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’21 Books You Don’t Have to Read’

May 20th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Books

Many of us have strong opinions on X percent of the books we read, perhaps evenly divided between “loved” and “hated”.

Several of those in the latter category will tend to come from English classes in high school or college. Assigned reading for our greater edification. Books considered classics, though we may often wonder why.

Apparently, we are not alone.

GQ, the magazine once known as Gentlemen’s Quarterly, is a mostly harmless, occasionally edifying magazine (a Pulitzer this year!) that originally set out to make better dressers out of men.

(And goodness knows many of us could use some fashion advice — though we almost certainly are not regular readers of the magazine.)

But back to books: GQ editors and writers in the April edition identified 20* books that appear in this or that “canon” of great literature.

The contributors to the story beg to differ, with various well-known books, explaining why we do not need to read them and suggesting a more worthwhile alternative. (This is by no means an original idea; lists of “why do we have to read that?” have been going around for decades.)

Among the books GQ believes can be avoided are A Farewell to Arms, Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catch-22 and Lord of the Rings.

And what do lists like this do?

Create controversy and stimulate debate. Maybe even sell a few more copies of GQ.

The GQ story got some traction for two main reasons:

The Bible was on the list of books we don’t need to read.

Some reacted negatively to the fact that white male authors mostly are targeted on the list.

The Bible should not be included on the list. It is not a book in the sense of everything else on the list (novels, that is), and it also makes nearly every other book seem like a short story. Reportedly, the King James version of the Bible is 783,137 words in length — and that is one of the short versions.

Bible readers should stay calm and get back to trying to finish reading it.

As for the other complaint, I believe it falls under the heading of “changing culture”. I will defend Hemingway (who gets two “no need” books on the list) … because he wrote so distinctly and with such specific style. For those who aspire to be well-read, you really do need to read something of Hemingway’s. Even if you come to hate it.

Also, I will go to the barricades in defense of Lord of the Rings and J.R.R. Tolkien. I have read his masterpiece a dozen times, but it is not for everyone. Not even. If you don’t like the genre, just stay away and leave the rest of us to thrill over the “Ride of the Rohirrim”.

That several white, male authors come up on the GQ hit list, well, that could have been predicted — in part because of changing perspectives and in part because, I’m guessing, white males wrote the bulk of novels from the invention of the genre up through the 20th century. Lots of targets there.

And lots of books, some of which are considered wonderful by some people and wretched by others — who wonder how this or that book ever got assigned in the English Lit class.

Anyone up for some J.D. Salinger?

Didn’t think so.

* — The headline reads “21 books” but it actually is 20 because two contributors went after “Huckleberry Finn”, and each named a book to replace it. So 20 books, 21 suggested books, some of which I may even read.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 David // May 21, 2018 at 11:39 am

    It’s hard for me to take seriously any list that puts forward the idea that Keith Richards’ autobiography is some kind of literary classic.

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