I've had an interesting confluence of reading events lately:
First, I've had several conversations about The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. I finished Catching Fire last night and started Mockingjay, which I hope to finish soon. Perhaps because people know me to be a book snob, I've had to explain my reasons for reading these wildly popular books. See, if everyone else is reading it (I'm looking at you, Oprah!), I tend to shy away - at least for awhile and sometimes for good. There's a Walmart mentality that takes over, and the rebel in me just does not want to do what everyone else is doing. I think there is also a tiny smidge of truth to the thought that if everyone is reading it, it can't be very challenging, intellectually or politically/culturally/socially. We just don't all agree on those big issues, and when books push back against our norms, many people simply refuse to engage with them. For me, the pushback is one of the most important components of a successful reading experience. I've said it before (and I'll say it again): for a book to reach the upper echelons for me, it needs to change me in some way. I want to be challenged, intellectually and personally, and most of the time, the most popular books simply will not do that.
Conversely, a quick stroll around the bookblogahood this morning reminded me of what happens when readers recommend books to other readers. There is, of course, a matter of personality and experience. If you love murder mysteries, and I don't, no amount of praise is likely to get me to pick one up. However, where those elements of personality can be blurred or set aside, we can really make room for some wonderful reading experiences courtesy of others. This morning alone, I added 4 books to my list of things I'd like to read this year: The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss, reviewed by Nymeth at things mean a lot; What it is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes; From Margin to Center by bell hooks; and The Submission by Amy Waldman.
These last three came about from the conversation started by Rebecca at BookRiot regarding a universal required reading list. Though it would be impractical and dictatorial in reality, the dreamy version of everyone being required to read certain books at different points in life would make the world a resoundingly different place. Of course, my suggestions would draw from my relatively Anglocentric reading experience, but imagine if readers the world around could actually come together and make a Reading List, where we could learn from each other's artistry and cultural issues, where we could see the other and ourselves through different lenses, where we could, as the original post discusses, just have something to talk about over coffee or on a train?
Contrary to my first instinct, I think my suggestions for The List would be more contemporary than Classic. Yes, it is important to understand from where we have come, and there would be some there, but the books that I would rank as being most important for everyone to read would be things like Michael Pollan's work on understanding where our food comes from today or Jonathan Kozol's work on the (relatively) current state of public education. I would want adults everywhere to understand (although not necessarily agree with) the tenets of the world's major religions, so the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah would be on there. I would include books that show us the humanity of other peoples, that inspire us to improve our communities, that help us talk about the difficult and universal truths of death, love, family, and place.
What do you think? And what would you add? Make me a suggestion, friends. I'm apparently starting a List.