Little Miss Giles and the 1000 Novel Challenge…

Back in the day, I didn’t earn the Little Miss Giles nickname by watching tv (although I did do that too). Having a ‘real’ job instead of academia, getting a cat (that somehow became three cats), commuting sagas and living with a partner and hence losing my iron grip over sound and lighting levels in the bedroom are all factors in reading less than I used to, but I have noticed an enormous dip in volume of digested reads. I have become that creature I could never fathom – I have a build up of books I own and haven’t read! To be fair, the majority of these are Christmas gifts that I haven’t been able to read thanks to a near apocalyptic combination of swine flu/pneumonia/ear infection/trigeminal neuralgia/copious and freakishly strong amounts of medication to deal with same – but it still rankles. Literally watching television as I couldn’t hear what was going on, and too sick and drugged to read, I realised just how much I missed books. Having not really registered New Year at all thanks to the dreaded swine, I made a belated resolution to get back on the reading horse (if you will excuse me turns of phrase that don’t work on still being a pharmaceutical guinea-pig grounds).

In early 2009, The Guardian published ‘1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list’ causing the stir that only labeling something ‘definitive’ can. The Guardian website was flooded with comments demanding to know why their preferred tomes were not included, querying the selection process, and questioning the gender imbalances in terms of author selection, and the ensuing debates, justifications, articles and trivia are well worth your time. Nonetheless, I was interested to find that as formerly voracious reader I was not able to cross as many as I would like off the list, and found precious few of my own most enjoyed on there. I did find the dreaded Pamela, which makes me worried about how much I am going to enjoy this challenge… Granted, it is not the list of the most loved novels, but still… Ian Fleming novels? More McEwan than Murakami? Six PG Wodehouses? Only one volume of the Gormenghast trilogy? Worryingly, there were quite a few novels that I can’t believe I haven’t read given my undergraduate. Having begun to read more non-fiction than fiction in the past few years, last summer I decided to use this list as a springboard to return to novels, and to make time for reading in general again. In typical contrary fashion, as soon as I set myself the challenge of reading every novel on this list (albeit before I die, and therefore hopefully with a long time before deadline), I promptly read a slew of novels that are not on the list! So the challenge for 2011 is to not only make some progress on the list, but to review each novel as I do so to force me to keep track. As the Guardian have included novels in languages other than English, reading a translation counts as far as I am concerned! My own major bugbear with the selection process is the division into thematic categories. How on earth do these categories make sense? Couldn’t every novel be in the ‘Family and Self’ category? Isn’t every novel, in its own way, a ‘state of the nation’ novel? Yet here the 1000 (or the 998 as it turns out, unless both excel and I have developed a serious counting malfunction) were laid out, clearly demarcated as one of the following
Family and Self,
Science Fiction and Fantasy,
State of the Nation and
War and Travel.

Follow the thematic links above for a progress breakdown – novels already read (either far before this challenge or in the past 6 months) are crossed out, while those already read more than once (or that I want to reread) are in colour. Only repeated readings by choice count (so books I studied, read more than once, and loathed are still in black). Why all 38 (and counting) Discworld novels are included as one entry on the list is anyone’s guess, and I am sure more anomalies will present themselves in the coming months and years, but still…only 618 to go! Anything on the list you think is so brilliant I should get to it asap, or any novel you are appalled is not on the list that you feel I have to read anyway, please let me know – all recommendations gratefully received.

Officially exhausted now, so I am back to bed to finish ‘The Year of the Flood’ by Margaret Atwood, which is not on the list, but which is good all the same… and as the man himself would say “If you want to criticise my methods, fine, but you can keep your snide remarks to yourself and while you’re at it; don’t criticise my methods!”


6 thoughts on “Little Miss Giles and the 1000 Novel Challenge…

  1. Oh, wow. That’s a lot of books. Makes me feel like my little 52 book goal is rather pathetic! But then, I don’t read a lot as it is, and I have the feeling that I will probably read a lot more than 52 books this year now that I’ve seen this list and have a good place to come when I’m at a loss for good reading material.

    Good luck with all your reading! I’m looking forward to reading your reviews.

    Oh, and I didn’t see it on the list: The Empire of the Wolves, by Jean-Christophe Grange was– I thought– absolutely brilliant. It is without a doubt my favorite book. It’s one of the only books I could read over and over again.

  2. I’m thinking it will be miraculous to do this if I live to be 100, so I would be delighted at 52 books per year to at least get me going (and I doubt I will hit that!). I’ve never read The Empire of Wolves, I will check it out!

  3. Thanks for your comment on my blog – but no thanks to pointing out there’s a whole other list of 1000. No fair! There’s too many lists! Too many books! Too little time to read!

    On another note – I loved Year of the Flood and the first in the series Oryx and Crake both…. am eagerly awaiting the rumoured third. Chills of the future. I keep thinking it’s about time that Margaret Atwood won the nobel prize. She’s up there in age (yet still prolific), important in a Canadian national identity sense, and has an incredible amount of books and literary/cultural criticism under her belt. Plus the Nobel list really needs more women on it.

  4. Yeah, the thematic divisions are weird. I was under the impression that there are only two themes in all of literature: someone leaves town or someone comes to town. 🙂 But really, how can any list like this not generate controversy?

    P.S. You should try some Ian Fleming. I recommend either Casino Royale or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Seriously!

  5. Thematic thing was weird – genre is so inflexible. I don’t know why they bothered.

    I love it when cultural authorities post lists, because it always creates a firestorm of reproach from practically every community on the internet.

    What I would like to see is comics being more represented in the mainstream lists.

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