....to make you feel inadequate about your life.
I was browsing Amazon last night – I can’t even remember what for – and came across 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. I find such lists distasteful on several levels. For a start, there’s the horridly morbid tone of “before you die,” which kind of implies that your life has been wasted if you don’t experience everything on the list. Then there’s the insistent tone of “must,” which to me, conjures up images of someone with over-dyed hair and heavy-rimmed glasses saying, “Dah-ling, you simply must see Paris in the spring-time,” or something similar, which only serves to turn me off the idea, no matter how pleasant it ought to be.
There are masses of these books now, 1001 Movies, 1001 Albums, 1001 Books.... I thought things started to get a bit ridiculous with 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die. Now I like a good garden as much as the next person but it seems to me that expecting any individual to deliberately visit 1001 specific ones is probably asking a bit much.
It’s at this point that my mind veers towards reductio ad absurdum and starts to think what other lists of 1001 things people might try to publish. I wondered about 1001 Wines, but sure enough, that had already been done, along with 1001 Foods, 1001 Buildings, 1001 Historic Sites and 1001 Natural Wonders. So what’s left? 1001 Cars You Must Drive Before You Die? (Edited by Jeremy Clarkson of course) 1001 Cafés You Must Visit Before You Die? Of course, it would all have to finish with 1001 Lists of 1001-Things-You-Must-Do-Before-You-Die You Must Read Before You Die. With all these thousands of things to do, most people will have a hard time finishing the books, let alone the challenges they set.
There are others with slightly more life-affirming premises. Browsing these books also brought up a similar series from Time Out of 1000 Songs (or books or films) to Change Your Life. Having one’s life changed is such an upheaval (even when it’s a positive change) that I’m not sure if I could cope with it even a dozen times, much less a thousand. Not unless they are talking about the more philosophical change, meaning that once you have heard this song, you will no longer not have heard it and therefore your life is no longer as it was before.
I admit I do own one such book. It is 1001 songs by Toby Creswell. I think it stands out from some of the other wanker-at-a-party books in a couple of ways. Firstly, it is written by one person, not compiled from dozens of critics’ lists. Secondly, it’s subtitled The Great Songs of All Time. Not the greatest and no obligation to hear them all lest your life be unfulfilled.
Thirdly, hearing 1001 songs seems reasonably doable. If we assume an average length of four minutes per song, that’s about 66 hours and 44 minutes. If you listened for 12 hours a day, you could get through them all in about five and a half days, which could be an interesting thing to do on your holidays. Also, in terms of cost, at $1.69 per song from iTunes, it would cost you $1690 – probably less since if you’re any kind of music enthusiast, you probably have a hundred or so of them already.
If you were to take on 1001 albums, that would be harder. If we assume an average of 45 minutes per album, that would be 750¾ hours of music and if you were to listen for 12 hours a day, it would take over two months. And unless you had a fast internet connection and no scruples about stealing music, it would cost you somewhere around twenty grand.
If you want to see all the movies on the list, you can double that time if we assume an average length of 90 minutes, but then there’s the logistics of actually seeing them. Music can at least be enjoyed while doing other things, but movies and books demand one’s complete attention. Should all these films be seen at the cinema to see them as originally intended, or will DVD suffice? If so, how will you source them all? There’s sure to be a whole lot of stuff that isn’t available through either your local Blockbuster or Netflix.
When it comes to books, the variables go through the roof. There are so many different lengths and different costs and everybody reads at different speeds so while it’s perfectly possible for people to read well over a thousand books in their lifetime, many others are never going to get close.
So if the logistics of seeing 1001 movies or reading 1001 books is daunting enough, the idea of recommending that anyone see 1001 particular historical sites or buildings or gardens, or all of the above is silly at best and cruel at worst.
Some things are worth experiencing just for the experience. My ever-sprawling record collection does include Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. And I even listened to it once. I own it because it’s an interesting milestone in pop music, not because a music journo looking to graduate from the inkies told me it’s important. The Sex Pistols, while not insignificant, are grossly overrated. I choose to own it because I am a collector and if the price is right, I’ll acquire pieces that are notable if not actually good. However, my life is no fuller for it and nor will yours be if you take these lists seriously. The experience is so much better when you discover it for yourself.