People love lists. I am no different. Whenever I see a list of something, I’m like, “Well, we’ll see about THAT.” Did you know that if you put a number in your title–like “Top 9 Political Decisions Made Recently by John McCain That Suggest Dementia,” or “15 Reasons Why Deciding to Homeschool Your Kids is a Bad Idea for Both You and Them,”–you are likely to attract more readers, more responses, more hits on Digg and StumbleUpon? I don’t know where I get these stats, but it’s totally true and you can bet the farm on it. Definitely.
Anyway, below is a list of “must read” books from the National Endowment of the Arts that has passed through several hands before it got to me. I saw it on Mary Anna’s page, and thought I’d weigh in on the contents. It is my understanding that the list is a part of some kind of community initiative to encourage reading, but I mean, really, who cares? Are you going to go on a reading binge after this? Me either! The average American adult has only read 6 of these books, so clearly this list, like every other list of its kind, means nothing. In my mind, these lists are merely opportunities: 1) to show off how many books you have read to people who don’t care; 2) to feel less-than if you haven’t read enough of them; 3) to drive book sales; and 4) for me to make cheap jokes primarily at the expense of Sarah Palin.
The instructions for passing this list around the internet like a viral disease are as follows:
- Look at the list and bold those you have read.
- Italicize those you intend to read.
- Underline the books you love.
- put in ALL CAPS the one that are also on the hypothetical list of books that Sarah Palin did not ask to have banned, but merely inquired about the theory of banning in general, a subtle and unimportant distinction.
throughbooks that should not be on the list. This might be due to the fact that you hate them, or think they are not “literary,” or just because you are being capricious today.
- Color green those books that are propaganda or glorified trash. Feel justified in making these kinds of distinctions based on your status as both an ivory tower intellectual and a card carrying member of the media elite. Accuse naysayers of living in a “fly over” state. Drink organic coffee sweetened with agave nectar or stevia.
- Color red those books you haven’t read but “should” have, or which you have never heard of. Offer self-effacing, anti-intellectual explanations where necessary. Talk about how much you like popular culture as diversion tactic, and to make people think that you are “quirky.” Wear glasses with dark rims.
- Add books that should be on the list to the end. Take comfort in the fact that no list of this kind could ever be complete, and will always alienate someone. It is the problem with establishing canonicity. Pat self on back for using word “canonicity” outside of academic paper. Also, punch self in face for being tool.
I am going to add to these instructions to the following:
Listen, it’s my website and I make the rules. So I don’t want to hear any bitching. So without any further ado, the list:
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Lord of the Ringsby JRR Tolkien: Sure if you want to be a freak, then fine, read this book. Several times. And while you’re at it, why don’t you invent a bunch of role-playing games and just plan on camping out in your basement in front of the computer for all of your formative years. Social sacrifice for a geek lifestyle does not make it great literature.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by JK Rowling BTW that’s 7 books right there so bonus–you’re above average if you’ve read these!
- TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
- The Bible. You don’t get to count this if you had it read to you, or perhaps acted out to you in a live-action musical format. That’s just my rule, though.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
- Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman–umm who?
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Little Womenby Louisa M Alcott. Crap. Crappity crap.
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I thought this was the most depressing book ever written UNTIL I read Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. And then I stood corrected.
- CATCH 22 Joseph Heller
- COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE I’m bolding this even though I doubt I’ve read the complete works. I have taught Shakespeare at the University level, and still haven’t read Merry Wives of Windsor. Sue me.
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbitby JRR Tolkien. WTF? One entry wasn’t enough for this? Harry Potter gets 7 books on one entry, and this gets two separate entries? There is a definite aged dork bias here.
- 17 Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
- THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by JD Salinger.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger Huh?
Middlemarchby George Eliot. Yeah, I read it. Really long, really fucking boring book, BTW. Gone With The Windby Margaret Mitchell Huh? Huh? Huh?
- The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
- Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I liked this book. I did not love it. It had the usual Dickensian problem with too damn much writing, but that is part and parcel with getting paid by the word. And who am I to criticize him, anyway. But I’m not going to underline it.
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy byDouglas Adams
- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck. Yeah, had to read it in high school. Shortly therafter I swore off Steinbeck for good. I am leaving it on this list because there’s a good chance we’ll need to read it as a kind of life manual in the coming years [knock on wood]
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
- Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis.
- Emma by Jane Austen.
- PersuasionJane Austen
- The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I am beginning to think this list maker is retarded. Is this not part of the Chronicles of Narnia Series? This is the one where
Christ gets crucifiedthe lion gets killed, no? Oops, sorry to ruin it for you. But he rises from the dead and can walk on water and shit, so don’t worry.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
- Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Da Vinci Codeby Dan Brown WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT?! WHAT THE HELL?!
- ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
- Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
- Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I’m OK with not reading any more Hardy. I feel like my Cymbalta can only do so much for me, and why risk it?
- THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood.
- LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding.
Atonementby Ian McEwan. Yeah. I hated this book. I couldn’t even get through the movie.
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Duneby Frank Herbert. Huh? Admittedly, I am biased against science fiction, but I don’t get this one at all.
- Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
- A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
- Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bonesby Alice Sebold. Seriously? It’s written by a dead girl about her killing. I mean, really, MUST we read this?
- Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
On The Roadby Jack Kerouac. You know who likes this book? Adolescent boys that are intrigued by rebellion, but too chickenshit to actually rebel. That’s who.
- Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Ugg. Worst scene of children suffering ever.
Bridget Jones’s Diaryby Helen Fielding. I really liked this when it came out, but I don’t get why it would be on any kind of list of must reads. For one thing, she “nicked” (I like to use Britishisms when I think about Bridget Jones) the plot from Jane Austen, and for another, it’s written in the form of journal entries. Not unlike a blog. Wait.
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Have I ever told you about how I have three degrees in English and never read a word of Melville? I’m very proud of it.
- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson
Ulyssesby James Joyce. Ugh. This book is supposed to be a classic, and it is supposed to be funny. I think you either have to be smarter than I am or dumber than I am to get it, or maybe it’s an Irish thing? I don’t know, but count me out on Joyce.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. No explanation necessary.
- Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
- Germinal by Emile Zola
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
- Possession by AS Byatt
- A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
- THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Eh.
- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
- Charlotte’s Web by EB White. This one might not count, since I think it was read to me, rather than me actually reading it. Loophole.
- The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom
- Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton. Seriously? Is this the chick who writes those cards and message notes that have pictures of rhinos or elephants on them, and says, “Please send chocolate?”
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
- The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
- The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Duncesby John Kennedy Toole. I had high hopes for this book, due to its excellent title. I was disappointed. I feel like somebody has to steal that title and make a blog that is truly excellent. It’s such a waste.
- A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
- Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
- The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie.
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.
- Geek Love by Kathryn Dunn.
- Blindness by Jose Saramago.
- The Corrections by Jonathan Frantzen.
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.
- Fury by Salman Rushdie.
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
- The Monk by Mathew Lewis.
Books I would add:
Looking over this list, there are really a lot more gaps than I had anticipated. I really don’t have the “shoulds” about reading as much as I used to. I used to carry around a list of books I needed to read, like I was trying to catch up in a game of cultural literacy or something. What does your list look like?