There are books everyone must read in their life. Brilliant, genius books you simply need to experience so you can have a fuller, more meaningful life and fewer regrets on your deathbed. Here are ten of these books, although the list is far from exhaustive.
Hehe, I got you, didn’t I? Don’t you just love seeing the words must and books in a declarative sentence? I do. Well, I love all sorts of musts, to be honest, but when it comes to reading, I feel a special bond with must probably because I used to spend so much time reading in my earlier years when the world was new and full of wonderful stories. Now it’s new for someone else but for me it’s getting old and good stories are harder to come by.
Oh, but you must read X by Y! Everyone is talking about this book and this author, it’s already a classic, so deep, so insightful, so beautifully written. It’s a must-read for anyone who claims they love reading. Otherwise they’re just lying snobs.
How can you not have read Z by Q? How is this possible? Hasn’t everyone read it? It’s one of the most brilliant books ever written in history, which automatically means everyone who has acquired the skill of reading must read it at some point in their lives. It’s the only course of action that makes sense. Otherwise these lives will be so much spiritually poorer.
There is a distinct possibility that the amount of sadness and misery in the world is caused by too many people not having read Oliver Twist or the latest from Franzen, it seems. (These are just random examples, by the way, feel free to insert any other work of literary art here). At least, this is the feeling many passionate readers seem to convey when they discuss books. Alas, if only it was that easy to deal with sadness and misery, the world would be a much better place.
There are few things I hate more than being told what to do. I mean, everyone above the age of about 10 probably hates it, and there’s a good reason for that. We spend the first years of our lives being told what to do all the time. It’s for our own good, of course, but a decade’s enough, for most of us.
Worse than being told what to do, however, is being told what to like and that makes a big part of the reading narrative that’s going on in social media. There are many places — good places — where people are tolerant of each other’s tastes and preferences, and nobody gets offended if someone else doesn’t really like their favourite author. Yet in general it’s amazing how good we are at deluding ourselves that we’re open-minded and tolerant of other people’s taste only to be shaken by sincere outrage when someone admits to not having read Insert-your-favourite-book-here… And try to convince them it is their duty as a human being to correct the mistake.
I remember my greatest shock in this respect. A friend of mine, a smart, funny, lovely woman, told me she never really hit it off with the Discworld. I was stunned. She was a friend, she definitely had a sense of humour, and a great one, and she didn’t like my favourite author. How could this be? There had to be something wrong with her.
It took me quite a while to accept the fact that it is, in fact, possible for people to be simultaneously nice and not fans of Terry Pratchett. Or Stephen King. Or anyone I hold in high esteem, really. (Okay, I’m still not completely convinced about Pratchett but I am trying to come to terms with the idea that people could have a great sense of humour and not like… No, sorry, I can’t.)
With reading the new rage a lot of people must be finding it hard when they come across people who don’t like the same books they do. The pain is strong. Coping mechanisms are few. Adn then there’s that innate drive to belong that we all have in us. So musts abound. Anyone who claims to be a serious reader must read X by Y and like it. Otherwise they’re not part of the reading tribe. Otherwise there’s something wrong with them.
Fortunately, some of us are indeed too old for this shit regardless of their actual age. Also, I recently learned, human beings have a scientifically proven tendency to resist ideas that are being relentlessly pushed on them. I thought it was a quirk I had but it’s not. We’re all like this, to different degrees. Or at least we should be. It’s a self-preservation.
The more I hear about a book, the less I want to read it, except when it’s from an author I already know and love, of course. This could be unfortunate and I could be missing out on a lot of good literature but there’s hope: when everyone stops talking about that book, I might give it. In fact, I probably will. At the must-read stage, however, no book has a chance with me.
I’ve never read Moby Dick. I doubt I ever will unless I’m stripped of all books but this one. I haven’t read most bestsellers/new classics. I read The Handmaid’s Tale a few years before the TV show aired and to be perfectly honest, if I already wasn’t a fan of Margaret Atwood and if I hadn’t read the book before the show, I would have missed out on some of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read, Atwood’s books. Because of the must-read thing. Because when the show aired suddenly everyone had to read The Handmaid’s Tale.
So, while all those “Top X books you must read before you die” lists can be amusing or even interesting with some of their suggestions, there is no book that you must read. In fact, I would very much like to see a list of “Books you should never ever, under any circumstances, not even in prison, read.” Now that would be a fun list.
P.S. I am not responsible for the book arrangement in the above photo. I would never have put the Kama Sutra between the History of the Middle East and The Blind Assassin. My husband did this, unintentionally. I thought it was hilarious, so I left them as they are.