March 2nd, 2006


She's got the book

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow: we all die.

Today is World Book Day. (Thank goodness it's not World Web Accessibility Day: "The results of our Happy Endings survey is [sic] published on World Book Day", says the aforelinked website, but they don't warn you that said results are only available as a large Word doc...) The BBC provides a readable summary, while the Guardian's 'culture vulture' blog pretends that the question of what makes a 'happy' or 'sad' ending wasn't crashingly obvious to anybody who'd ever read a book.

Meanwhile, librarians vote Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to the top of the "books to read before you die" hit parade, with the Bible and Lord of the Rings following in second and third places. The before-you-die meme irks me, as my internal jury is still out on whether the great Senior Tutor in the sky will be writing reports on us at the end of our threescore-and-ten, and I suspect that if they will be, then the question of whether I finished everything on the reading list is not going to be the main criterion for deciding whether I pass or fail. (And after you die, it's too dark to read.) However, if I were forced to compile this list, then I'd say that at least one of those three (though I'm not sure which one) was a sensible candidate for inclusion. I've read them all, incidentally, though I probably skimmed some bits of Numbers, Leviticus, and the Treebeard bits.

But griping about the entirely predictable responses ("A happy ending is the preferred choice of people all ages, genders and regions"; "the nation's favourite happy ending is the one that they saw most recently at the cinema starring Keira Knightley") to the necessarily bland questions is merely second-order tedium, as is trotting out the time-honoured retort that "if it gets them reading then it's got to be a good thing". The question of whether these lists "mean" anything might be worth asking, but it's a veritable quagmire of sophomore solipsism.

Often, the first response to a list one disagrees with is to make one's own list -- a list containing all the things that obviously should have been on the original list. This approach is not without its merits, as it reveals far more about the list-maker's cognitive processes than the likely explanations for the original objection ("that's nowhere near as good as this", "that doesn't count"). Unfortunately, lists beget lists, and lists beget lists, and eventually we all know an awful lot about the contents of our own heads and not a lot else. In this spirit, I've made my own list of twelve books (not necessarily the top twelve) which I first read while still in full-time education and which I believe significantly changed the way I think. You can't argue with that, now, can you? Collapse )

Having got that out of the way, I'm hoping that some of you people can come up with more interesting angles of discussion: the floor (or the comments page) is yours.

Take a book seat

Afterword to the previous post:

Also beginning today is Cambridge's Park & Read scheme. Cambridge residents are strongly encouraged (by me, I hasten to add, not the Council) to add value to the scheme by leaving a more eclectic selection of books on the buses, or indeed anywhere else that takes their fancy.

I left a copy of Alain De Botton's The Art of Travel on the train to Zermatt once, but that was by accident. I'd leave more books on trains if I didn't have a sneaking suspicion that they'd just be thrown away at the end of the day. Perhaps I should leave books in doctors' waiting rooms, where (as rysmiel and friends observe) they clearly never throw anything away.

Yes, I have seen the Bookcrossing project.