Saturday, 9 January 2021

Books to read before you die

Every year I am asked the same question from close relatives and friends... "What do you want for Christmas?". I don't know about you, but I find this a tricky question to answer when the gift giver has a price limit a) because the things that spring to mind don't usually fit into a £25 or less bracket (ie a holiday to an exotic island) b) I am at that age when I don't want anything very much, c) what I do want I am rather picky about.

Does that make me sound awful or have I just said what most people feel when asked what they would like?

This year I looked to the internet in the hope it would remind me about a gift I thought I wanted earlier in the year but had since forgotten. "Books to read before I die" popped up and, after a little researching, I was confident that I would have an answer for my gift giver... ie a list of books she could choose from.

I soon discovered there are a lot of websites recommending books that I should urgently read before I kick the bucket. Reading all the lists, I suddenly felt as if I had missed out on something big and I was at risk of being shooed away from the pearly gates in heaven because I had not read a particular book!

However recommendations from others can be fraught with problems and you have to ask yourself, Does this list maker have an agenda? For example, would a publisher recommend books from their competitors or stick with their own book releases? I suspect the latter. Suddenly the list does not seem so comprehensive and unbiased as it could be.

Another problem I've discovered is that the books that settle near the top of a list can have a particular political leaning which matches the political views of the list maker. Is this okay? I guess it is only natural for this to happen. I guess the most important thing is for the reader to be aware of this and make their choice accordingly.

I also began to wonder if the type of books recommended has more to do with matching the list maker's reading preferences than giving solid recommendations that will educate and widen the readers experience. Some lists were... how shall I phrase it... too intellectual for me. Surely a list should have a bit of a mixture in it such as romance, crime, fantasy, children's books, classic and modern? One particular list was so hard going that I felt exhausted (and rather depressed) from just reading the blurbs! I came to the conclusion that this particular list maker was not the sort of person I would want to be stuck in a corner with at a party. Either that or he hadn't really read the books himself.

I quite liked this LIST from the Business Insider. It was compiled in 2015, so it is not up to date, but I think it still stands the test of time. It has a good mix of genres, books for all ages, a mixture of classic and modern, and political and character observation. It was reassuring to discover that I had already read quite a few! Suddenly I didn't feel such a literary fool!

My final choice came down to the following. Yes I know, they are hardly a bunch of laughs, but I had sound reasons for choosing them:-

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
I have seen the television adaptations and wanted to know how close they were to the novella.
First impression... I didn't realise the story is only 93 pages long! It reaches novella size with the inclusion of an editor's introduction and preface. It is amazing how something so small became such a huge success. There is hope for us all!

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I chose this for the same reasons as above. So often we come to believe that film adaptations are true adaptations of the novel, but film has their own unique problems and have to adapt the written word to help the story make sense onscreen.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My current work in progress touches on segregation and racism in the American army during WW2. I was interested to see how another author tackles this subject as the novel is about racism in the 1930s. I have also seen the film and, once again, wondered how close it was to the source.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger
I chose this book because it is believed that the killer of John Lennon was obsessed and influenced by it. I know nothing about the contents, but have always been intrigued by what was in it and how it could play such a role in a murder that shocked the world. I didn't want to be influenced by someone else's review so I knew I had to read it myself. Now was the opportunity to do it. When my gift giver heard I had chosen this book, she said 'That's heavy reading for you'. Her reaction made me wonder what I have let myself in for!

So I have some reading to do... all different from my preferred genre (no... they are not my legs in the picture. If I sat like that whilst reading I would probably do an injury to one of my hips!). However, where reading is concerned, I do think it is important to stretch oneself and try something new. I only hope I don't come to regret it!

What book would you recommend a person should read before they die and why? Or perhaps you think there shouldn't be a bucket list for books. What are your thoughts on the subject? I would love to know.



  1. Ooh I love the idea of a bucket list for books! Although I fear the book I would recommend might change depending on my age/ what was happening in my life. The one I would suggest for now is 'Because of Winn-Dixie' by Kate DiCamillo which is marketed as a children's novel but I think speaks to everyone. It centres around a young girl named Opal and a stray dog, Winn Dixie. The reason I would recommend it is because it is gentle and filled with warmth and hope.

    1. I've not heard of that one. Sounds perfect for lockdown.

  2. Books to read before you die! Mine is The Alchemist. 100%. Really puts life in perspective. Great post!

    1. I've heard a lot about this book. Another one for the TBR list!

  3. My choice would be 'Perfume' by Patrick Suskind - if only to be in awe of the translation from German to English.

  4. Perfume inspired the film 'Perfume: The Story of a Murderer'. As my list are mainly books that have been adapted to film, maybe this one should be added to mine. :)