So the task was simple. Pick five and only five books that would do two things: stand as a crash course in literature and encourage the reader to continue that education on his own. I’m pleased with the list and stand behind it, but there are a few random thoughts that occur to me.
I’m not a misogynist. But I may be a chauvinist. There aren’t any women authors on the list. The books are by and large ‘boy stories’. Women could, and certainly do, enjoy them but they all have male heroes and are generally male viewpoints. In part this is because the list was made by an older dude (me) for a younger dude (an illiterate moron I work with). The only real candidate I could come up with to fit the criteria was To Kill a Mockingbird. This is probably, and hopefully, just a hole in my own reading preferences, but if I were making a list for a young lady who didn’t want to read about wolves and murderers…well I’d be pretty much screwed.
I’m not a snob. I have a problem with people who look down their noses at popular fiction just because it’s popular. The books on the list are generally considered classics, but they’re also good stories. I think they’re all powerful as Literature with that stupid capital ‘l’, but if you don’t enjoy reading something what’s the goddamned point? Take away that snobbish capital ‘l’ and you might have better luck getting somebody hooked on reading with Harry Potter. Those books are easy to make fun of if your reading nose is in the air. I read every one of ’em and thought they were pretty flippin great.
I’m a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Fahrenheit 451 made my list because it was more accessible than 1984 but I really wanted 1984 on the list. I don’t know if people are truly getting dumber, although it certainly feels that way. It’s easy (and apparently human nature) to think kids are more stupid than you are. But it’s not a case of raw intelligence so much as a framework to express that intelligence. A book like 1984 can give you the syntax to express what you think of things with names like red light cameras, full body scans at airports, the patriot act, or tracking chips in your phone. As far as I know, 1984 is no longer widely taught. I’m not sure that’s an accident.
I have no idea if this will work. The young guy I made this list for transferred to another department and I no longer see him. If he had read the list, I don’t know if it would be the magical transformation I hoped for. To tell you the truth I don’t think he would have even tried to read them. I can’t force him. Well, I suppose I could, but that would be me infringing on his right to be aggressively ignorant and I am a strong believer in individual rights. I’ll keep trying though. His replacement is another young kid. If I throw enough books out there maybe one will stick.