It is shameful that few Americans – and particularly young adults – spend time reading books, especially serious fiction. To make matters worse, a major national magazine (Gentleman’s Quarterly or GQ) published an evaluation in a recent edition: “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.”
Of course, there are probably 1,000,021 books you don’t have to read. But the 21 books mentioned in the magazine are sure to create controversy…especially mentioning the Bible as “repetitious,” “foolish,” and not worth a serious read.
The article in one word: RIDICULOUS.
Start with the Bible. If you accept it as Holy Scripture, the book is a blueprint for a person’s life and destiny. Even if you don’t accept it as a holy writ, the Bible is invaluable in understanding Western Civilization, its history and art, and today’s political climate. Can anyone seriously tell me that the Harry Potter novels are more influential than the Old and New Testament?
The GQ article also lists “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Catcher in the Rye” as not worth your time. Sorry, but Holden Caulfield is a classic portrait of the early teen era (a precursor to the questioning youth in the wild 1960s) and Huck Finn’s innocent sense of right and wrong has never been portrayed better in any fictional character.
I would include both novels along with the Bible as books any educated person should read (or at least have substantial knowledge of their content). And I would also offer other titles, some classics and others fairly new, as “must reads.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (Harper Lee) remains a remarkable story and message, a lesson of history, compassion, and justice as seen through a child’s eyes.
“All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren) is the best political novel ever written, and is especially relevant in light of today’s culture wars and the ability of politicians to court the fears of people who feel dispossessed.
“The Poisonwood Bible” (Barbara Kingsolver) is a feast, a character-driven narrative pointing out the problems Americans had in attempting to mold Africa in our Christian-centric image.
“All the Light We Cannot See” (Anthony Doerr) is a brilliant portrayal of how war impacts civilians and the courage of ordinary men and women finding goodness in an environment of raging evil.
“Emily Alone” and the companion “Wish You Were Here” (Steward O’Nan) point a loving but realistic focus on aging in America where sons and daughters often live far away from elderly parents.
“The Great Gatsby” is still the thoughtful standard-bearer for novels viewing the rise and fall of powerful, wealthy men and women who find that monetary achievement doesn’t necessarily bring happiness.
I could continue on and on with personal favorites; some readers will certainly question my sanity, much as I question the intellect of the writer who published the drivel in GQ magazine.
I firmly believe great literature allows readers to understand cultures, history, and the impact of decisions creating ripples far beyond an individual life or neighborhood. Our concept of Christmas wasn’t formed by a politician or a TV show. It resulted from a small novel by Charles Dickens, just another “foolish” book.