I couldn’t pass up an excuse to use a scene from Silver Linings Playbook, and let’s be honest: The above gifs illustrate how most of us felt when we were given reading assignments in school. Reading is personal, and no one wanted to be told what to read and what to think about while reading it.
And yet… even though we’ve all had less-than-pleasant reactions to Mr. Hemingway, as Bradley Cooper demonstrates above, and to other required reading, I have to wonder why I suddenly miss being told what to read. Once again, I realize those sneaky professors knew a bit about the world. The quest to being “well read” is such a long and confusing one that I lament the guidance I used to receive in class and on my syllabi. I have actually been tempted to email some of my former professors and ask “What are you guys discussing in class? What are your students reading right now?” I also love looking up the “100 books to read before you die” lists and the “greatest novels of all time” lists and the “which books make the most accurate missiles when airborne” lists (Ok, maybe not that last one) and checking off my progress.
I truly want to read everything, but I know that isn’t feasible or practical and probably wouldn’t be that enjoyable. However, I want to make sure I read all the staples and important works that shaped literature today. I also want to be sure I am staying current with who’s writing now and publishing important work. I understand that it’s all relevant to what individual you’re asking, but I know that when I wander aimlessly though shelves of books, while one of my favorite things to do, I am often lost. I guess I could just read what everyone else is reading, but I don’t really want to read Fifty Shades of Grey. I only have 50 years left to work with, give or take, and time is precious.
To summarize, I guess the real question is what does it mean to be “well read” and where do you start? Our professors gave us great building blocks, but where do you go from there? Does it matter?
What are your favorite sources for reading recommendations? What are the classics that no one should miss? What titles and authors would keep someone from sounding like an idiot at a party full of literature tycoons? My worst nightmare is that book launch scene from Bridget Jones’ Diary where she attempts to join in conversation with “booky” people and, when confronted with a real question, she has to beg off for the loo.