Books that changed the world"! Paine, Rousseau, Diderot but by giving the section this jarring title instead of "Philosophy", they've managed to skip Burke or Cobbett. The only book representing conservatism as opposed to classical liberalism that I could readily spot was Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy.

Sheer Whiggery explains the lack of postcolonial stuff far better than conservatism here.

Anonymous said...

Restricting yourself to a fixed number of books always leads to why this one and not that one - my pet peeves: why Arabian Nights and Bulgakov are not there - but I've read quite a few of the books on the list and most are pretty good or are/were pretty influential.

The funny part is that recently Tipping Point got debunked in some studies but Telegraph seems to have missed it. Should have not included non-fiction with at least 20-30 years shlef life...


Lsrry said...

Adam, excellent point, considering I had to endure quite a few Whig histories and so forth in my undergrad history courses before I got to the "good" stuff (Marxist and poststructuralist critiques). That might explain my overly harsh reaction to that list, as I did enjoy quite a few of them, even as I couldn't help but to question the slant given to the books.

Liviu, yeah, it's difficult constructing lists, but I think the "perfect" title being used in lieu of "essential" is part of what set me off last night. The list just seemed too limited in focus and in time periods to be anything more than a good starter list.

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