I love lists. Making them, marking things off, adopting others’ lists. When it comes to reading, I don’t go by a list, I go by what’s at the top of the stack. There’s a folder on my desk filled with book lists which I occasionally cross-check with my own reading. It’s interesting to me what books people think are important and how that intersects with what I read.
Mostly, what I’ve learned is that my reading is eclectic and doesn’t fit anyone’s norm but my own. I have a tendency to ignore what’s popping up on popular lists, even those which come highly regarded by people whose taste in books I trust and respect. This does not just apply to books either. Music, tv, movies; I take a step back and wait for the dust to settle. I find I’m not missing out on a whole lot anyway.
But back to the lists. Today I came across a link for Bill Gates’ book blog. Interesting, mostly because there are people in the public’s gaze whom I don’t think of as readers, if I think of them as other than their public front at all. Bill Gates is someone I have mixed feelings about, but they’re shallow feelings because I don’t pay that much attention.
Gates’ blog is interesting because there’s not a lot of crossover from his list to mine. Not that this is surprising, Gates built and ran a very successful software company, so his taste in books runs more toward the technical/business end of life. Mostly non-fiction on weighty topics like the global economy, biographies/memoirs by people like Timothy Geithner. It’s an interesting insight to Gates, and there are very few books on his list I’d be interested in reading.
Then there’s David Bowie’s Top 100 Books list, of which I’ve read 8 and have one queued up to read before the end of the year. It’s probably obvious why I would find more to like on Bowie’s list than on Gates’.
And, if there was any doubt in anyone’s mind that Marilyn Monroe was more than a sexy actress, there’s this list of 430 books in her library, compiled by an online fan club. From scanning the list, it seems Monroe’s reading was fed by what feeds mine; books I think I should have already read (which includes many classics like Dante and Milton) and books about subjects or people who fascinate me.
Monroe did her best to surround herself with smart people, especially men, so it’s not surprising there’s a number of books written by them (Clifford Odets, Henry Miller). And it would be a surprise to me if a lot of books on this list weren’t recommended by those men as a foundation to a good library.
All these lists beg the question, “What is the foundation of a good library?” Is it the Western Canon? 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die? (Full disclosure, I do have this list and use it to mark the intersection of my own reading and what other people think “should” be read. Again, a concept I’m not big on.)
Since I grew up in a family which loved to read, I was exposed to lots of authors and topics. Mom loved mysteries (Sherlock Holmes) and science fiction (Isaac Asimov). Dad’s reading was more eclectic and very often inappropriate for young readers. I read not only what was assigned in school, but what looked interesting in the library. When I reached college, there was more of what was required in class. Aside from that, my reading is probably 85% “oooh shiny” directed by what catches my eye at the moment.
Being unemployed and having little disposable income makes it easier to concentrate on what’s in my personal library. All 42+ boxes of it. Which is like opening gifts to myself all the time. It’s also like an archeological dig, as I sift through the layers of my life remembering when, and why, I picked these books. I know the deeper I go, the more diverse topics I’m going to find. The Hollywood/film student period. The John Grisham period (when I get to that box, they all go outta da house). The folklore period, etc. etc.
One thing’s for sure, as long as I have books, I’ll never be bored.