And the Arab Author on the ‘1,001 Books to Read Before You Die’ List Is…Is…


Unless I’m missing something, but I can’t see anything else. Of course, this is understandably an English-centric list (with sprinkles of Spanish translation, the great Russians, and a liberal dose of Haruki Murakami) but: Elmore Leonard before Taha Hussein? The Old Man and the Sea instead of Munif’s Cities of Salt? Lord Jim but no Season of Migration to the North? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (?!) but no Ibrahim, no Khoury, no al-Hakim, no Ghanem, no Idris?

Not even a tiny squinch of Mahfouz?

It does—as By the Firelight points out—at least include the book from which it takes its titular inspiration: One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, at number 996.

I should have learned from my wrangling with the Arab Writers Union’s “top 105” list that lists are foolish things. Still: We need a better PR department.


  1. isn’t this the series that gives you some bizarre reason why a particular choice will influence your life? (e. g. mint juleps will never taste the same for the great gatsby.)

    it’s not a bad list altogether, although it is very anglo-american. (i don’t recognise about half of the names on the list.) still, it includes lots of choices that i was pleasantly surprised with. heinrich boll. italo calvino. the garden of the finzi-continis. borstal boy.

    on the other hand: slavenka drakulić and miodrag pavić, but no danilo kiš. riiiiight.

    and yeah, no arabs. c’mon guys, even the much maligned western cannon has mahfouz …

  2. It is a pretty odd list. I’m not sure Hathorne’s Blithdale Romance, for example, is that needed. I think they could have found some more non English lit for the 1700’s.

    It does include the 1001 Nights. I believe that would be the only Arabic language book.

  3. Bibi: Is it?

    Ah yes, after reading it Remembrance of Things Past, acute asthma attacks and fatal horse accidents will never be the same for me.

    Who needs to read three books by Sir Walter Scott before they die?

  4. Firelight: Ah, you’re right. 996. Must be going blind.

  5. don’t ask me, i made it about 100 pages into ivanhoe and gave up.

    i hope michael houellebecq goes away from must-read lists very soon. to contribute to this goal, i will re-read solaris. twice.

  6. speaking of bizarre explanations for their choices/strange accompanying texts, just because you’re in egypt, from 1001 albums you must hear before you die, i give you blondie:

    “September 1978: Israeli-Egyptian Accords are signed. More importantly, Parallel Lines is released! Bleach-blonde bombshell Debbie Harry and her quintet, led by guitarist/boyfriend Chris Stein, hurtled into the pop firmament with their third set.”

    now, happiness being such an elusive quality, it might be argued that blondie chords made more people happy than the camp david accords, but i think you can see my point.

    (i love blondie. all of them. especially clem burke.)

  7. Ah… you seem to have come across the 2006 edition of the list. In 2008, responding to many complaints that the list was too WASPish, it was revised. Now in its 3rd edition, it does contain Mahfouz and a selection of other writers that deserve their place in world literature.

    If you’re interested in a full copy of the list, head over to

    where you can download the 1001 books spreadsheet.

Comments are closed.