Monday, June 23, 2008

Read J.M. Coetzee before you die (?)

This list, of the 1,001 books you must read before you die (their words, not mine), has - I think - ten entries from South African-Australian author J.M. Coetzee. For comparison, Thomas Mann has four entries, Gore Vidal one (and Myra Breckinridge, at that), Günter Grass two, George Orwell five, and none from Vergil, Homer, Horace, Catullus, Cicero, Caesar, Herodotus, Thucydides, and...well, you take my point.

The message I take away from this list is that I really should just read everything J.M. Coetzee has ever written. Point taken and noted for the record.

Now, I really liked Waiting for the Barbarians. It was good. I haven't felt the need to delve more deeply into Coetzee's oeuvre, despite his recent Nobel Prize, largely because I am pretty sure that I will only be disappointed when I compare the work to Waiting. At the same time, does the author of this list really mean to suggest that I need to read Coetzee's Slow Man or Philip Roth's The Plot Against America before I read Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra or Homer's Iliad?

If not, he really should qualify his list a little bit. As I sit here venting my humanities-major steam, it crosses my mind that, if you're going to read Zarathustra, then you'll want to read Die Geburt der Tragödie, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, Der Fall Wagner, and Götzen-Dämmerung, and that's just enough to give you a flavor of Nietzsche's thought - not exhaustively or completely, though, by any means. It also forces me to realize that the selection of those books - just by Nietzsche - are motivated by my own readings and my own interests: thus, they highlight the problem of these lists. What I want and need to read before I join the Choir Eternal is different, in some way or another, than that which must be read by someone else. These lists are just too subjective for my taste.

Better, especially in today's world, to say "You must read 1,001 books before you die." Such a required project would, to my mind, solve many of the problems of today.

Ionarts had it first, by the by.


At 5:19 AM, Anonymous Arukiyomi said...

hmmm... buy the book. Peter Boxall does justify a lot. It's all subjective of course.


At 3:36 PM, Blogger Terry said... Aquinas or Augustine either? Or Gibbon? I'm sorry they leave such men out, as well.

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

The Angelic Doctor and Augustine should be reserved for those who can understand and appreciate.

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