required reading

Earlier this week, Amazon put up a truly insipid list of “Ten Books to Read Before You Die” that incited ire in several of my friends who were unfortunate to happen upon it. (It’s since been replaced by the ten best-sellers, sparing your brains from reading such suggestions for “essential reading” as The Bible and everything Dan Brown ever wrote. J.R.R. Tolkien is on there too, as is Harper Lee, but I won’t quibble with the former, and will defend the latter’s inclusion to anyone silly enough to question it.)

It would be super-easy for me to sputter about the lack of Joan Didion (Slouching Towards Bethlehem, seriously) and Salman Rushdie, and Dashiell Hammett, and Hamlet, and Kerouac, and The Odyssey, and Evelyn Waugh, and oh hell, Tom Wolfe–(oh look I just did!)- but there are probably four hundred Great Works of Literature that I’ve never read. Such as:


Wuthering Heights

Ulysses (well, I read about 1/3 of it, and then my brain broke. I fully intend to go back to it, though.)

Infinite Jest

Little Women

A People’s History of the United States (yes, I have a liberal arts degree, and yet I’ve never read this.)

A Room of One’s Own

Finnegan’s Rainbow

The House of Mirth

…dear lord, I could go on and on and on. There is so much out there that I haven’t ever read through. I had guilt about thinking myself to be vaguely cultured in light of all this, then I realized that unless you was a lit major, you probably have a half-dozen Important Books that you haven’t read, either, and you just fake your way around those in conversation and assume that no one will hold them so dear as to get deeply into specific plot points. (Or you rent the movie and talk about the “atmosphere” of the book, assuming that will suffice.)

Admit it to make my not-so-well-read brain feel a little less alone: what Essential Reading did you not find essential enough to actually read?


Jen said...

I was an English major and I still haven't read most of those. (In my defense, I took a lot of poetry classes.)

I read Wuthering Heights back in high school and hated it with a passion that lives on to this day. I think I read Little Women a long time ago, but I don't remember much about it besides what was reinforced by the movie.

Lyz said...

I was an English major who OD'd on the lit courses, and I haven't heard of 3 of the authors you listed as MUSTS of your own. There - feel better?:)

Although I must say that Emma is my fav Jane Austen, and yes, I have read them all. I also don't like Wuthering Heights - Cathy got what she deserved for messing with people, and Heathcliff was just freaking crazy.

Also, I have no intention of trying to read Moby Dick or War and Peace. Ick.

nadarine said...

Lyz: which three? I cannot recommend Hammett's "The Thin Man" enough, and Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses", and I'm falling deeply in love with Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited". And Tom Wolfe isn't high art, but "The Right Stuff" is SOLID.

Becoming Fearless said...

haha... I also studied Literature and despite reading a lot I am still a very long way from having read even a fraction of what I should have / would like to!