Monday, July 23, 2007

What's Missing from the Guardian's List of Books For Boys? Plenty!

Sherry over at Semicolon has some interesting booklists for you to look over. Check them out.

But one of them, published a couple of months ago by the Guardian (U.K.) and billed as "160 Books All Boys Should Read" will probably prove pretty disappointing. In fact, let me be honest here. It's an absolutely terrible list, a compelling example of just how far afield we have traveled from the high standards of literature society once held.

There were only 7 books on the list that I had read; no, make that 6, because my version of Kidnapped was, alas, not the "graphic novel in full colour" edition that the Guardian suggests.

But what was most significant was what the list left out. Here are just a few of the most serious omissions. There was, for instance, no Sir Walter Scott title that made the list. No Conan Doyle. No Jack London. No G.A. Henty. No Agatha Christie. No James Fennimore Cooper, John Buchan, Jules Verne, or Edgar Allan Poe either.

Watership Down didn't make the list, nor did Kon-Tiki, Raffles, Endurance, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Johnny Tremain, Robin Hood, Sink the Bismarck, The Iliad, or any of the Hardy Boys or Tom Swift mysteries. The Holy Bible was even absent!

James Barrie was missing from the list. So too were David Macaulay, James Herriot, O. Henry, Herman Melville, Charles Dickens (for crying out loud), Alexander Dumas, Rafael Sabatini, and the Brothers Grimm.

Jonathan Swift wasn't there. H.G. Wells wasn't there. G.K. Chesterton, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ngaio Marsh, and Washington Irving were not there. And other giants inexplicably left cooling their heels in the Guardian's outer office were C. S. Lewis, George Orwell, Victor Hugo, Kenneth Grahame, C. S. Forester, Horatio Alger, and Dorothy Sayers.

By this time, you can pretty much figure that such historians as Winston Churchill, Samuel Eliot Morison, Walter Lord, Shelby Foote and John Toland were not in the list. But no Tarka the Otter; no Song of Roland; no Don Quixote; no Lorna Doone; no Neverending Story; no Prisoner of Zenda; no Ben-Hur? You've got to be kidding!

Just reading the list was a source of dismay for me. I didn't recognize hardly any of the titles or authors. But realizing what literary standards have been so shamefully omitted from the list of "160 Books That All Boys Should Read"...well, that was very disconcerting.

So, I hope that even this modest post (with its mention of so many wrongfully neglected works and authors) will be a reminder of what classic literature was once considered to be and to urge Book Den visitors to remember what immense treasures are still there for boys (of all ages) to discover.