Uh Oh

January 16, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

Hey, look what I found: the website for the 1001 Before You Die series.

The problem with this is that on the very first page of the 1001 Books section, I noticed a handful of titles I didn’t recognize.  It turns out there’s more than one edition out there!

Anyone with completist tendencies will immediately see the pitfall here.  If one were to try to read every title nominated as a Book You Must Read Before You Die, the grand total will exceed 1001.  By how much, I wonder?  I’m not quite obsessive enough to catalogue them all, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if someone else was.

Why do I care what some middlebrow book has to say about what to read, anyway?  Well, it’s partly because the list does contain many books I’ve Always Wanted To Read but haven’t yet, and partly because I don’t want to miss out on something so many people loved.  Probably the biggest reason, though, is that at the rate I’ve been reading, I could get through 1001 books in 2.5 years – and I’ve already read 173, so that cuts out a few months.  I just… don’t want to run out of books!

I guess having more than 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is a good thing, then – as long as we can keep track of them.

“Black Water”

January 16, 2009 at 6:32 pm | Posted in Fiction | 2 Comments

I read Black Water, by Joyce Carol Oates, for the 1% Well Read Challenge.  I’ve always thought she was great, and it’s exciting that I haven’t yet read the other three titles of hers on the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.

Black Water is a fictionalized account of the Chappaquiddick incident.  I wouldn’t have realized this; it happened in 1969 when my parents were still in junior high school.  Senator Edward Kennedy was the driver of a car that overturned into the water near Martha’s Vineyard.  He survived, while his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned.  I discovered that the FBI website has scanned copies of its files relating to this case.

It’s not necessary to know this background before reading the novella, though it’s helpful to know that Oates often draws material from stories in the news.  (My Sister, My Love is about JonBenet Ramsay; Blonde is about Marilyn Monroe, etc).  One thing I admire about her novels is that they make what could be a dry, abstract blurb into vivid, breathtaking reality.

Black Water is brilliantly imagined.  Its brevity is part of that brilliance, as it emphasizes how quickly events spun out of control.  A masterpiece of terror, Black Water will leave you gasping.

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