A few weeks ago I wrote about the Guardian’s list of books to read while still alive. Today I found another and a more concise list of 10 books to read before you die that left me pretty much speechless. OK, it’s an American list and there is kind of a category mistake embedded in it – it is based on the results of a Harris Poll that asked 2,413 U.S. adults to name their favorite books and therefore it really is actually descriptive rather than normative. But then again, I would imagine that when asked about books worth reading most of the people would probably name those that they have read and liked rather than those they have heard about as being important.
Anyway, to the list. #1 spot is predictably occupied by the Holy Bible. Then we have American popular classics such as Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye. Stephen King features on the list with The Stand and Ayn Rand with Atlas Shrugged. Backed by its Hollywood success, Lord of the Rings has also made it there (although I am a bit suspicious on how many of the people who cast their vote in favour of LotR had actually read all the three books rather than simply watched the movie), as has Harry Potter series. And the two remaining slots are occupied by – hold on to your chairs – two books by Dan Brown: Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.
OK, I have actually read only six of those ten books, and a few of those only partly. And there are a couple of books on that list that I would have no reservations recommending to anyone to read. However, I could die with a clear conscience and absolutely no regrets not having read a single one of them, and in case of Da Vinci Code (yes yes, I know, *sobs*) I almost wish I HAD died before I read it.
This positively disastrous result of trying to compile a list of literary merit based on the popular opinion leads one to think that while in the developed world today literacy is indeed available to everyone, literature still remains very much a part and parcel of elite culture.
Because if the life worth living would indeed be defined by those ten books I could as well be dead.