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Are There Any Novels That Everybody Should Read?

May 6, 2013
Maybe everybody should read this novel simply because Harper Lee never wrote a sequel and good behavior should be rewarded.

Maybe everybody should read this novel simply because Harper Lee never wrote a sequel and good behavior should be rewarded.

The AARP has been trying to sign me up since I was 25, which makes sense because I’ve always been an old man at heart.  I like to wear mismatched clothes.  I’ve always complained about kids (even when I was one).  My left turn signal is consistently on when I don’t intend it to be.  I’m an old man except I don’t talk about my medication (because I don’t take any) and I don’t check the obituaries every day to make sure my name’s not in it. 

So I stumbled upon this reading list  that AARP has about novels everybody should read before the age of 50.  This list shouldn’t surprise me.  When an organization is as monolithic as AARP, somebody is going to devise a reading list.  It’s not the reading list that interests me (though I checked it out).  It’s the idea that there are books that everybody should read. 

The AARP thinks Lonesome Dove is a novel everybody should read.  I read Lonesome Dove (probably when I was 25).  I enjoyed it.  But not everybody should read Lonesome Dove.  It’s long.  It’s slow in a few places.  It has a really bad sequel (maybe not “bad” but “mediocre” at best).  Yeah, maybe a great novel shouldn’t be punished for a disappointing sequel, but I think it should be taken into consideration. 

To Kill a Mockingbird was the top book on the list.  To Kill a Mockingbird is at the top of many reading lists.  If there were a list for novels that were listed on reading lists, To Kill a Mockingbird would be at the top of that list too. 

The thing I appreciate most about To Kill a Mockingbird is that Harper Lee never wrote a sequel.  She’s lucky (and maybe the world is lucky) that To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t originally published in 2013.  If it had, Harper Lee would have been coerced into writing two sequels really quickly and calling the whole thing The Boo Radley Trilogy.  I don’t think that would have been included in the AARP Must Read Novels List. 

Even though I like To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m not sure everybody should read it.  That’s not a complaint about To Kill a Mockingbird.     It’s just that there really is no book that everybody needs to read, except maybe The Bible (just kidding!  kind of… not really… a little). 

There’s also the idea that everybody should read these books by the time they’re 50.  Oh yeah?  And what happens if I don’t?  Will AARP shun me?  I’m pretty sure the AARP’s standard for membership is the ability to pay, not my age or the books I’ve read.  I’ve read most books on the list, but the ones I haven’t read (I won’t mention them), I won’t read.  They’re just not for me.

That may be closed-minded of me, but I’m old enough to be closed-minded, and I’ve read enough books that I didn’t want to read in my lifetime, and I don’t have to do it anymore, and if I don’t want to read a certain book, nobody is going to make me, even if it’s on a reading list. 

See?  I’m going to make a great old man. 

Now I’m going to go tell some kids to get off my lawn! 


The humor in my previous sentence is that the kids are actually on somebody else’s lawn, but I’m going to yell at them anyway.

  1. Yes, thank you! I have spent way too much time forcing myself to read something because it was “something everyone should read”. (“The Grapes Of Wrath” comes to mind.)

    One of the great joys of being a curmudgeon is that when people tell me what I should be reading (or watching, or eating) I finally have the chutzpa to tell them to go jump in a lake.

    • “Go jump in a lake” sounds kind of mild for a curmudgeon. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever read The Grapes of Wrath. But at least now I feel okay admitting it.

    • Judy permalink

      I’m so much of a curmudgeonette that there are very few people who dare to tell me what to do. Life is indeed good. I’ve never even thought of reading The Grapes of Wrath.

      I’m going to try my abilities of telling others what to do. Read “Having a Few and Getting Some” on your Kindle if you have one.

      How is that working?

  2. How about a list of the classic books people should NOT read? I’m reminded of this idea every time I see another advertisement for new film version of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio (coming to a theater near you this Friday). Man, I hated that book when I was forced to read it in high school. Stupid Gatsby. I was glad when he died.

    • I was forced to read it in highschool and ended up enjoying it! Just to push harder against the idea that there are books that everybody should read.

    • I don’t have a problem with schools forcing students to read books. That’s what school is for, making kids do things they don’t want to do. But I wasn’t wild about The Great Gatsby either. I didn’t hate it, though. At least it was pretty short.

    • Ha! Thank you, Karen. I also did not see why Gatsby was so great. And I am looking forward to not seeing the movie.

  3. I’m a fan of stand alone novels and that’s the kind of novels I want to write. When I pick up a book that’s the first of eight (or more like, it’s the 4th of eight), I usually just put it down again.

  4. Everyone should read The Man with the Twisted Lip, but that’s a short story.

  5. itsanotheremily permalink

    I love this post, you have great points! It’s so true, I just recently was dragging myself through a ‘classic’ that I felt I ‘should’ be reading, and stopping it was the best decision I made that week, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying all the books I’ve been reading now much more than that ‘classic’ thank you for your wonderful post! (Love your humour too)

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