Book Review: 1000 Books to Read Before You Die

1000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich, Published by Workman Publishing, New York, 2018.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for the reader in the family or among friends, here’s a suggestion: 1000 Books To Read Before You Die by James Mustich. And while you are at it, treat yourself to a copy of this wonderful  book.

James Mustich is the co-founder and publisher of the former book catalog, A Common Reader. It is obvious from his introduction that he loves books, and the joy they bring to their readers.

The first thing you notice about this treasure trove of an advisory is the loveliness of the physical book. Workman Publishing has given the purchaser not only a wonderful read but a delight to the eyes. The cover and the open leaves and the photographs and art with many of the one-thousand essays make this volume a thing to be cherished for years to come. Workman reminds us what publishing can be.

Then there are the essays. Mustich has written one for each of his one-thousand selections. Each essay is short and sweet, not lasting over a page or two and sometimes less. They often supplies not just a summary but some of the context of the book’s creation as well as interesting tidbits. In addition to these major essays, there are even more suggestions with a final total of over than six-thousand titles by thirty-five hundred authors. Mustich does not limit his selections to one classifcation. His choices are a sampling from across the full sweep of human knowledge and endeavor.

Unlike other Reader Advisories, the selections are not laid out by category or timeline. Rather they are alphabetically placed by the name of the author from Edward Abbey to Carl Zuckmayer. In the case where the author is unknown, the selection is placed by title. Occasionally an author will be found out of order. There will be a note letting the reader know where they can find the entry.

Though Mustitch includes many of the usual suspects, such as Shakespeare, Austin and Dickens, he does not limit his selections to just the classics or to fiction or to non-fiction.And the fiction ranges across a variety of genres such as literary fiction, mystery and suspense, humor, espionage, science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, And the writers come from a slew of places, including Japan, Russia, Africa, China, Europe as well as the United States, Ireland and Great Britain.

There are children’s books and books for young adult readers as well as selections of travel, science, biography, poetry, short stories, novels, history, drama, sports, letters and diaries among others. He has even included an essay on The 9/11 Commission Report. And also included are a few graphic novels.

To see the ecumenical nature of the selections, here are a list of the first ten entries:
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (Nature, Memoir).
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott (Novel, Mathematics).
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Novel).
My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley (Animals, Memoir).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Science Fiction).
The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams  (Autobiography, History).
Watership Down by Richard Adams (Novel).
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Novel).
The Oresteia by Aeschylus (Drama).
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans (Essays, Photography, Sociology).

Popular bestsellers have their essays too: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Gillian Flynn’s Gone GirlThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Even James Bond gets a write-up. And if a title you love isn’t included in a main entry, it still may be found among th e 5000 other titles.

Many of the titles for essays are humorous, often tongue-in-cheek. The title for the lives and times of archy and mehitabel is “The Greatest Cockroach Poet of All Time;” “Still Crazy After All These Years” for Wuthering Heights; for The Phantom Tollbooth, “Boredom Banished;” and The Count of Monte Cristo, “The Fastest 1200 Pages You Will Ever Read.” But there are some serious titles as well. For Oranges,”The fruit of One Writer’s Inspired Curiosity”; for The Boys of Summer, “A Grand Slam of a Baseball Book”, for Lord of the Rings, “A World of Narrative Wizardry,” and Alice Munro’s Selected Stories, 1968 – 1994 is given “A Nobel Laureate’s Astonishing Gallery of Life”.

From time to time there will be a quote from a work or about the work colored and in a large font. At the end of each essay is a footnote section, listing what genre, when the work appeared, awards, editions (if any), also by, further reading (a work that brings insight to the work), try (similar works) and any adaptations to literary or other media such as movies, theater or radio. In addition, there are Booknote and More-to-Explore boxes that call attention to further titles in a genre or a category the Mustich wants to mention to the reader.

At the end of the book are three indexes. “A Miscellany of Special Lists” “curated by subject or style or with a particular audience in mind.” Here are four of the lists: “Reading in a Sitting,” “12 Books to Read Before You’re 12,” “LOL,” and “”From the 21st Century.”

All in all, this is a generous helping of delights. Here’s a couple of suggestions. Read one of the essays a day. If there is another selection under “Try,” make that the next day’s essay. Or find a book listed you’ve always wanted to read or a title you aren’t familiar with. Read the essay and see if the work appeals to you. If so, maybe it’s time to read it. Perhaps, in a century or two from now, you will have covered all six-thousand  books.

To close, I want to quote from the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai found in the selection of One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji: “From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shape of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the age of seventy is not worth bothering with….When I am eighty you will see real progress….At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist.”

And Good Reading one and all.

I have in no way received a remuneration for this review.

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