books you can’t live without

I was over at the blogher site tonight, and saw this post about the 10 books you can’t live without, which led me to this list of the 100 books you can’t live without, and it made me wonder, what does it mean to say you can’t live without a book? Does it mean that your life would be different if that book had never been written, and you had never read it? Or that if that book ceased to exist on earth, you would stop living? I confess, I’ve read only 68 of the books on the Guardian’s list. Does that mean that I’m only 68% alive?

Tangentially, it doesn’t seem entirely fair that they list The Complete Works of William Shakespeare at number 14, and then Hamlet all by itself at number 98. Does that mean you have to read Hamlet twice? Or do you get double credit for reading it once?


March 23, 2007. books for grown-ups.


  1. sober briquette replied:

    I say you get double credit. The “complete works” of anybody is a cop-out. I was pleasantly surprised how many I have read (didn’t count). I think the list-makers are suggesting that life would be different if the books didn’t exist, even if you haven’t read them. From a North American point of view, anyway. I bet if you only watch TV and never read a book you’ve probably seen a version of quite a few of the classics. That’s life!

  2. chichimama replied:

    I’m sorry, Bridget Jones Diary was a LOVELY book, but there is no reason I couldn’t have lived without reading it. I can’t imagine why that one made the list. Ditto to Hitchhiker’s Guide.

  3. MetroDad replied:

    Wow, there are some truly awful books on that Top 100 list. By the time I reached #50, I actually started getting pissed. Is it me or were all the books written by white people (except for Alice Walker, Salman Rushdie, Khalid Hosseni and Kaz Ishiguro.) No James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, or Maya Angelou?

    Heck, even counting white writers, where are Hemingway, Faulkner, Vidal, Mailer, and Chandler?

    I’m with chichimama. What are Bridget Jones, Hitchikers, and Tolkien doing on the list? Oh well…wwhat are you going to do? Nobody reads anymore anyway.

  4. jackie replied:

    Maybe a better title for a list like that would be– 100 Books That Are Cultural Landmarks. You know, books that really summed up or exposed a huge section of culture at that time, or that are such a huge part of culture-as-we-know-it that you have to read them to be culturally literate. That way, having “Hamlet” be separate can make sense, because as a touchstone, it’s more significant that “Titus Andronicus,” say!

    There are so many great book lists that can be made that would be more specific and telling, I think. Books that changed my life, books I think everyone I know should read, books I want to share with my children, books that have characters I idolize, great books about marriage, etc.

  5. bj replied:

    It’s anglo-centric. That’s why Baldwin, Richard Wright, Angelou, Hemingway, Faulkner, Chandler are missing, while Bridget Jones, and some Browns (Seth, Mistry) make the list. But, of course, any such list is going to miss important books.

    In addition the list above, I was missing Willa Cather, Agatha Christie


  6. Anjali replied:

    Wow, I’m actually surprised that several of the books listed make my Top 10: Pride & Prejudice and To Kill a Mockingbird are my all time favorites, and The Color Purple, A Fine Balance, and Midnight’s Children are way up there as well.

    There are quite a few I don’t quite get, though.

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