The Question of Quality

October 20, 2009 at 11:27 am | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 1 Comment

We’re in the home stretch now, with only 10 weeks remaining in the “who can read the most” sweepstakes.  I’m in the rearguard, flogging a horse named Merit so I can at least get a few more yards out of the tired old nag.  Mine’s a plowhorse, not a racehorse or even a thoroughbred.  (See, I have a day job and a kid, so my reading time is necessarily limited).

I’m focusing on challenge books and specific titles off my various lists.  I’ve gone through plenty of loaner books and impulse reads, but it’s time to crack down and get serious.  Here are some stats on what I’ve read this year, and we will hope to see them climb before year’s end – partly through my reading and partly through double-checking my records.

Pulitzers: 22, plus 3 associated by series

Booker long list: 12, including some short list titles

Orange Prize long list: 6, including some short list titles

New York Times Notable books: 20 (prior to 2009 – can update 12/09)

American Library Association Notable books: 5

National Book Critics Circle Award: 5

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 23  (over 2%!)

Modern Library 100 Best Novels: 8

College Board 101: 8 (part of a challenge with my stepkid)

Entertainment Weeklynew classics: 9

The Top 10: 9

Amazon’s Significant 7: 40

Powell’s Indiespensable: 8

I’ve also read 124 nonfiction books, 7 books of poetry, and one play.  In the interests of full disclosure, I’ve read 8 children’s books, 12 young adult books, and 25 graphic novels.  I catalog my reading on LibraryThing and Goodreads if you’re deeply curious.  (See right column for link).

Yes, it’s indisputably crass.  But I ask you:  What other bar can we use as an “objective” test of literary merit than the collective choices of highly selective boards of critics?  It’s not so much that I’m a completist as that I’m trying to build self-discipline and also avoid reinventing the wheel by going straight to the best books.

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