Friday, December 29, 2017

Yet another of those pretentious reading lists, big whoop

As my four readers know, once in a while I amuse myself by seeing how much or how little I have read from some pompous and snotty list of "books you need to read to avoid being  a loser" or whatever the title du jour is. Today's amusement comes via Inc., which I am guessing the business magazine must have had a slow day when this came out. They posted a list  of "30 Books You Need to Read to Earn 'Well-Read' Status." Well shit. Being a former English major, English and Literature teacher, adjunct college professor, and now academic librarian, I had to match my wits. The list by the way is not that impressive. It basically picks out three books from each category (or one more or one less) to reach 30. I think it has a lot of books missing in each category.

Here are the books they list with some commentary, snark and all, from me. The categories come from the article. Titles in bold are titles I have read. Authors in bold means I have read some other work by that author:

  • Western Classics (Ancient and Modern): 
    • The Odyssey by Homer. I have also read The Illiad. I read Homer somewhere back in middle school when I was in a mythology reading stage. So to be honest, I do not consider this to be particularly impressive from adults (i.e. you should have read this already.). And yes, I have reread them since. 
    • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Instead, I have read and taught Great Expectations, to the point that I have come to hate Dickens. I honestly to this day have no idea which curriculum "expert" thinks teaching Great Expectations to 9th graders is a good idea, but that "expert" needs to be shot (or at least fired). I have also read "A Christmas Carol" (as in actually read it, not just seen it on TV like most people have). 
    • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Read it sometime in graduate school when  I was getting my other masters. I cannot comment much because I do not remember it, and to be honest, I do not really give a shit about Austen. I have also read some of her other  stuff, but again, soon forgot about it. 
    • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I have read much of his short fiction. 
  • Dystopia:  This is a genre I care little about. I read a thing or two in this once in a while, but I do not actively seek it.
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Another classic I grew to hate from teaching it in high school, this time to seniors. Although I do not hate it in the way I hate Dickens. In addition, I have also read Animal Farm and some of his essays. 
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
    • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Seriously overrated though eerily reflective of where things are headed in some parts of  the world including the United States. I am sure most people now talk about it thanks to the television series, but I get the feeling not many have read it. It is seriously verbose and overall not particularly interesting. But I can say I have actually read it. 
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy: I enjoy more science fiction than fantasy, but I  have been known to read a little fantasy now and then. 
    • The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. I have read this and The Hobbit. To be honest, this is another one that may be overrated. There is a lot of filler in the series. 
    • The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. I call myself a science fiction reader, and it is amazing I have not read the Foundation Series yet. However I have read quite a bit of his short fiction. 
    • Neuromancer by William Gibson. I have also read his Burning Chrome.
  • Great American Novels. Most of these just make me yawn to be honest. As usual, we get a selection of dead white guys because apparently women and  minorities do not write in this category: 
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I thought I managed to make it out of high school without reading it, but I had to read it later in college. 
    • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. I could not care less. 
    • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I did read Of Mice and Men, "The Pearl," and a good amount of his short fiction. 
  • Literary Heavy Hitters. LOL. This is basically the door stoppers and pretentious stuff  that no one outside some selected English majors and seriously pretentious readers really reads.  They are pretty heavy books if you need to hit someone: 
    • Ulysses by James Joyce. I have gone happily through life without reading this overrated novel that many call unreadable, and I feel "well-read" just fine. 
    • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Another book and author I could not care less about. 
    • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Again, I have no fucks to give here.
  • Popular Fiction. 
    • A Song of Fire and Ice Series. by George R.R. Martin. Let's be honest. Aside from some hardcore fantasy fans, only people reading this are fans of the series. I never cared for the books, and I do not really care for the show neither. There is plenty of other fantasy I like better.  However, I have read some of his short fiction and some from his edited Wild Cards series. 
    • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I thought this would be up in dystopia, but OK. The article's author comments, "better than Twilight." That is one low bar. Fuck, anything is better than Twilight. And Battle Royale by Koushon Takami (there is a novel, an excellent manga, and a movie of it. I personally recommend the manga but warn it is seriously violent) did it before and a hell of a lot better than Hunger Games
    • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Contrary to what the article's author says, this will not spice up your bedroom. Do yourself, and your partner if you have one, a favor and find yourself some much better erotica. If your partner comes to the bedroom with the shady books, walk out. Don't fuck them. Seriously, have some dignity and self-respect and read any other erotica. The Best Bondage Erotica series edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel may be a good start. Here is my review of the 2014 volume. I can recommend others if you need a little help here. 
  • Immigrant Experience (U.S./UK). 
    • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I will admit that I have not heard of this one.  
    • Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I also read The Bonesetter's Daughter, which did not impress me much. 
    • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. I have to say a bit impressed they included this. Usually Time of the Butterflies is the standard for any list with Julia Alvarez in it. I have also read her Yo!
  • Non-Western Classics (ancient). I guess the article author is not that well read if they could not even scrape three titles: 
    • Ramayana (India). Yep, read this.  
    • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (China). 
  • Non-Western Classics (modern). 
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is my all-time favorite novel, which  I reread every few years or so, in Spanish by the way. I have also read most of his other fiction and some of his nonfiction. Think this novel is too long or complex? Consider reading some of his short stories set in Macondo; you can get a taste in small doses. 
    • To Live by Yu Hua. I have not heard of this, but hey, a banned book is of interest.  
    • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read Arrow of God instead.
  • Satire. 
    • Cat's Craddle by Kurt Vonnegut. Read Breakfast of Champions instead. 
    • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
    • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This is another I keep meaning to read but can't seem to get around to it. 
The article author leaves with this:

