Books to Read
Reading is such a subjective experience.
However, even knowing this, I find it difficult to take people’s reading suggestions seriously if I have repeatedly discovered that what they find “wonderful” are, in fact, horrible, horrible books. I’m NOT talking about the well-read bibliophiles who count themselves among the Twi-hards (ugh…you should know how much strength it took to type that). I’m talking about people whose “I love these books” lists are riddled with things that I deplored, detested, and categorically loathe.
I’ll lob up this example. I really can’t stand Eat, Pray, Love. And, in general, I use this as a test to see if I could be friends with you. The lone exception to this rule is my friend Claudia — who spiritedly defended this book to me saying that she read it while she was going through her own divorce and could connect on that level to the author’s experiences. But I’ll give Claudia a pass.
You’ll find that for every book I hate, there are myriad reasons why. A common, often ignored factor, is that I’m jealous. As a writer, when I read a book that is just B-A-D, I can’t help but think to myself, “Seriously? This person gets their work published? And it’s hard to break into publishing? But they can publish this?” Other things that turn me off: Pretentiousness, fancy writing that substitutes for plot (tied in with pretentiousness), lazy storytelling, clichés that don’t attempt to be fresh, awful dialogue, and bad-uncomfortable-make-me-feel-icky sex. You’ll find hypocrisy in each of those examples — because there are books I love that fit into some of those accusations.
At any rate, when I see a list “Must Reads” it’s hard not to judge.
So, I was hesitant to read “Murray’s Books to Read” list, which was sent to me by a family friend. Murray is Ms. Murray: My high school AP English teacher, an institution at our school — a teacher who has been launched somewhere on the threshold of sainthood. As an adult and as a teacher, when I look back on what exactly made Ms. Murray such a great teacher, it — honestly — is hard to pinpoint, but I think her unbridled enthusiasm, coupled with just sheer knowledge made her an intimidating force. She gained a reputation for excellence and it stuck. Love her or hate her (she has her fans and her dissenters, of course), one thing is clear: Her students produce excellent work and most people leave her class feeling like they’ve made gains. Beyond that, she does what I HOPE to do — create real/genuine love for books.
A list made by someone who has such a profound ability to affect the reading habits of teenagers, is worth looking at. This list came to me after I discovered a thread on Facebook (oh, Facebook — how I love/hate you) from the above-mentioned family friend, who was a current senior English student of Murray’s. Many students were discussing the list and talking about organizing a Powell’s trip to buy some of the titles recommended to them. My brother, God bless him, said to me, “You probably have read ALL of these, Shelbi.” Ah, he has so much faith in my reading habits! Alas, I have not. Not even close.
This list is interesting to me — as a person who tries to guess what type of person you are by the books you recommend. (Whatever, y’all do it too.) There are some books on here that I didn’t love and some authors that I am opposed to on principle. But there are also some books in there that I, also, love. And this list is cognizant of era — classics, coupled with a few contemporary titles. She does say there are “obvious” omissions — but each omission had to be made on purpose. Seems like a conversation over coffee. Murray, are you a reader of this blog? Want to take me up on that?
I would have a really difficult time compiling a list like this without breaking it up into categories. And I’d probably agonize. Give up sleep. Painstakingly put books on, then take them off.
To put something out like this to the world is akin to baring your soul.
How many have you read? What do you think of the list? Are there other lists out there that capture quality books? (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered if I ever could get to all of the 1001 books to read before I die. Check out that one too!)
In full disclosure, I have read: 26 of the titles. And I’ve started/haven’t finished 4 more of them. And 3 on the list are tentatively slated for this particular challenge.
(The checks are not mine — as this was scanned and sent via a current student.)