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28 Books You Should Read If You Want To
February 25, 2014 2:28 PM   Subscribe

"...one of the greatest rewards of a reading life is discovery." A short essay by Janet Potter
posted by chavenet (33 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are so many book lists they are a discovery onto themselves.
posted by stbalbach at 2:41 PM on February 25


100 Book Lists You Should Read Before You Die.
posted by solarion at 2:44 PM on February 25 [10 favorites]


There's an awful lot of bad books in that list. Why do you think people leave books on a park bench? It sucks so bad they don't even want to carry it to the trash can.
posted by perhapses at 2:49 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


You should read fewer lists.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:49 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


Bad books can be hilarious.
posted by NoraReed at 2:50 PM on February 25


I don't have time for bad books. Or laughter.
posted by perhapses at 2:51 PM on February 25 [13 favorites]


Why do you think people leave books on a park bench?

I can't say I've ever left a book on a park bench, but I've left books in other public areas when I'm done with them because I hoped somebody would pick them up and enjoy them. Usually when I'm traveling and am happy to lighten the load. Just because I'm reading a cheap copy of the book that I'm happy to discard doesn't mean I think the book is bad.
posted by yoink at 3:01 PM on February 25 [11 favorites]


"You should read the book you’ve started a few times and keep meaning to finish once and for all."
This basically means "You should read Ulysses". Way to keep things relaxed and non-intimidating, Janet!
posted by howfar at 3:07 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


Why do you think people leave books on a park bench?

Bookcrossing is the idea. While the term is derived from the site, I would suggest that there are many practitioners out there who do it just because - such as yoink and myself - without feeling the need to formalize the act or our participation in it.

I know when I was on my honeymoon in the Cook Islands, we saw it in both places we stayed: bookshelves full of books left by travellers, picked up by other travellers. I left several behind myself, and think I even found one for the plane ride home.
posted by nubs at 3:08 PM on February 25


There is a marketing demographic of people whose idea of literary criticism starts with rankings.

No, there are probably some whose idea ends with rankings, too, but those aren't the ones that concern me. I just wonder. If you start your taste in literature with seventy-five titles chosen correctly by someone who knows better (maybe your high school English teachers?)--you don't give up on literature, as many do--you learn why it's generally senseless to argue about which book is the better one, you learn what really happens when a person "wins" that kind of argument--and then, when you run out of books to read, you look up a list? And you follow it?

I'm pretty sure there are a lot of people like this. Formats don't work by merely drawing eyes, they need a reader base as well.

What's that like?
posted by LogicalDash at 3:08 PM on February 25


1. When 2. you 3. stop 4. to 5. think 6. about 7. it, 8. everything 9. you 10. read 11. is 12. a 13. list.
posted by grog at 3:09 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


That may be how bits work, but it is not how the human memory works. I think the human memory is closer to the locus of what critics talk about than the arrangement of the words on the page, though formalists of that nature surely exist.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:12 PM on February 25


I think that I shall never miss,
A post as banal as a list.

Actually, I thought it was quite nice, and the idea of making an actual scavenger hunt out of it sounds fun, which is more than can be said of most essays no matter their format.
posted by michaelh at 3:15 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


(when(you(stop(to(think(about(it(everything(you(read(is(a list))))))))))))
posted by notsnot at 3:30 PM on February 25 [18 favorites]


I was reading If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, and got to the bit where they break down books by the frequency of each word instead of the actual book. I thought, if you showed the words as a list, perhaps you could get more information from it by adding a particular order to the words as well as the frequency.
posted by solarion at 4:02 PM on February 25


It sucks so bad they don't even want to carry it to the trash can.

The only books that I put in a trash can are ones that have fallen apart to the extent that they will never again be of use to anyone. Others I keep, give away or take to charity shops.

Btw, check out Book Crossing. Basically an entire global community of people that leave books on park benches in coffee shops and such.
posted by philipy at 5:05 PM on February 25


Why do you think people leave books on a park bench?

I left The Historian at an airport because I thought the ending was underwhelming and kind of stupid. It's hard for me to get rid of books I really like, even when I'm moving and absolutely need to clear everything.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:06 PM on February 25


I tried to read a book I found in a hotel room but it was sooooo boring. I gave up after the 18th "begat."

On another occasion, hard core pornographic magazines were arranged prettily with my travel and "Get To Know Boston" magazines in a hotel in which I was staying for a conference. I asked about it at the front desk -- was this usual or did my company pay extra for the porn? The front desk clerk was horrified -- or so he claimed -- and the magazines disappeared tout suite. I think he nabbed 'em.
posted by janey47 at 5:19 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


When I'm traveling long distance I always do some scavenging at the 25-cent racks at the library before I go and I pack the books on purpose to leave them as I travel ... in the airplane seat pocket, in a train station, in a cafe, at a B&B. If you say to the hotel desk guy or to a cafe owner, "I finished my book, can I leave it for someone else to read? It's in English," they totally let you. I offer them to people who look bored, or who want to practice their English on me ("How do you feel about terrible spy novels?"), to used book stalls proprietors, to backpacking students, to antsy people on long-distance transit, to anybody who looks like they might want an English-language book. People are almost always surprised and pleased to be offered a book, and once you start looking there are a surprising number of ad hoc little "libraries" where people drop their books and take others.

Then I pack up the space the books WERE in with souvenirs. It's a perfect system.

I just use my kindle for short trips now, but if I go overseas, it's worth it to take actual books ... no charger needed, you can pass them around your travel companions, and I require the suitcase space on the return trip!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:21 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


I still have a registered Book Crossing copy of Stephen King's The Shining that I found in college. I keep meaning to finish it (I'm about a third of the way through).

