“Important” books

This week, I have been thinking about “important” books. I think of these as the books we are often asked to read in school, or the books that so often make the lists of “must-read” books. A few thinks have triggered these thoughts, including a books I hope to be talking about this weekend.

Some of these books are wonderful, beautiful books. Others, however, are harder to read. So often, I find myself feeling like if I don’t like a so-called important book, it must be because I don’t “get” it, not because the book itself isn’t for me. We find it hard to critique these books, especially when they are written by authors everyone agrees are wonderful.

The truth is that when I dislike or struggle with a books that has been deemed important, I can appreciate the messages or issues the book is trying to address, but I often don’t emotionally connect with them. Sometimes, a novel that is less “important”, but still addresses the same issues will have a larger impact on me.

I think this also comes back to what books are chosen as “important”. I have always been aware of the predominance of male authors in lists of important books, and doing this project has increased my awareness of this, as well as helped me realize how many books by women COULD be “important”, but are instead relegated to “women’s fiction”. Even when books by women are included in these lists, I know few men who have read them, or take them seriously. For example, the book with the highest ranking in the list below by a woman is Pride and Prejudice. I think this is a great book, and is very interesting, but I also know very few men who have ever picked it up, and even fewer who would admit that they liked it.

According to its creator, the following list “is generated from 114 “best of” book lists from a variety of great sources. An algorithm is used to create a master list based on how many lists a particular book appears on.” Lists created by authors or so-called “experts” are given more weight.


Top 20 Books on the The Greatest Book List

1.) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

2.) In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

3.) Ulysses by James Joyce

4.) The Odyssey by Homer

5.) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

6.) Moby Dick by Herman Melville

7.) The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

8.) Hamlet by William Shakespeare

9.) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

10.) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

11.) The Iliad by Homer

12.) One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

13.) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

14.) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

15.) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

16.) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

17.) Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

18.) The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

19.) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

20.) Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell

Some of these books I have read and loved, some I read and disliked and some I have no desire to ever read. Few of my favorite books are on this list. But mostly I am also troubled by how white and Euro-centric this list is, when we know that there are wonderful authors from other parts of the world, of other ethnicities and genders.

So what is my take-away here? Ultimately, my goal as a reader is to enjoy my reading experience and to discover new and interesting ways to understand and see the world. Many books on this list don’t fulfill my goals as a reader, and therefore, they fail to be important to me on a personal level. What makes a book important to me is a book that combines an interesting take or viewpoint with a fulfilling reading experience which usually includes well written prose and a compelling story.

How do you feel about this? Do you feel compelled to read books that are considered “important”? Does the fact a book makes this list make you more likely to finish it even if you are not enjoying it?


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