“This book is the only book you need to read in your whole life. It has everything a book should have: large words, clever witticisms, a sweeping plot which is really an analogy for the whole of society, riveting characters, popularity with critics and scholars, and lots of pages.”
“But does it have pirates?” the boy said.
“Oh, no. Pirates are not literary enough for a book this grand.”
“Does it have dinosaurs?” the youngest girl said.
“Oh no. Dinosaurs are not symbolic enough for a book of such importance.”
“My book has pirates riding dinosaurs into space,” said the middle girl.
“Ooooh,” said the the boy and youngest girl as they leaned away from their eldest sister and read as Captain Platticus wrangled an interstellar triceratops.
Or, to quote the Happy Hocky Family by Lane Smith:
“I have a red balloon.
Do you have a red balloon?
I have a red balloon.”
*This must be read with full snooty pride over the lofty acquisition of a red balloon, and with grand disdain for your lack of a red balloon (as demonstrated by my friend Jenn/ Dizzy when she read this as a bedtime story to camp staff.)
On Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere, news sites have keyed into our darker inclinations for competition and the chance to demonstrate our own intellectual prowess by showing off how many books we have read on a particular list.
The most common I have seen is The BBC Book List Challenge, which taunts us with, “Most people have only read 6 on this list.”
“Ha ha,” we say. “You think me such a fool? Six is nothing!”
And so we take the challenge. We buy into a list of questionable origin, especially when one version states, “BBC’s Top 100 Books You Need to Read Before You Die.” We buy in as friends put up the numbers of books they have read. (I’ve read 22, by the way. Half for pleasure, half for education.) We buy in, despite The Complete Works of Shakespeare being listed beside the DaVinci Code and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Apparently, when we arrive in the afterlife, our first thought will be, “But I never finished reading Animal Farm!”
Granted, some of my favorite books are on the list:
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy / The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- The Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Graham (though, I prefer the Reluctant Dragon)
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (Actually, this might be my favorite book. Ever.)
However, there are books on the list only due to recent popularity, and other books I have either read or attempted to read, and can hardly tolerate.
So, here are my main questions:
1. Does reading all 100 books on this list make us better people?
Some of the books might. I would say Winnie the Pooh has made me a better person, but Life of Pi has not.
However, if I go to a party, do I have to move my #22 self away from a #10 to join my peers, but am unable to join the #70’s? Do they have a deeper understanding of life, the universe, and everything, or is that only the #42’s?
2. Do we want our reading to be defined by a standardized list?
On one hand, lists help us narrow down the pantheon of books which exist. There is only so much time to read, and we all want to be reading the best books. Lists help us know what other books people feel are important. If we have read the book, we can join the conversation.
On the other hand, lists limit us to those books, and leave little room for our own exploration. We may find malformed blops and bridges we want to burn along the way, but we may also stumble on a corner of hidden beauty other people have rushed past in their pursuit of apparent literary greatness.
As a writer working on getting published, I know it is important to read or at least be knowledgeable of certain books in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. While I have read The Lord of the Rings, I have yet to read anything by Asimov. While I have read Farenheit 451, I have yet to read 1984. However, do I read these books for street cred, for the glory of saying I have or do I read these for my own enrichment?
3. How should we choose what books to read?
I believe we should find our own path through the wondrous maze of books available to us. We should also use lists and reviews as trail maps to find the vistas and highlights others talk about. As we walk this path, we should keep our eye out for exploration and discovery. With our eyes open, wondrous things may be found.
Also, in the midst of reading great literary works, it must be remembered that reading can be fun. This is why, every so often, I put down an Important Book and pick up the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series. This is like mint and chip ice cream after a swim on a hot day.
- How do you decide what book to read next?
- What makes a book a ‘great book’?
- What are your favorite books on the BBC list?
- Do you have a favorite list of books?
- What (non-religious) books do you think everyone should read in their lifetime?
- What famous or popular books have you been meaning to read, but haven’t gotten to yet?
Other Thoughts On Reading
Different Kinds Of Reading, Different Kinds Of Books from Brenton Dickieson at Pilgrim in Narnia
I’m Repairing My Reading Habits from bookriot.com
Some Sci-Fi/Fantasy Reading Lists
50 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels That Everyone Should Read from Flavorwire
And A Very Exciting Side Note: (This post was originally written 2 weeks ago, before other events took up my posting space. This is still very exciting news.)
The start of filming for Star Wars: Episode VII is about as cool as Audra McDonald dropping the mic at the Tonys.