1000 Books to Read Before You Die, a Bristol perspective

1000 books is an incredible number to find and write about but the essays and sections feel like they have had individual attention rather than just being quick summaries, in this collection. From King to Kafka and the Quran to Nora Ephron, the book selections must fit most moods as they are incredibly varied.

It all boils down to what seems an enormous effort by a true bibliophile, James Mustich, editor-in-chief of the Barnes and Noble Review. Recommendations cover fiction, poetry, science and science fiction, memoir, travel writing, biography, children’s books and history.

Cleverly arranged alphabetically by each author’s last name, so that priority would not need justification, there’s Grimm next to Grisham, and Orwell followed by Ovid. Essays on why each book is an essential read conclude with notes on the best edition, other books by the author, “if you like this, you’ll like that” recommendations and recommended audio versions and TV and film adaptations.

I would love to pitch a Bristol section and help Mustich select more location-inspired reads as there are quite a few Bristol links within the choices but there could be more.

The second book listed is Flatland — the famous two-dimensional romance — by Edwin A. Abbott who in 1864-1865 was an assistant master at Clifton College. Another link to the exclusive Bristol school is the Agatha Christie entry of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Christie was married in Emmanuel Church on Guthrie Road. They came to Bristol because her husband’s step-father was a schoolteacher at the Clifton College.

St Augustine of Hippo is a bit of a non-literary link but it was pleasing to think of St Augustine’s Parade in front of the Hippodrome.

I’ll leave up to the reader to decide whether it is Mustich who has chosen from far and wide or whether Bristol does have its many links to literature. Sherlock Holmes was meant to have been written by Arthur Conan Doyle’s wife Louise who studied at Badminton School in Westbury on Trym; Edmund Burke was a Bristol MP, Jane Austen lived close by in Bath and died two years after Mary Shelley summered in Clifton in 1815 and looked down at the ships carrying slaves. It’s quite possible that Frankenstein’s monster came to pass because of the links with the horrendous exploitation she witnessed or could imagine.

Charles Dickens’ characters stay at a hotel on Corn Street where, next to the current Registry Office, there is a plaque celebrating our mention in the Pickwick Papers. J.K. Rowling is from Yates–and close enough to count as a local– while the Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett may not have the gripping plot of Harry Potter but this first epistolary book does make its way through Bristol too.

The most classic of Bristol novels, Treasure Island, is also on the list. Linked to both the Llandoger Trow and the Hole in the Wall just a street away from each other on Welsh Back, the book is said to have a “taut narrative line that ripples with ominous vibrations”. Read the first few pages and see if you can stop, suggests Murtich. I’d say the same about 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. The selection is intriguing and challenging at the same time. A worthy addition to any bookshelf.

1000 Books to Read Before you Die is out now from Workman Publishing

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