Over at the Fictionistas today, they posted a list of books put out by the BBC. The BBC's guess is that most people won't have read more than six books out of the 100. My total was 24.
Now I already have a list of what I would consider books everyone should read at least once in their life. (And yes, there are a slew of those books I've never read myself. Just because I should doesn't mean I have.) Please note that I said 'should read' not 'must like' - because some of the books are on there for learning purposes, not enjoying purposes. There are a myriad of books I really don't like, but I read them anyway so I could learn from them - like The Good Earth, for instance, which has a crappy sense of life, but good writing. (The same can be said for Steinbeck, or Hemingway, or Irving.)
You may notice there are books I didn't put on my list that are on so many other lists of this type. Like, for instance, Catcher in the Rye (which is on the curriculum for most public high-school English students). I really don't see any purpose to suggesting anyone read that book. The only thing I got out of it was a feeling that life was hopeless. And is that really what we want any teenager to experience from reading. (Yes, I know. Teenagers already feel that way - so why compound the problem.) I'm sorry my teacher made me read it, and I wish I could scrub the memory out of my head. Same goes for Lord of the Flies.
You'll also notice that I have books on my list you won't see on some of the others. One glaring example is Ayn Rand. I have my own thoughts on why she's left off the lists of important books (even though Atlas Shrugged is second only to the Bible as 'most influential' to its readers), but I won't rant about them now. Love her work or hate it - your choice - but don't deny its place in literary history. (And if you can't fathom reading 1168 pages, read Anthem instead of Atlas Shrugged.)
I've also placed some more commercial works on my list, because they are important, too. The Mummy, for instance, is a wonderful story - very well written with a positive sense of life. Or take Ken Follett - with his excellent writing and interesting storylines. Or Michael Crichton - who created techo-thrillers, and proved that science can be thrilling here on Earth.
I guess what I'm saying is: People find different things valuable in books. Books that I loathe and make me want to scrub my brain with steel wool, others may hold dear to their hearts. The important thing is that people read. Preferably something of value to them in some way. (And yes, even the trashiest of commercial novels can have value - hell, people find value in James Joyce, don't they? Personally I can find more value in a bodice-ripper than anything he wrote.)
So regardless of what I or anyone else tells you to read, just read something. And if you're short on time, read a kid's book.
Are you reading anything right now (I mean other than this blog, smart aleck)? What's on your nightstand, or what's next up for you? I'm between books right now, but I think I'm going to read some Roald Dahl next.
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