I’ve seen hundreds of book lists: Books you should read before you die; Books that should be on your book shelves (hopefully you’re still allowed to take them out and read them); The best books of the 20th century; Books that your children should read … you can see where this is going.
I have to admit that in terms of lists, I am not doing that well. In the “how many of the books you should have read by now. Yes, you!” quizzes popping daily on the Internet, I probably reach a score around 50%. I always imagine my highschool librarian scowling at me, as I’ve read a lot, but apparently not the ‘must-read’ types of books. And I have to confess, I have forgotten quite a lot from my earlier reading.
To be fair, school can do that to you: you read so much, over-analyse so many little sentences, describe so many subconscious feelings that even the author never knew he/she had, that in end, you just pray to forger the plot the moment you lay down your pen, after the exam.
That’s why, when I landed on this beautiful list of books to read, presented by Janet Potter, I appreciated a list that remembers the first rule of reading: taking pleasure in what you read. As the blogger says, “In my 10 years working at bookstores, no one ever came in and asked me what they should read before their death — they would ask me what my favourite book was, or if there were any great new books no one was talking about, or they would just want me to leave them alone so they could explore on their own.
And she continues with her list of books you should read (if you want to). As always, the selection and comments are mine, but if you head over to her blog, you can read the original post.
You should read the book that you hear two booksellers arguing about at the registers while you’re browsing in a bookstore. A great idea, but I buy my books over Amazon, so finding two booksellers – fighting ones, too – can be hard. Hopefully, the comments’ area counts!
You should read the book that you see someone on the train reading and trying to hide that they’re laughing. My dad had a health scare a while back (he’s fine, thanks for asking). I was waiting at the hospital, reading a book by Camilieri (the Montalbano series). The book was an easy-to-read, funny detective story. Every time I read something funny, I would hide in my book because it’s always a bit awkward to chuckle in a hospital. Anyway, I had a page and a half left (where the murderer would be finally revealed), when a nurse let me know I could take dad home. Naturally, I asked for a minute to finish the book… Now, that’s a book people should read!
You should read the book that you see someone on the train reading and trying to hide that they’re crying. I don’t really cry when I read books. Or any other time, for that matter. It’s one of those things, probably because Electra cries enough for the both of us (please don’t tell her I said that). She claims that these are the most inspiring books, the ones she thinks of for a long time. As I often say, it’s all about the emotion that the book leaves you with.
You should read the book that you find left behind in the airplane seat pocket, on a park bench, on the bus, at a restaurant, or in a hotel room. I started following that rule when I found in a hotel drawer JL Borge’s Labyrinths. I don’t usually read romantic novels or summer reads, but whenever I am on holidays, I always stumble upon a forgotten book, and I actually enjoy them: I’m on holidays, relaxing and this is the type of book that really suits such a setting.
You should read the book that you see someone reading for hours in a coffee shop — there when you arrived, still there when you left — that made you envious because you were working instead of absorbed in a book. They might be dyslexic, of course, but why not chance it? You may discover a gem!
You should read the book you find in your grandparents’ house that’s inscribed “To Ray, all my love, Christmas 1949.” Especially if no one in your family is named Ray. Such books have so much history in them. I have old cook books from my grandmother and children’s books from my father. It’s not just the story that the book says, it’s also what this story meant to the person before you that read the book. It means I can get a better picture of my ancestors; about who they really were, the people behind the title. Or about Ray, whoever he is.
You should read the book that you didn’t read when it was assigned in your high school English class. You’d probably like it better now anyway. School often sanitizes reading, achieving the impossible: to put people off reading. Re-reading them means having a totally different perspective and actually enjoying the book for what it really is.
You should read the book that your history professor mentions and then says, “which, by the way, is a great book,” offhandedly. I do that with many people who mention a good book. I was invited at some friends’ for dinner and another guest mentioned a few books he had read and loved. The books seemed quite interesting and out of my usual lists. One was about the ‘Art of Memory’ and the other was ‘The Information’ (how people through the centuries transmitted any sort of information). Anyway, my memory being what it is, I kept repeating the books’ names in my mind, until I came back home. Then I turned to Electra and said, “What were those book titles again? I can’t for the life of me remember.”
You should read the book that you loved in high school. Read it again. This might backfire, as when you fail to understand what was so great about that book, anyway, or it ca n lead to a re-appraisal of the book, discovering underlying themes that you had never thought of. That’s why I regularly re-read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the Little Prince and Winnie the Pooh.
You should read the book that you find on the library’s free cart whose cover makes you laugh. Do judge a book by its cover, sort of thing! Of course, I haven’t been in a library in years, but again I hope that Amazon-browsing counts!
You should read the book whose main character has your first name. Case in point: Le petit Nicolas, Rene Goscinny’s series about a little boy called Nicolas. It’s one of my favourite series!
You should read the book about your hometown’s history that was published by someone who grew up there. Even if you hated it there, it will give you another perspective into yourself. After all, isn’t that the real reason why we read?
You should read books about places you’re about to visit. I was at a friend’s place, years ago, when I saw a coffee table book by National Geographic (I think – again the memory sucks), with small details about each country and a book that could characterize each one of them. That was a remarkable list of books to read!
You should read books about historical events you don’t know anything about. Pearseus readers will have surmised my love of history. How can one expect to predict tomorrow, if they don’t know the past?
You should just keep reading…
Years ago, a dear friend told me that there is no right and wrong type of music; there’s just a right and wrong moment for each type of music. I think the same holds true for reading. Every book has a proper setting to be read and enjoyed. And I mean every book! How can you enjoy your holidays without an easy read, a road trip without a guide or a bus drive without a nice mystery? In the car, on the beach, in the train, waiting for a meeting … there is a book for every situation!