700 words you must read before you die

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By Phil Weir

However, it seemed the most appropriate tack to take to sucker you straight to the core of my current pet-hate de jour – I’m talking about books which have titles which conform to the basic formula of “Fifty or A Hundred Blahs or Blah-Blahs To See, Consume, Experience, etc., Before You Die”.

Now, I have nothing against books of lists, per se.

The human race has probably been compiling such registers for many, many thousands of years, and at least since 153BC when guides first ushered wealthy rubber-neckers in tunics and togas aboard triremes operated by Flavius Tours of Ostia for a whizz around the Med for a look-see at the Ancient Wonders of the World.

Much later, the famous Grand Tour, embarked on by Europe’s wealthy in the 17th and 18th centuries and no doubt pre-itinerised in travel tomes of the times, was also nothing more than a toffs’ tick-list of cultural must-sees.

And fast-forwarding to the present, recent generations have grown up poring over The Guinness Book of Records, which is really just a marvelous book of lists.

With all this I’ve no problem. What I do take issue with is the suffix of the titles of this latest rash of such list books – the “...before you die” bit.

The implication of this bolted-on clause is that you will die happy, satisfied and at peace with yourself, with a contented feeling of ‘job done’, if you have managed to visit the 100 global sites 
enumerated, or view the 100 movies compiled, or have read the 100 novels, or tasted the 100 vegetables, etc.

And what compounds my loathing of this genre, is the ever-more ludicrous subject matter of the ‘die’ titles hitting bookstands.

One of the latest is Finding The Plot: 100 Graves To Visit Before You Die, which, if nothing else, must put you in the mood for your own post-read death and that 101st grave – your own. No doubt the follow-up is already at the proof-readers – Les Crems des Crems: 100 Crematoria to Visit before You Too Go Up In Smoke.

Then there are the volumes which preach to the converted. For instance, Who’s 50: 50 Dr Who Stories To Watch Before You Die. If you’re such a Who obsessive that you’d buy this, you’ll have seen all 50, 50 times over anyway. And if you don’t give a flying Tardis about the Doc, well this book won’t even be on your radar.

Occasionally a title just about passes muster. 100 Things To Say To A Bully Before You Die has got its humorous heart in the right place, although you may be pummeled to a lifeless pulp after putting a mere one or two quips into practice.

Others, such as The Top 30 Only-3-Or-Less-Steps European Main Dish Recipes That You Must Eat Before You Die, have the sort of excrutiating title that has me considering penning a book myself – 100 Authors Who Must Experience 100 Tortures Before Suffering Deaths Of 1000 Cuts.

But back to what really has me mangling my reading glasses when I contemplate this cobbled-together crud – the ‘dying happy’ angle.

Read The Bible or Koran and you may die happy. Read The Funniest 100 Jokes In The World and you may die happy, in mid-guffaw, having tickled a rib so much it snapped and fatally pierced a lung. But, 100 Moths To Spot Fluttering Around A Light Bulb Before You Die, or the like? I think not. Imagine the scenario…

A vicar, aloft in his pulpit at a funeral, gives a valediction to a church-load of mourners: “Jim, as you know, died last week after a long illness. But he was happy, nay, over the moon at the end because, despite the pain he was in and the prospect of bidding a final farewell to his nearest and dearest, he’d finally managed to visit what he referred to as ‘Doocot 100’, as recommended in his cherished copy of 100 18th Century Fife Doo-Cots You Must Plod Across A Muddy Field To Visit Before You Die.

“In fact, his family say he often mused to them, or anyone stood by him at a bus stop or in a shop, that a determination to visit all the doocots listed had given him a reason for living so long.”

Sorry – I must stop here. I have to go. To A&E. I’m currently reading 100 Mushrooms To Identify As Poisonous And Not Eat Before You Die and I’ve just accidentally consumed a No 53 and I wouldn’t want to expire, would I. Not before I’d scanned to the absolute end of this splendid volume’s very last page.