Count it in the "prize-winners, bestsellers" and "left behind" categories.

"Didn’t read when it was assigned in your high school": Jane Eyre is on deck.
posted by mr_bovis at 5:24 PM on February 25


I just had a quick look to see if there any books where the main character has the same name as me but only found a "dizzy blonde who plotted on leaving her home town of Yabbie Creek, to become a rich and famous popstar" in Home and Away.
posted by Wantok at 5:28 PM on February 25


> park bench

I got Gravity's Rainbow this way! Which, come to think of it, would be a two-fer, also being "the book you’ve started a few times and keep meaning to finish once and for all."
posted by salvia at 6:54 PM on February 25


I think there should be an equal number of lists of famous books NOT to bother reading.
posted by salvia at 6:58 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I am again reading Edgar Rice Burrough's Son of Tarzan. It's not ERB's best work, I'm afraid. Too much reliance on coincidence and every character carries the Idiot Ball. The plot does not build as much as simply continue. But I will read it to the end.

There is, dare I say it, a Shakespeare-like farcical quality about it that I find both frustrating and endearing. At the point I'm at, Jack Clayton, the future Lord Greystoke, the eponymous Son of Tarzan, believes his beloved Meriem has been eaten by the natives. Meriem, un-et, has learned to wear dresses and so, of course, Jack (or as he fancies himself, Korak the Killer) doesn't recognize her. John Clayton, the current Lord Greystoke (you know, TARZAN) thinks, for no obvious reason, that Meriem is demented and doesn't believe her tale of life in the jungle. (Because, girl!) A swell from London fancies Meriem's hand (in something less than wedlock). And, naturally, there a couple of villains ready to take possession of the girl and, in so doing, attract the rage of TARZAN OF THE APES and KORAK THE KILLER.

And, after all that, my teachers offered me the thin gruel of Silas Marner? Are you insane?

Happily, Jane Potter (oh, so close to Jane Porter) offers the excellent advice:

You should read the book that you find on the library’s free cart whose cover makes you laugh.

It was there that I discovered Burroughs. Tolkien. Clarke. Heinlein. Lovecraft. Asimov. The writers that meant more to me in paperback the hardbound volumes proudly displayed upon the shelves.
posted by SPrintF at 7:31 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


I tried to read a book I found in a hotel room but it was sooooo boring. I gave up after the 18th "begat."

I found a book in a hotel room once that looked like it was going to be really interesting: Girl To Grab. Unfortunately, upon closer inspection it turned out to be vol 6 of Funk & Wagnalls.

Thanx and a tip o' the plumes to Martin Mull.
posted by Herodios at 8:23 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


My comment when I shared this link on Facebook, "some of my favorite books are on this list!"
posted by DigDoug at 8:41 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I think there should be an equal number of lists of famous books NOT to bother reading.

We could call it:

100 Books to Die Before Reading
posted by philipy at 8:46 PM on February 25 [5 favorites]


I guess it comes with being an international summer tourism destination, but many hotels on the islands have a shelf for (usually foreign) paperbacks left behind by previous guests and even encourage swapping your just-read summer book for one from the shelf.

As I discovered when I was on a family vacation as a 13-year-old with good English, this is not as exciting as it sounds in terms of broadening your literary horizons, but excellent for getting up to date on hot prehistoric caveman sex.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:44 AM on February 26


1. When 2. you 3. stop 4. to 5. think 6. about 7. it, 8. everything 9. you 10. read 11. is 12. a 13. list.

It's worse than that if you work in a language like Python.
posted by yerfatma at 5:35 AM on February 26


(when(you(stop(to(think(about(it(everything(you(read(is(lisp)))))))))))
posted by fullerine at 5:40 AM on February 26


This comment is a Haskell list joke: the rest will become funny right after you laugh at the first part.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:49 AM on February 26


logicalDash I'm pretty sure there are a lot of people like this. Formats don't work by merely drawing eyes, they need a reader base as well.

What's that like?


I've used lists. Here's what is like.

I ended up with a used great literature book when I was a teenager in high school in the early 90's. It is about 150 pages long, had categories like American Literature, British Literature, European Literature, Religious Literature, History, Science. etc. Each title has a 100 or so word description. I'd guess it is from the 50's or 60's.

I had a great high school English teacher who pointed me in different directions but I also just read things from this book.

As a teenager I read works suggested by this list like The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, The Man Who Was Thursday, Descartes' Confessions. So I sort of felt like this shit was crazy and that it was all coming out of crazy places.

The sensation was of having a travel guide to a country and then you go and visit the place. You get to some town and follow its instructions to walk up that hill in such and such district of town and take the path towards the west to see the old fortifications. You get there and are impressed but confused. Who built this? Why? When? Why like this? The guide tells you but it isn't helpful because the context that it provides is not enough to figure anything out.

I didn't study literature. I'm decades out of college. These early experiences of exploring literature myself with just a list left me with a question of how books are related, what are the antecedents. I read a book with a balloon chase and I have seen that somewhere else.

I don't go to a list when I need something but I know what I haven't read. I'm totally for "read for the joy of reading" and it is not at odds with "reading for the joy of exploring what has been written."

What do people don't read to explore do? Wait until they are near an airport shop and buy at random? In there mind, where do the place the the contents of the book? In a heap?

What is that like?
posted by bdc34 at 8:10 AM on February 26


"You should read the book you’ve started a few times and keep meaning to finish once and for all."

Hello again, Gravity's Rainbow!
posted by Decani at 1:19 PM on February 26


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