What not to read

The TimesOnline angered/delighted book readers throughout the English-speaking world last week by printing "10 Books Not to Read Before You Die," a list of 10 works that their commentator saw as grossly over-rated. These ran the gamut from James Joyces's "Ulysses" to "Pride and Prejudice" (ouch!) and not surprisingly so far they've drawn comments from almost 200 readers.

Today they followed up with five more titles ("Atlas Shrugged," "The Leopard," "Catch 22," "The Castle," and "Catcher in the Rye.")

Here at the Monitor, we were actually way ahead of them. In July we asked readers what books adored by others had disappointed them. (My own list included "Midnight's Children," "Invisible Man," and "The Man Without Qualities.") Our readers added "Jane Eyre," "Cry, the Beloved Country," "The Adventures of Augie March," and "Ancient Evenings."

As for "Catcher in the Rye," we asked that question in August ("Does 'Catcher' still belong on the list?") My own answer was yes but reader response was mixed.

Scanning the reader response to the Times piece is intriguing (how can you not enjoy seeing a global audience getting passionate about books?) but also a little painful (unless you enjoy seeing Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, and Dickens all being trashed.)

Warning, however, to all of us who dare to admit that we see nothing in the books that delight others. It's not necessarily that we're denouncing the pretensions of others.  What may be more accurate is the quote from Nietzsche cited by one of the Times readers: "Great books are like mirrors: if an ape looks in, no angel will look out."

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