I’ve written about competitive reading lists a couple of years ago. That sport has been given a new tweak by the retiring headmaster of Eton, who in addiiton to a long list of books on subjects other than literature, has said that by the age of 16 he would expect on of his students to have read the following:

Gulliver’s Travels – Swift
David Copperfield – Dickens
The Age of Innocence – Wharton
Atonement – Amis
Never let me go – Ishiguro
The Bonfire of the Vanities – Wolfe
L’elegance du herrison
La sombra del viento
The Master and Margarita
O Crime de Padre Amaro
Boiled Wonderland and the end of the world

Tschick Wolfgang Herrndorf
Nest of Spiders Calvino
Father Amaro de Queiros
Wolf Totem Jiang Rong
Beirut 39 Shimon and Al-Shaykh

There are some striking features of this list – the emphasis on foreign literature compared to English; the neglect of women writers, the focus on the novel to the exclusion of all other forms of literature (Shakespeare, anyone?) and so on. But apart from all this fairly predictable nonsense, something slightly more insidious occurs to me – with some honorable exceptions there’s little here that is genuinely stretching. There are also some deliberately obscure texts – Wolf Totem for example is virtually impossible to find in bookshops (I have tried) and has no reviews on Amazon (compared for example to the 800+ for the Shadow of the Wind). I strongly suspect there is some deliberate obscurantism going on here.

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