The Literary Rants: Must-Read Novels
Whenever I see a Must-Read Novels list, I automatically don’t want to read the books on the list. It’s a stupid knee-jerk reaction, I know. The authors probably didn’t ask for their books to be put on the list. I just don’t like being told what to read anymore.
There are only two legitimate reasons for a book to be a “must-read.” You fail a class if you don’t read it. Or you get fired from a job for not reading it. I don’t have to worry about failing classes anymore, and I don’t have to read books for my job (I have to read stuff that’s worse than most books), so there are no must-read books anymore.
I understand that using the term must-read is hyperbole. I have nothing against a little hyperbole. And I usually don’t like it when people take hyperbole literally. During the political season, politicians use hyperbole, and then other politicians accuse each other of lying when they were using hyperbole.
Even if the term must-read is hyperbolic, the idea is that these books are better than other books which haven’t made the list. A must-read book has something that other books don’t. A must-read novel has to have some cultural significance. There has to be a reason everybody “must read” it. It has to be more than good.
To Kill a Mockingbird shows up on almost every American Must-Read Novels list. It’s a little unfair because To Kill a Mockingbird is assigned reading to a large part of the U.S. population. Plus, there’s a fairly decent movie that goes along with it. Calling a book that everybody has to read must-read is unnecessary.
Several lists also consider Ulysses by James Joyce to be a “must read.” To me, Ulysses is a Must NOT Read Novel. I’ve tried reading it a couple times because I’ve seen it on so many lists, but I’ve never gotten past the first few pages. I wonder how many people have read Ulysses to the end, and then I wonder how many of those few have actually understood and enjoyed it. I think Ulysses is one of those novels that people claim to have read but haven’t. There’s no way to prove that, unless you walk around with a Ulysses test and hand it out to everybody who’s claimed to have read Ulysses.
No book can be a must-read before it comes out. Every list that proclaims “New Books You Must Read!” is a lie because because nobody knows yet if a book is a must-read (if there is such a thing). Maybe readers can look forward to those books, but anticipation is not the same as must-read.
In fact, a book should be out for at least a decade before it reaches must-read status. A few years ago, The Fault in our Stars by John Green was on a bunch of Must-Read Lists. Now, it’s gone. If a book is a must-read, it should stay a must-read. If a book is only temporarily a must-read, then the list compilers should admit to their error. To be fair, there was nothing wrong with The Fault in our Stars except that it might have been a bit overrated, but sometimes it’s not the book’s fault that it becomes overrated.
There are so many must-read lists, and all of them have different novels. If you tally all the novels on all the must-read lists, it’s into the hundreds and hundreds. I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read, so I definitely don’t have time to read must-read books. The list compilers should respect their readers’ time enough to at least have the same books on all their lists.
Below is a list of novels that seem to be on most of the Must-Read Novels lists. These aren’t my must-read novels. I’m not saying anybody has to read these. If you’re interested in which books tend to make Must-Read Novels lists, here’s your general guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling
1984 by George Orwell
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
What do you think? Is there really anything such as a must-read book? If so, which books do you think should be on that list?