Monday, 14 December 2009

Harold Bloom's list of the Western Canon

I've always watched tons of films, but most of them were the kind of trashy popular fare you normally see the glazed masses herding into at multiplexes. I stumbled across 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die and crossed off the ones I'd already seen. 168. In the last three years, I've brought that number up to 314, and in the process seen every Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Woody Allen film (there are now 40 Allen films). The scale and ambition of the project captured my imagination and drove me to read a lot more subtitles than I ever thought I would. And the 686 remaining films will be just as rewarding.

I noticed that I didn't read much anymore. In fact, I dragged The Annotated Lolita around North America and Europe for two years and only got 200 pages in. Then I found Harold Bloom's list of the Western canon (found at the end of his book The Western Canon), comprising over 1500 works that essentially are Western culture. I crossed off just 68 I had already completed. (One was The Bible; another was The Complete Works of Shakespeare.) I'm reading Byron and Gibbon now, at a rate I haven't achieved in ten years. I don't expect to finish this list for decades, but it's a journey that makes me want to read.

I use Excel (Windows, Segoe UI font) spreadsheets. Here are the my public Dropbox links for both the 1001 Films and for the 1571 books:

1001 Films

1571 Books

I use conditional formatting to keep track of my numbers: entering '1' in the grey column turns it grey and adds 1 to the total. The orange column is for items I have but haven't watched/read yet, and works the same way. (Also: the additional list in the film file are those films that were in the 1001 at some point, but later taken out.)