Hope you are well today.
One of the occupational hazards of being a writer is the inability to stop buying books. I have a To-Be-Read pile that will keep me going until Christmas at least, but that doesn’t stop me adding to it regularly. Too regularly. OK, all the time.
A while ago I bought 1001 books you must read before you die. I was a bit nonplussed to find that I have, in fact, only read eleven of the books mentioned and only a few of the others appear in my TBR pile. Obviously I’ve heard of far more of them and some I “know” through film and TV adaptations, but I had a little panic. I’m a writer. Should I have read these books or at least want to? Should I be able to talk knowledgeably about these books because I am a writer?
The panic was fairly short-lived because I realised I was being ridiculous. 1001 books does not seem to be suggesting “worthiness” or that the list is anything other than shaped by the judgements of its contributors, but it did leave me counting up my own list of books (some appearing in 1001 books, some not) that I haven’t read but think I “should”. As a result, I feel quite guilty.
Perhaps it stems back to primary school when I was told off for reading too many Enid Blyton books. I get the point the teacher was probably trying to make, that it would have been good for me to branch out to experience other writers, but all it did at the time was put me off. I would have branched out in my own time (I haven’t read a Famous Five book for a good few years 😉 ) and I think I would have ended up reading more as a result. Looking back, I feel that wasn’t the right thing for the teacher to say and I wouldn’t be happy if anyone tried to suggest similar to my children.
I love reading and read a lot, but there are just SO MANY BOOKS. With luck and a steady tailwind I hope to live long enough to read at least 1001 more, but who knows if I’ll ever get to all that I should?
But is there actually any “should” about it? I’m in two minds. On the one hand I think people only “should” read whatever brings them joy, comfort, entertainment or whatever they are looking for from a book. On the other hand, some books have had, and continue to have, more influence than others (like many of those mentioned in 1001 books). Should we form a first-hand opinion of why that is, or is that just perpetuating their influence at the expense of the other books that would therefore have to remain unread by us?
What do you think? Are there books you feel guilty that you haven’t read? Do you think there are books we “should” read? Or do you think we should define our own “must read before we die” list? (I’m not looking for titles particularly, it’s more the concept, although if you want to talk titles, please feel free.) I’d love to hear from you, either here or on twitter.