Your List Sucks

Dwight Silverman, blogging for the Houston Chronicle, writes a list of "15 Geek Novels to Read Before You Die." It's a decent list with a few interesting choices (The Catcher in the Rye, Cat's Cradle) interspersed amongst the usual chestnuts of such lists (The Lord of the Rings, Dune, Hitchhiker's Guide). I'm not sure just why Holden Caulfield's disillusionment and alienation qualify as a "geek novel," but that's kind of the point of such lists. It's a fun and fairly easy thing for a blogger or columnist to throw together when he doesn't really have any other ideas about what to write (e.g. my own GBN Top Five lists). With luck, it'll inspire some discussion and fun conversation. There's even an off-chance that some geek out there who may have had a humiliatingly deprived childhood and never heard of A Wrinkle in Time before reading such a list will now seek it out. Meaningless fun, right?

The geek response on the internet has been as predictable as the sun rising in the East.

Here's a sampling:

"Oh, and what, no Pratchett? Fail."

You can't "fail" at this kind of list. Yeah, it's called " Read Before You Die," but that's the kind of hyperbole is the norm for such things. In reality, no one is claiming that this is The Definitive List of the Best and Most Important "Geek Novels" in History. It's a nerdy Baby Boomer offering an opinion.

I don't think Harry Potter will last. It certainly doesn't belong on the same list as Dune.

Ah, the ever-amazing ability of the average internet geek to unfailingly predict the future. And clearly, something I personally don't like can't possibly be considered on the same level as something I do.

Any list of geek books that can find a space for Harry Potter and doesn't acknowledge anything by H. P. Lovecraft is just fundamentally wrong.

And clearly, if it includes something contemporary and popular that I don't like but doesn't include something old and cultish that I do like, this list is "fundamentally wrong."

I'd drop House of Leaves for Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Come on... Mathmatics, symmetry and intelligence? Potential readers be warned: this is not the stuff of armchair geekery. You will need much more than an iPod and a Second Life account to appreciate this work.

Translated for those who don't speak geeksnob: Ha! This list is for amateurs! I don't read simplistic stuff like that, I read dense things like this! Tremble, worms, before my massive, massive intelligence!

No fantasy please (witchcraft is not geekiness). One of my favorites is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller.

Only certain kinds of literature can qualify as geeky. Only science fiction. Fantasy sucks! Hard to believe, but there is snobbery and elitism amongst geeks, too.

I can't believe you left out The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.....

I can't believe you think there's five periods in an ellipsis. I also can't believe you think things can be "left out" on someone's personal and essentially arbitrary list.


Nerds have a hard time with disagreement. I've discussed this before. There's an assumption amongst a pretty large swath of the culture (not just nerds) that "my own opinions are objectively correct." Because of this, they look at any list like this as someone else putting out their objectively correct opinions. Then they get up in arms because two differing opinions can't both be objectively correct and they can't reconcile the two.

A list like this is supposed to inspire discussion. So, discuss. Say, "I disagree, I don't think 1984 belongs on the list," or "I would have included Ender's Game on that list." But don't say that the list is wrong, or that the writer has failed. When you argue that the writer has sacrificed his credibility by including or by failing to include a particular book...well, someone's credibility has indeed been sacrificed.

Guess whose?