Thursday, January 5, 2012

Read The Book of Disquiet - before you DIE!

Yesterday, after putting up my invitation to read The Book of Disquiet along with whatever group of sharp characters plans to join in with me, I discovered that the novel-like non-novel has been included in the last couple of editions of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  So I used this as a marketing hook in my Twitter promotional effort, under the untested assumption that some readers out there somewhere are neurotically working off of (surely not through) this list.

I think this was my favorite joke (de-Twittered just a bit):

Imagine the poor reader, trapped in his deathbed, who has read all 1,001 books except #PessoaDisquiet.  He feebly turns the pages of the Richard Zenith translation, but his eyesight and concentration are insufficient for the difficult concepts and miniscule type of Pessoa’s text.  His strength wanes; the book slips from his fingers; he feels the icy shadow of Death approach, knowing that he ends his life unloved, and badly read.  Just one book short of being well-read, actually.

Do not be that reader.

Perhaps others are not so amused by the title of that book as I am.  The official position of Wuthering Expectations is that there is no book that a generalized “you” must read before “you” die.  Specific “you”s will want to consult a religious authority within “your” faith for some important exceptions.  Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet will not be among them.  I can come up with a long list of shoulds, but no musts, and even the shoulds need to be preceded by ifs.  E.g.:  If you are at all interested in literature, you should get to know some of Shakespeare’s plays.

 Not that I am knocking the Must Read book as such.  It is a list among many lists, but a pretty good one.  The accompanying website has a nifty gadget to search the list by date, language, nationality, and so on.  I find sixteen books in Portuguese, the oldest being The Lusiads, The Crime of Father Amaro, The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, and Dom Casmurro, outstanding choices.  Then a standard cluster of Portuguese and Brazilian Modernists:  Amado, Lispector, Guimăres Rosa, Saramago, and Lobo Antunes (plus Pessoa).  And then two novels by Paulo Coelho, about whom I will admit suspicion but plead ignorance.  I doubt that the typical purchaser of Before You Die is quite so fond of avant garde fragmentation and alienation and extremely long paragraphs as this list of authors would suggest, but this is a great list for me.

The Must… Die list also includes a number of oddities I never see anywhere else, which I wish someone else would read and tell me about.  Who is up for Emilio Salgari’s The Tigers of Mompracem (1900), the second of an eleven-volume series about the adventures of a Malaysian pirate?  See left, and do not miss this amazing page of Salgari’s Italian book covers, provided by his current English-language publisher.  I would also like to hear, from a reliable book blogger, something about Ivan Vazov’s 1888 Under the Yoke, the classic Bulgarian epic.

Why did I write this?  Oh yes, to encourage morbid neurotics who read in order to make checkmarks in spreadsheets to read The Book of Disquiet with me.  To encourage other people, too.


  1. What an enjoyable post. I had to click and investigate all the links as well and was not disappointed.
    I see, you aspire to be on the 101 blogs you must read before you die list.
    I have my Pessoa ready but in a German translation... I have a feeling it's one of those books I would take my time to read.

  2. What? Not a word about Romain Gary? :-)

    You know, like Pennac, I think the verb "to read" doesn't agree very well with the imperative form. (In French: "le verbe lire supporte mal l'impératif")Read! Isn't it a put off?

    I bought that book pre-blog, I was looking for reading ideas from other countries. And there are good ones. Now that I'm blogging, I'd need several lives to read the 10 001 books I'd like to read before I die.


  3. "Only books I'll never read aren't tedious." - Bernardo Fernando Soares Pessoa.

    So what if The Book of Disquiet turns out to be the religious authority within my faith?

  4. [waving hand wildly] Oh! Me! Morbid neurotic! Checkmarks on spreadsheets! I wasn't going to read Pessoa, but now I'm convinced.

  5. I quite enjoyed this post! I happen to be in possession of (one of the editions of) 1001 Books..., and I will admit to being geeky enough to have generated my own spreadsheet (title, author, nationality, date) to ease my searching through it. It's quite fun to read though various entries and read about books outside my familiarity. I'd never heard of the Salgari, for example, before I started searching out Italian authors to read, but the description does intrigue me. Of course, I have no fears of finishing all 1001 before I die...

  6. In fact, Shakespeare is not on the "Die" list. Maybe it's really 1001 novels?

  7. I hate those lists, loathe them. Rage-Against-The-Machine-style loathe them.

    Don't worry, I won't launch into the lyrics...

  8. Tony, you will note that by focusing on the more obscure corners of the Books... You... Die list, I am avoiding many of its most irritating features.

    Such as, like Doug notes, the confusion of "book" and "novel," except when a random short story or memoir or book of poems is tossed in.

    The 1001 book is basically incoherent committee product. Its best use for an experienced reader, pace Amanda, is the books "outside my familiarity." I do not know that I need to read century-old Italian pulp novels about pirates, but I am delighted to know about them. As Seraillon says, as long as I do not read a book, it remains marvelous.

