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If You’re Tired of BOOKS YOU MUST READ Lists…

April 24, 2018

First of all, BOOKS YOU MUST READ lists are kind of arrogant because the list makers are assuming that they know what’s best for everybody.  As far as I’m concerned, the only books you MUST read are those that are assigned in school (if you want a good grade) and books that are assigned for your job (if you want to get paid).  Other than that, there are no BOOKS YOU MUST READ.

Sometimes out of curiosity I’ll read a BOOKS YOU MUST READ list just to see what’s on it.  If I’m really contrarian that day, I’ll look at all the BOOKS YOU MUST READ that I haven’t read and feel like I’m a rebel.  I must read all these books, and yet I know I never will.

Even better than a BOOKS YOU MUST READ list is this 21 Books You Don’t Have To Read list.   I like the approach this list takes.  Here are 21 books that we’ve been lectured to read for a long time, and the list not only tells us we DON’T have to read these books (not that we need their permission), but then there are alternatives for the books that we no longer have to read.

Another benefit of this list is that it’s not a gallery.  Most websites would have put each of the 21 entries on a separate page, forcing the readers to click each page and allowing the website to collect cheap hits.  I despise galleries, and I stop reading whenever I see them.  I want my lists where I can scroll up and down with ease.  I don’t try to collect cheap hits on my own blog, so I don’t want to reward another website’s bad behavior by giving them cheap multiple hits when they could have easily put everything on one page.

I don’t agree with everything on the list (Who would?), but at least I agree with the approach.  For example, the first book on the list is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  Lonesome Dove is on a bunch of BOOKS YOU MUST READ lists.  I like Lonesome Dove a lot, but I wouldn’t call it a MUST READ.  I mean, if I ever made a MUST READ lists, it might have Lonesome Dove, but I don’t do MUST READ lists.

The complaint about Lonesome Dove from the lister is “…that the cowboy mythos, with its rigid masculine emotional landscape, glorification of guns and destruction, and misogynistic gender roles, is a major factor in the degradation of America.”

What?  I mean, I’m not even sure what that criticism means, and the lister doesn’t explain it.  Instead, the lister gives The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford as the alternative because “It’s a wicked, brilliant, dark book set largely on a ranch in Colorado, but it acts in many ways as a strong rebuttal to all the old toxic western stereotypes we all need to explode.”

The way this critic judges books is different from the way I judge books.  My complaint about Lonesome Dove is that it’s unnecessarily slow at the beginning and the sequels suck.  When a critic starts writing about “misogynistic gender roles” and “old toxic western stereotypes,” I think a book’s agenda might be more important than the book’s quality to the critic.  To me, a good book is a good book, but agenda fiction almost always sucks.  The Mountain Lion by might be a good book.  I’ll probably never know because this critic just turned me off from it.

Luckily, each book gets a different critic, and most don’t seem driven by agendas.  My only other criticism is that some of the novels haven’t appeared on any BOOKS YOU MUST READ lists that I’ve seen.  For example, I’ve never seen Good-bye to All That by Robert Graves or Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger on any BOOKS YOU MUST READ lists.  Maybe I haven’t read enough BOOKS YOU MUST READ lists to have an opinion.

At any rate, this article is a great idea.  I wish I had thought of it first.

*****

What do you think?  What book have you seen on BOOKS YOU MUST READ that don’t belong?  What book would you replace it with?

One Comment
  1. “I despise galleries.” Yes! Or as the kids say, “Yaaaassss.” I only read used books on the clearance shelf bc I’m cheap, but I do remember being in high school and asking for a copy of “Ulysses” for Christmas. I thought it would be good for me to get that crossed off my reading list. I received the large book and gave it my best shot and finally gave up. No one should have to read that. Personally, I don’t think a “must read” list makes any more sense than “must-see TV” did years ago. It’s as subjective as music, and so individualized. And there’s too much pressure! When should we read these books? If you’re not up on the latest Netflix or HBO, you’re a loser, right? Which takes priority? Maybe the lists are only for people who to talk to other people who abide by must-read lists. When I flip over books at the bookstore, so many are about crimes and murder and evil (just like on TV and movies). Who wants to fill their brains with that sludge? Apparently most people. But not me. BTW, I had never heard the term “agenda fiction.” I shall apply it to TV and movies as well. It’s like one long commercial with an agenda. I hope this reply didn’t victimize any segment of the population or cause my carbon footprint to grow.

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