I hate to be the one to give credence to Jonathan Franzen’s anti-Amazon tripe – ever, anywhere, for any reason – but Amazon’s own latest action gave me the awful creeping feeling that he might have a point. Because Amazon’s latest list of “100 Books To Read In A Lifetime: A bucket list of books to create a well-read life, from the Amazon Book Editors,” includes some titles that couldn’t even create a well-stocked bookshelf, never mind a life.
Of course, there are plenty of titles there that do deserve a place. For instance, George Orwell’s 1984 heads up the list – even though this is one you can download totally for free from Canada and Australia. Great Expectations surely deserves its place, as does The Great Gatsby or even, perhaps, The House at Pooh Corner. But should The Hunger Games really be there instead of War and Peace? Diary of a Wimpy Kid instead of Wuthering Heights? Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain instead of any poetry or play, by anyone, from any period or language, at all, anywhere?
I could have happily gone an entire lifetime without reading a great proportion of these books. Many of them might even degrade my mental processes in the act of reading them. I’d be very suspicious of anyone who thought I should be reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried instead of Walden, for instance. Or the Koran. Or the Tao Te Ching. Or The Autobiography of Malcolm X instead of Up From Slavery. Or Valley of the Dolls instead of Justine. Or any of these books at all instead of Shakespeare.
There’s still time to do something about this, though. “We want to know what books you would choose. Add titles below, and vote on the titles added by fellow readers,” says the Goodreads link to the Amazon page where the poll resides. Time to cast your vote and save generations of Amazon readers from terminal stupidity.
Otherwise, this is 100 marketing categories to top in a lifetime. It has only the vaguest and most distant connection with literary merit, intellectual quality, or even standing within a particular genre. If this is what it takes to fill your life, completely, what kind of life are you going to have? And if this is what they call a bucket list, then I know what kind of bucket they’re referring to: It’s the one that stands in the corner of a horse’s stall, steaming. Treat it with the disdain it deserves.