What’s on your ‘must-read’ reading list?

Published 5:31 pm Friday, August 12, 2022

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With students gearing up to go back to school soon, it might not be so unusual to be thinking about books.

After all, books contain a wealth of knowledge, and reading them can often be a great way to learn how to process information, develop critical thinking skills, and improve how we communicate with each other.

Also, sometimes, they’re quite entertaining and cathartic too!

There is such an abundance of books in the world that there’s no lack of variety. They come in different genres, different lengths, different styles. If you think you won’t be able to find something you’ll enjoy, then maybe you just haven’t looked hard enough.

Because I was thinking about the subject of books this week, I went to Google and searched “books you should read” just to see what the results were. Publishing company Penguin’s website had a list of “100 must-read classics, as chosen by our readers” so I decided that might be a good place to start.

Of the 100 books on the list, I was surprised to find that I’d only actually read 17 of them in my life so far. I was, however, familiar with many more of the titles.

I could break down those 17 books into different categories to come up with some interesting data. Of that group of books, for example, nine of them were ones I’d read for school. Some were from high school English class, like “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen and “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. I remember being very bored by the Austen classic at the time, since I wasn’t all that interested in a story where all the characters are just looking for a husband. On the other hand, my high school self really enjoyed “Wuthering Heights” because its love story was quite a bit darker.

For the record, I have come to appreciate the Pride and Prejudice story a lot more over the years, particularly after having seen it adapting in movies and on stage. (My favorite adaption is a 2004 Bollywood-style movie called “Bride and Prejudice.” Maybe every story can be improved by adding musical numbers?)

Others on the list were required reading in my college literature classes. For a world literature class, I had to read “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe and “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie. The first is set in Nigeria, while the other is a tale from India. I think, however, that my professor for that class assigned us too many books to read that semester, because unfortunately I can’t recall plot details from either story now! The only real thing I remember from Midnight’s Children is that I had to Google chutney to learn what it is. (It’s a popular food in India.)

Plenty other titles on the list were things I simply read for fun, or a popular book I’d heard a lot about and was curious to see if it was any good. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis and “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien are two examples of books I read for fun, and also two from the list that I probably ended up enjoying the most. Both are in the fantasy genre, and that captures my attention more than most.

Of all the books on the list, I have a very clear memory of reading “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas when I was in high school. A friend had lent me a copy of the novel, and I remember keeping it in my bookbag for a solid six months, only taking it out to read bit by bit whenever I had free time during class. I’ve forgotten most of the details now, but it’s a riveting tale of revenge stretched out over several years (so it’s a bit funny, I stretched my reading of the book out for several months too).

While I like many of the books on this list, there are a few that I read and ended up hating! “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad is the most prominent example of that. I remember having to read this novella in both high school and college, and neither time did I enjoy it. For one thing, paragraphs shouldn’t be longer than a whole page! But writing style aside, the plot is just not something I like.

There were several books on the list that I wanted to count as “read” even though I’d only seen an adaptation of them instead. Of the 100, at least six of those fell into that category. You can thank Disney for many of them: I’ve never read the original “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie or “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens or “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, but the Disney versions are etched in my brain for eternity.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl is another example of a movie adaption that means I don’t need to read the book version now. And I must admit that I already know the plot of “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells thanks to a popular PBS kids show from the 90s which adapted several classic novels into cute tales for kids to understand. (The show was called “Wishbone” and I personally think PBS should bring the show back for a new generation to learn from!)

There are so many books in the world, that I’m not sure how Penguin (and their readers) were able to narrow it down to only 100 “must-reads.” It feels like plenty of books were left out. I was surprised that “Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux wasn’t on the list. There was a lack of science fiction too, and none of these classics are short stories. They probably could have written a whole separate list for that category. (I bet there would be a lot of Edgar Allen Poe on that list.)

In the end, all “must-read” lists are arbitrary. There are going to be books you love and books you hate. The important thing is to focus on reading what you enjoy, and not worry about checking off a list. You’ll learn something from whatever you’re reading!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.