Friday, 10 October 2014

The Guardian's "1000 novels everyone must read"

Finland has a lot of "national days of this and that", which are often celebrated on the birthday of a notable Finnish personality. They are not official holidays and it really depends on one's own interest how much or how little you care to mark the occasion. Personally, I mostly forget about these various dates completely and wouldn't even notice they existed if it wasn't for all the Finnish flags being hoisted up. Today, however, I'm actually aware that it's the birthday of Aleksis Kivi, which also stands for the national day of Finnish literature. Aleksis Kivi is renowned as the author of Seven Brothers (Seitsemän veljestä) – one of the first Finnish novels ever, published in 1870 – and he is also considered a Finnish pioneer in the genre of realism, and one of the first people over here to make their entire living by writing – though this never quite worked out as well as Kivi might have wished and his life was unstable both mentally and financially.

Well, my relationship with Finnish literature is what it is, but as I was planning a bookish blog post anyway, I will take this chance to appreciate literature in a more global sense. So here follows the original post which I planned some days ago and which now fits in very conveniently with the national day of literature.

While the BBC booklist went around the internet last spring, The Guardian's list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read that had been compiled in 2009 re-surfaced. This list had been made by the Guardian's review team and a panel of expert judges, rather than by a public poll. I hope that readers everywhere will choose their reading according to their own interests (and occasionally because the teacher said so) instead of feeling pressure from some "definitive" list, but of course it was very interesting to see what this list looked like – and how I measured up against it myself. You can get your score on List Challenges. Here is what I have read out of the list:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

That's 33 novels, which makes 3,3% out of the list. There were also a couple of books on the list that I started but never finished: Lord of the Flies by William Golding, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. The first two I gave up because I got too bored, but I really don't understand why I never finished the last book of His Dark Materials, because I was absolutely fascinated by the first two. I must have been busy with other stuff and put the book aside in order to return to it at a better time. I'll have to keep that in mind. I've also read City of Glass, which is one part of Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy – I didn't think much of it, it was one of those compulsory reads for a University course. 

There were also many books on that list that I will definitely be reading some day. I just made myself a "near-future reading list" (meaning "I won't take up any other reading till I've finished these") which happens to include eight books from the Guardian list. (My "far-future reading list" is vague and constantly changing, with no time limits except "before I die" and includes all the Charles Dickens books, for example.)


  1. I got 75, in part because once I found this list a couple of years ago, I've been deliberately using it as guide. I'm currently reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I'm planning to read the second volumes of Les Misérables and The Book of the New Sun before the year is out.

    I do think the inclusion of the entire damn Discworld series is slightly unfair, though. There's something like 30 of them and he's not quite done yet.

  2. I've just had a go at this. I got 78. Thanks for putting this up!

    In England - unlike Scotland, Wales and Ireland - we don't tend to celebrate our Patron Saint's Day and most people, like myself, forget when it is. That's partly because of the long Protestant heritage and partly because the English flag has become a symbol for fascist groups. That's why you won't see many English flags in England unless the World Cup is on. You reminded me of that fact when you said that there are national holidays in Finland that people completely forget about.

  3. I got 86, and I made myself not count the books that I've seen the movies of but not read the books of, which were kind of numerous.

    I did count the Discworld books even though I've only read 3 of them.

  4. Hah, I discovered an error! The list contains Anthony Powell's "A Dance to the Music of Time", which is a twelve-part series, under the heading of Comedy, but also lists The Valley of Bones, The Soldier's Art and The Military Philosophers, which are parts 7-9 of the series, under War and travel.