    Ah, that's the book I want - 1,001 Odd Books You Will Want to Know about But Not Actually Read, Heaven Forbid.

    By the way, if your religion is Pessoan paganism, the only book you must read as a religious obligation is The Keeper of Sheep.

    Jenny, part of the checkmark-maker crack is a defense against my own neuroses (although I do not believe I am morbid). I have my own spreadsheets of books, good spreadsheets, good, good ones. I am not sure how else I could keep the literary history straight. Are you really joining in with Pessoa? I hope so.

    Ma femme is a big fan of Pennac. You are right, Emma, he is a powerful and convincing opponent of "Must Read." R. Gary is a whole separate thing - I knew about him already, unlike that Bulgarian fellow.

    Caroline, wikipedia claims that there are 16(!) German editions of The Book of Disquiet. You may be reading a better, or at least differently good, translation than any of the rest of us.

  9. I got the most recent one and I bought it in German because the translation was praised. What stopped me from reading it so far is the size, I mean the physical size, it's a heavy book. It will be a challenge to hold it.

  10. I was just poking around on - yes, I see that some of the editions of Das Buch der Unruhe are huge.

    In German, by the way, there are Pessoa audiobooks! Not in English.

  11. I'm a sucker for lists of must read books because I am always on the lookout to add more books to my TBR pile in what is clearly a concerted effort to cause more stress in my life as I add to a pile I already would need years, possibly decades, to go through. On that note, I do have Pessoa's book on my shelves unread....

  12. I shudder at the thought of the icy finger of Death approaching and I am one book short of being well read. I suspect I'd be a whole helluva lot more than one book short, however. It seems that the more I read, the more I have before me unread. Rather a disconcerting feeling, which could rob my joy if I let it. All the same, love the post, love the lists. (Unlike Tony. ;)

  13. Amateur Reader (Tom),

    I, too, have a copy of _1001 Books..._ as well as _1001 places..._ and _1001 great films.... I find they are great resource lists for unfamiliar works, places, and films.

    It's also fun to argue with the committee that put them together.

  14. I'm heading to the library to pick up The Keeper of Sheep, thanks.

    But now you've got me going with that 1001 Books site. For everything omitted there, I might as well die now. No Anita Loos? No Miklos Banffy? No Jean Giono? No Vassily Grossman? No Theodor Storm? No Alain-Fournier? Thurber's Thirteen Clocks but no The Thurber Carnival? No Tales of Moonlight and Rain? No Anthony Szerb? No Jane Bowles? No Flora Nwapa? No Boccaccio? No isak Dinesen? Oh, okay, they have her under "Karen Blixen." Still, no Seven Gothic Tales? Anyway, what fun. I could do this all day. I may well do this all day, damn your eyes.

  15. Trisha, my TBR pile is at the library, but I am doing the same thing - the list grows faster than it shrinks.

    "Fun to argue with the committee" - boy there are some head-scratchers on the 1001 list, aren't there, some books I put in the "Will Under No Circumstances Read Before I Die, Or After" category, and the omissions make no sense either.

    Bellezza, I will reuse a Joseph Epstein line: "I myself would rather be well-read than dead, but I have a strong hunch about which will come first."

  16. "There are 850,000 volumes in the Imperial Library in Paris," said Emerson. "If a man were to read industriously from dawn to dark for sixty years, he would die in the first alcove."

    There's a cheering thought for you! I have somewhere a lovely quotation about dying without considering oneself well-read, but I can't find it. Why, oh why, do I have a blog instead of a commonplace book?

  17. Dangit, that's it! The Epstein line. Thank you!

  18. My personal reading list is the one I go by - books I have actually read ;)

  19. Tony, I do not get that comment, and the wink just adds to the confusion. You refuse to read any book you have not actually read? I know that is not true. Or is that what the wink is supposed to tell me?

    Emerson makes reading sound like a punishment!

  20. I'd always assumed that if I did't read all 1001 books, I'd live forever.

  21. obooki, that was my plan. Also with the 1001 movies you must see before you die. I plan to see about 999 (just to be safe) and then kick back and relax.

  22. Yes, yes, that's why the 1,001 Paintings To See before You Die book is so dangerous. By the mere act of leafing through the book you will see all of the paintings, and then die. It's like the Necronomicon.

  23. Favorite Pessoa quote: “My life--as absurd as a public clock that has stopped.”
    I’m working on an animated video of The Book of Disquiet—but in the meantime, you can read my review (with stills of the video) at:;postID=8173728924325082031

  24. The stills look great - best of luck finishing the project.

    I felt, reading Disquiet, something like what you describe, a peculiar mix of oppression and freedom or exaltation.

  25. The Pessoa project looks very cool, and I hope you finish it. Also, one of my early bands used to cover "Shadowline." I was a huge Fleshtones fan.