Alchemical Thoughts

Are there still essential books?

Posted on: December 17, 2010

The question may sound a bit extreme, but it is one that intrigued me after reading this column by Rick Gekoski in The Guardian. After he goes over the idea that young people do not read together anymore (emphasis on the word “together”),  he poses the following question:

So: let me ask – you’ll have seen this one coming – if we asked a bunch of literate university students today what they had read, what they had all read – what would be the answer?

I would love to get an answer, but I get the feeling, much like Mr. Gekoski, that college students today would say nothing. If I understand correctly, we are looking at leisure reading. I am sure a good number of college students read a good number of books in their classes, albeit forced to read them. The notion that Gekoski is presenting is the idea of a generation reading certain books in common as a group. There lies the trick. We may get a fair number of kids say they read Harry Potter books or the Twilight series, but that is about it. Compare that to the list he gives as an example for 1974; the list is based on playing the game of humiliation at the time, a game where you get points by naming books you have not read that you know or think others have read. In my case, if we did this today, I would easily win by mentioning Harry Potter since I have not read them, nor do I have any intention to read them.

I wonder also if this also has to do with the fact that so many more books are being published today, so you get pulled in all sorts of directions. Plus, when you add all the online enticements, it can be kind of a miracle that students read any books at all. So, how can our youths have any essential books? Are there such things for kids today? Who would decide? Should we even bother trying to compile such a list nowadays?

Just some questions I pondered after reading the column.Oh, and for the record, out of the list Gekoski provides, I have read 3 out of 21. The three books I read are:

  • JD Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1953).
  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957).
  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961).

The only one I liked of those three was Heller’s. Salinger’s was pretty much an utter waste of time for me; why that piece of tripe is still popular is beyond me. Kerouac just seems a bit overrated to me.

A hat tip to 3 Quarks Daily.

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