I take online/social media quizzes like many other people. Sometimes you’re waiting for a train or a doctor or school to let out to bring your kids home, and suddenly you’re enticed to find out ‘which’, ‘what’, ‘where’ you either were, are, or should be.
I have found out, over time, what Golden Girl I am, what State I ‘should’ live in, what breakfast meat I am, what my actual mental age is, what I did in a past life, what Star Wars character I am, what type of car I am….etc., etc., etc.
In case you’re wondering, the answers to the above are Sophia, Washington, Bacon (duh!), 38, writer, Yoda, and used.
Okay, I made the last one up.
One of the other online polls I’ve taken is to go through and identify how many selections I have actually read from the ‘100 Books To Read Before You Die’ lists generated by various sources. On some lists I scored pretty highly, having read more than 60% of the works identified as ‘should reads’. On other lists, more heavily laced with late 20th and early 21st century writings, I’ve scored much lower. I think the lowest score I got on one was 36 out of 100.
Just as I don’t really subscribe to being Sophia, or Yoda, or have any plans to relocate to the Pacific Northwest, I don’t place a ton of stock in these ‘must read’ lists and immediately make plans to binge buy on Amazon or rush out to Barnes and Noble to max out my credit card on ‘good literature’.
Sure, I’ve read a high percentage of the novels listed as ‘classics’ on these lists. Crime and Punishment, Count of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations, etc. As an adult I’ve read more than half of Dickens’ major works, I’ve read several of Dostoevsky’s major works, I’ve dabbled in Dumas, heralded Hardy, and even slogged through Moby Dick (which incidentally bored me to no end, but I finished it anyway). I love Jules Verne, and only wish I could find more well-translated copies of his works (in hardcover), and I am a big fan of the works of Wilkie Collins.
But honestly…so what? I also read Steve Berry’s ‘Cotton Malone’ series, James Rollins’ ‘Sigma Force’ novels….Anne Rice’s vampires, witches, and werewolves have enthralled me for more than 20 years now, I have begun reading the ‘Left Behind’ series, and Miss Peregrines Home For Peculiar Children is a SPECTACULAR read at any age, even if it’s billed as a young adult novel.
Some of the works on these lists are, to me, suspect as to how they wound up there. I’m not a literature snob, I read ‘schlock’ as much as the next person. One selection on the list in particular, Da Vinci Code, while a very interesting subject, is one of the worst written books I’ve ever picked up. I find it to be the literary equivalent of a Justin Bieber song, and anyone who knows me knows my feelings on that subject as well. I have never read any of the Twilight series; which I refer to as Transylvania 90210, nor have I read any of the Harry Potter series, though I love the films.
These inclusions on some of the lists lead me to say that, while I really don’t judge anyone by what they read (even if I call it Transylvania 90210), and more to the point I don’t judge anyone by what I read…..I have to wonder exactly ‘why’ some of these books and authors are on these lists. Why should ‘everyone’ (per their account) read them before they die?
This is where the lists fail to really explain themselves to me, and why I don’t take them all that seriously. Moby Dick appears on most of them, and I still wish I could get back the six weeks of my life it took me to finish it, thinking to myself ‘this HAS to get better before it ends…it simply HAS to….’
To me…..it didn’t. Therefore, I began to wonder why that and so many other books are deemed books that we, as a society, ‘should’ read before we die.
Can a person not go gentle into that good night without knowing the four houses of Hogwarts? Will Tolstoy himself come haunt you in the afterlife for never picking up War and Peace because it weighed more than a healthy newborn to carry around with you? Can you not pass through the pearly gates (if you believe in such a place) without getting stones and other detritus thrown at your head by Jacqueline Susann or Laura Ingalls Wilder or Raymond Chandler?
Yes, many of the books on the list have ‘influenced mans’ thinking’ in one way or another. Yes, 1984 was a spooky read in the 1980’s about a future society where you are being watched all the time. We live there now (no I’m not a paranoid conspiracy theorist) where your grocery purchases and travel to and fro can be tracked by your credit card activity, and ‘suggested websites’ get sent to you all the time based upon what you click on with your mouse….Amazon.com, one of the producers of a ‘100 books to read before you die’ list is very happy to show you what other people who clicked on the book you did are reading, what they bought, and even a whole butt load of similar books you can choose from. Why not buy ’em all while you are at it? After all, you really SHOULD read them before you die.
So even if Big Brother is indeed watching you, though not quite in the way Orwell imagined it; the impact that 1984 had when it was first released in the mid 20th century, imagining a world 30 years in the future that is now 30 years in the past….isn’t quite the same. It’s nostalgia now, rather than groundbreaking and disturbing. I’m more disturbed by the ‘enlarge your breasts’ emails that I get in my spam folder since I do not now, nor have I ever had, breasts and therefore have no desire to enlarge them.
In my mind, there are a few different ‘types’ of books you ‘should’ read before you die…provided you like to read at all, which not all people do. Here’s my picks:
1. Books that you can relate to
2. Books that make you feel or think something as you read them
3. Books that entertain you for whatever the reason may be that they do
That’s pretty much it, in my opinion.
My 83 year old mother loves to read. That’s really where my foundation of loving to read came from. Monkey see, monkey do. She reads a lot of Debbie Macomber and Mary Higgins Clark and the like. If the cover of a book looks like a movie poster for something Lifetime or Oprah produced…Mom’s all over it. More power to her. Whereas she spends a lot of time ‘sitting’ these days, I’m glad she has this hobby to fill her hours and actually enjoys it.
So ultimately, whatever the intent of these lists were, to either get me shopping, help contribute to the royalties paid to living authors, or simply to give me a literature slut-shame for some of the stuff I’ve picked up and really enjoyed amidst all the ‘high brow’ stuff I’ve also read and enjoyed…..it’s all kind of lost on me. I read what I read. I don’t know, nor do I care, what’s on the best seller list. I don’t know that I’ve ever picked up a book, with the exception of high school literature courses, that ‘everyone else was reading’….and that was an effort to get a passing grade on the book, not because I really wanted to read some of them.
In the long run…read what you read….enjoy what you enjoy. Don’t let any list tell you what you ‘should’ be reading, unless it sounds interesting to you and you want to read it.
Life is short. The only books I really think you ‘should’ read before you die….are the ones that you choose to.