I really like reading, but I hate book lists. There is a good audience for this, I think. Do you all ever read these damn things and get the feeling the author stopped reading after high school? Like, they got a reading list with Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse 5, and the Grapes of Wrath then decided that literature both begins and ends with those books.
I haven't read much Fitzgerald, but I used to love Vonnegut. That never would have happened if I just read Slaughterhouse 5. Vonnegut was what was right with Sci-Fi from the 50's and 60's in that he used sci-fi concepts to explore human nature. Sure, Slaughterhouse 5 sticks with it and has aliens and time travel while dealing with the horrors and futility of war, but every time I see that book on a list instead of something like God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or Sirens of Titan, my soul cries a little. What makes some of his earlier work so memorable in my mind is his wit. His way with words made for some funny scenes while picking apart the world around him. That just doesn't come to my mind when I think Slaughterhouse 5. Slaughterhouse brings out my pretentious side at parties, the hipster part of me that talks about the fire bombing of Dresden and how important that book was in exposing the hypocrisy of people who think that there is just war. You know what though? Rosewater mentions Dresden. Cat's Cradle is a great allegory about the Bomb. To this day though, I think the best introduction to Vonnegut is Welcome to the Monkey house. I may not suggest it to people as much because it's a collection of short stories, but it covers a wide array of his work, so you get exposed to his early style as well as some of his post Slaughterhouse style. You should read Vonnegut, stop suggesting Slaughterhouse 5 because your high school English teacher liked it so much.
John Steinbeck is the same message, just a little harder because every English teacher loves him and all of his work is on every reading list. It's just between Grapes of Wrath and Slaughterhouse 5, it seems these people making lists not only want me to think that they are well read, but they TOTALLY know about history and junk too. God, people who write on the Internet are just so deep and mysterious and I bet they're just like a calm, dark river with a strong undertow.
I was going to write about Steinbeck, but it would just sound like Vonnegut above. You should read Tortilla Flats though. It would describe the Millennials if you replace 'wine' with 'marijuana'. Or read The Pearl because Steinbeck's best trick is writing an ending that makes you question your life and want to hide in a dark corner and hug your dog. No, instead let us talk books that are fun stories and also about history. Let's talk about All Creatures Great and Small. What a good mix of stories. Funny, heartwarming, depressing, and the whole time talks about life as a veterinarian in a small village in England in the 30's. Usually when I talk books with my dad, Harry Potter and this series comes up. We both have different tastes, I like deep heavy works where you have stop every 5 pages to think, or works of fiction with a deeper meaning behind them. He likes historical books about World War 2 and young adult fantasy and Sci-Fi. All Creatures and the other books in this series has something for everyone and does it well. Seriously, it doesn't challenge the ideas of how a story should be told like Joyce or Grapes of Wrath, but at least one or two of these stories will stick with you years later. Like James Herriot, the author, delivering a foal whilst intoxicated. Or him rescuing a dog that had been abandoned and had gang green along it's hind legs. Maybe try showing your sensitive side off when you talk books.
You know, the more I work on this list, and the more I think about other lists, the more I just don't like some other lists. So reading isn't something you should do to unwind after a hard day at work, no that's the job of TV. There is only one reason to read and make lists of books that others should read and that is to prove that you are just a much better person. I need books on here that show that I understand what the world is going through right now. Books that show an un-American perspective on current events. Especially in the middle East, because Americans are so stupid they can't even find the middle East on a globe. Something that shows the proud culture of these misunderstood people. Well, I don't have anything like that. But have you read The Koran, The Bible, or The Epic of Gilgamesh? Those books really mesh, and they give the illusion that you once took a class in theology.
No, I want to talk about Ayn Rand. Her ideas found a resurgence in pop culture a few year back, and I have to wonder if many of you out there read any of her books. Not all of her work, mind you, it's just I have met plenty of people who have opinions on Ayn Rand but not as many who have read her work. Personally, I think you should read The Fountainhead because it's not as long as Atlas Shrugged and it's also the only book I've read by her. The reason why is that I've read plenty of things about Objectivism, so I'm frightened that her other books will destroy my thoughts on Fountainhead.
I think objectivists miss the point. They really seem more like hardcore capitalists who believe that hard work leads to success, and success means having more money than God. Sure, in the end Howard Roark gets the girl, makes the money and gives a speech, but what has stuck with me isn't that he worked hard, he worked hard at something he's passionate about. Characters fail in the novel because they are either sooth sayers or they do what other people think they should do. Honestly, over the next few months I will probably spend a bit of time talking about radical ideas, socialism, and anarchy because that's the type of stuff I've been reading, besides all the books about mathematics. So if you end up getting fed up with all my hippy bullshit, come back to this and realize that I think well read people should read this book, if not something by Ayn Rand.
Speaking of hippy bullshit, I rediscovered Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich. He was not a hippy, but you should read this book because I want to talk about it, but it is so very hard to talk about. Long story short, education is the greatest thing that happens to men, but we are always learning and school is an institution that is what is wrong with society. He argues that we need to not just get rid of school, but change our outlook on education. School is not something that allows the poor to rise out of their existence, because the poor don't have the same resources to get a good education out of school. Education should not be a means to end, which is making money and keeping your self in the right class or moving up to a higher class. An actual education is important, but his argument is that any means of school reform is useless, because school is the problem. We need to spend more time meeting with people with different ideas, we need to learn for fun, and travel for pleasure and knowledge, not to wear as a badge of honer to show off to your friends. It's hard to talk about because it's very radical, so read it so we can talk more about it, m'kay?
The Karma Sutra. I'm worried that this list is looking like the reading list of repressed white nerd, so going with that theme is The Karma Sutra. Famous for naughty pictures, I'm impressed with the way it handles the topic of sex. Forget about the sexual positions, some of those are designed for a culture that includes stretching in their religion. Instead, focus on the fact that the book has tables in it. Tables that show the perfect coupling between the various sizes of vaginas and penises. A religious work on sex that dares to claim that some people aren't as horny as other people. Even in our modern culture where we can talk about sex and use fruit to show that vaginas come in various shapes and sizes, this concept that not every one has the same sexual appetites is still some how lost in that discussion. And The Karma Surtra has tables to help demonstrate these ideas.
This entire post was inspired by a list of books I read this morning called Books Every Well Read Person Has Read. When it comes to reading, I have no tolerance for pretentious people. You can read thick, heavy tomes that examine what human nature is. You can read ancient literature that influenced the modern novel. Reading is so many things, and it's been around for so long that you can still read the words and first hand accounts of people and cultures that have been dead for centuries. That is not a claim that movies can make, and you can listen to modern interpretations of classical composers, but you will never hear an orchestra lead by Bach. Books and reading do not make you an interesting and introspective person. They help expose you to new ideas and thoughts, but that will never happen if you keep suggesting I read On the Origin of Species. Because of the "Well read person" statement, I was going to put C.P. Snow on this list. When I started talking about his books is when others started calling me well read. But you know what every well read person has read? Some guilty pleasure, sort of trashy pulp novel. It wasn't for escapism. It wasn't to gain new insights to an otherwise foreign culture. It was because they just like to read. Here something everyone should read: next time you're on the shitter, read the back of a shampoo bottle. Maybe read the text on a macaroni box when you're in the kitchen. Don't read for any grand reason or you need a way to impress your next date. Just read for the fact that you can read, and try to find some enjoyment in it.