"I hate to break it to you, but if you're truly a well-read person, you will never feel well-read. They're always on the lookout for their next book--that category that they're missing--to add to their impressive list. It's a Sisyphean goal, really.

If you feel well-read, you're probably not." 

Actually, I feel "well-read" just fine, AND I am always on the look out for that next great book. But thanks for the attempt to be a snob. I mean, we could make a whole list of books that could  have easily gone on this list (some of them better than the ones listed), but that would be a whole other post.

Final tally:
  • Books from the list read: 13
  • Authors from the list read: 20.  
Postscript: Since I know someone will ask, here are a few books I would add that I have read in the categories the article's author set up:

  • Western Classics (ancient and modern): 
    • The Histories by Herodotus. The "father of history" also made up a lot of stuff as he went along, making this quite entertaining at times. 
    • Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels and stories. There is a reason they keep making movies and not so good television shows adapting or  modernizing Sherlock Holmes. Go read the source. If you want a good television adaptation, the Granada series with Jeremy Brett is great. 
  • Dystopia: 
    • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  
    • The Long Walk by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). The Running Man also works here. 
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy. Oh my goodness. We could add so many here, including some that also qualify as dystopian. Let's go by authors since there are so many, and I am just going to pick a small few for now (we could make lists and lists of science fiction and fantasy): 
    • Jules Verne. One of the daddies of science fiction (and also one of the daddies of steampunk before steampunk became "a thing").  
    • Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, again, because before Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, which I  have read, there was Professor Challenger.
    • Philip K. Dick
    • Robert A. Heinlein. Love him or hate him you cannot deny his place in the science fiction canon. I think some of his early stuff is better. 
    • Frank Herbert, for Dune
    • Ray Bradbury, yes, again, this time for The Martian Chronicles.
    • For a modern classic, try All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. (Read the book, skip the so-so movie "adaptation" with Tom Cruise). 
  • Great American Novels. Again, going by authors, because why limit yourself to just one work for some of these folks? To be honest, I am not a fan of "American" (read United States) novels, but there are some works I like or that have stayed with  me. In no particular order (and understanding there could be others added) : 
    •  Mark Twain
    • Toni Morrison
    • Ralph Ellison
    • Edgar Allan Poe
    • Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (private eye genre daddies). And not necessarily a "great American novelist," but we could toss in Mickey Spillane for his Mike Hammer novels. 
    • I'd toss in Tim O'Brien for The Things They Carried.
  • Literary Heavy Hitters. (Not adding. I do not believe in torturing my readers.)
  • Popular fiction. This is another category you could add so many things. Personally, I would use this to add some good graphic novels. A few I have recently liked and read include: 
    • The March series by John Lewis.
    • 21: the Story of Roberto Clemente
    • Drowned City
    • Ghetto Klown.
  • Immigrant Experience: 
    • When I Was Puerto Rican. OK, cheating on this title a little since I have not read it yet. It was highly recommended to me by my mother as it captures the Puerto Rican immigrant experience. 
    • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos.
  • Non-Western Classics (I do not necessarily consider Latin American to be "non-western" but the author did, so I am tossing it in.):
    • Dhammapada (Buddhist texts).  
    • Mario Vargas Llosa
    • Jorge Luis Borges. You can start with his Ficciones and El Aleph.
    • Salman Rushdie. I am not a huge fan, but Midnight's Children stayed with me.
  • Satire:
    • Gulliver's Travels by Johnathan Swift. 
    • Don Quijote by Miguel De Cervantes.
What I added above is a very small sampling. It is hard to create this kind of list because criteria can vary, and what person feels is a must another may feel is not. In the end, that author can "break it to us all she wants," but I feel well read just fine, and yes, I am always on the lookout for my next good read.

Would you like to see some of  the books I would like to read down the road? Check out my "Items about books I want to read" series over on my commonplace blog Alchemical Thoughts.  Just click on the "books and reading" tag. The "to be read" (TBR) list keeps getting bigger, but that just means I will always have something to read.

So, what would you add to your list of books that you feel would make you a "well-read" person? The comments are open.

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