It’s like we stopped reading once we weren’t forced to…
Not terribly long ago, I got an email from Amazon about 100 books a person should read in their lifetime. “Why, I like books! I wonder which ones I haven’t read yet!” So I clicked on the list. And became rather disappointed.
It’s not that there’s necessarily a poor choice of books on that list. Many of those books are rather good. The list however is incredibly telling about reading habits of primarily Americans though. Quite a few of those books are commonly seen as required reading from middle school up through college (so you’re off the hook for about a third of the list already). Some are rather silly fiction, which while enjoyable, isn’t to me a book you NEED to read in your life. And god forbid you should read international literature. Or a decent graphic novel. Or well… Anything you probably haven’t heard of at some point in your life.
They made this list in conjunction with Goodreads, so a major part of that list was culled in a way from its user base (primarily out of school Americans, likely waxing poetic on what they read while in their youth, coming to terms on why they had to read such books). And that’s a good way to go. But as I said, you’ve heard of these books. You’re probably read some of these books. It’s almost as if saying “hey, we want you to read the same shit you read in high school because that’s all you’ll ever look at anyways in a book store!” Pretty lame if you ask me. It does appear that the list has changed quite a bit since its initial posting, probably to address the very problems that myself and countless others probably discussed around the internet, so that’s good, and the list is a bit more interesting to read.
Am I saying you shouldn’t read the books on this list? NO. You should read anything that catches your eye, and this list is a decent start. I highly recommend Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Satrapi’s Persepolis, Ellison’s Invisible Man, Diamond’s Gun, Germs, and Steel, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Heller’s Catch-22 if you haven’t already.
Other things to read that aren’t on that list that might interest you include:
- Anything by Chuck Palahniuk. If you can stand dark, witty humor and almost disturbing stories, Palahniuk is for you. You can start off easy with Fight Club, but I recommend Choke, Rant, Haunted, Invisible Monsters… Actually you can’t go wrong. Pick one up, and if it’s your thing, pick more up.
- Maus A graphic novel about Nazi Germany using cats and mice by Art Spiegelman. It’s a pretty amazing work, but in a context that seems surreal.
- Watchmen The quintessential graphic novel about what vigilante justice might actually imply. Don’t watch the movie (although it’s not terrible), but sit down and read this instead. You won’t be sorry.
- Battle Royale Often compared to The Hunger Games, it’s a story about a class of Japanese freshmen sent to an island to kill each other off. The only prize is getting to go home alive.
- Animal Farm A superior George Orwell book to 1984, where the allegories to real Communist life is kinda terrifying.
- Radio Freefall A rather interesting sci-fi novel I picked up in a dollar store about rebelling against the man, man.
- Anarchy Evolution Okay. I really just want more people to read things by Dr. Greg Graffin, lead singer of Bad Religion. Part biography, part scientific report, part commentary on religion, it’s an interesting read.
- Snow Crash Easy the most amazing cyberpunk novel to ever come out. Stephenson predicted to uncanny accuracy the future on the ‘net, and added a pizza delivery ninja.
- Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five You can’t go wrong with Vonnegut.
Ultimately, you should just read anything that looks interesting. And not stop reading. Okay, no, don’t go reading those Harlequin Romance novels, those are silly and you’re better than that. But look for books that might be out of your normal interests. Find a thrift store or a used book store, and find a cover or a title that strikes you. More often than not you’ll enjoy it. And if you need a little help on books, sure the Amazon list is a good start. But it sure as hell isn’t the “be all, end all” of book lists.