Thursday, December 8, 2011


Emma Beare's 501 Must-Read Books 

Last night I forwent my reading to pick up a book that has been on my shelf for awhile.  It is called “501 Must-Read Books”.  A compilation based largely upon opinion and poularity, I enjoy it all the same. 

It is broken up into 8 sections: Children’s Fiction, Classic Fiction, History, Memoirs, Modern Fiction, Science Fiction, Thrillers and Travel.  Before all of my friends who are Fantasy Enthusiasts feel slighted, that genre is grouped into “Modern Fiction”. 

As every reader knows, it all begins with Children’s Fiction.  After picture books, a child who graduates to “chapter books” is, statistically speaking, a reader for life.  Little Women, Peter Pan, the Oz series, etc., are all outlined in the book and given a very opinionated (but amazingly accurate) synopsis.    As I read through the pages of recommended childrens fiction, I am happy to say that I have read most of these as an adult.  I hate being left out of secrets, and great books build communities.  Like families, who enjoy the secrets that all have experienced, the author provides an experience for the readers to share inside of their pages.    Instead of seeing the invitation to really drink in an experience, much of my ADD childhood was spent “pretending” to read these books.  I only later opened their pages and received the miracles of their words.  There are many of the Children’s classics I haven’t read, and I’ll plan on getting to them soon. 

Classic Fiction is where I live.  I can’t begin to tell you how many nights I have sat at the feet of Tolstoy, Dickens and Austen, drinking in their worlds, being the proverbial fly on the wall.  In its recommendations, 501 Must-Read's left out a lot of my favorites, but stuck close to the required reading of most universities.  In its pages, I found a lack of the Southern Hemisphere, which is understandable since most of the Classics are Roman or Greek or English or French.  Still, it is a comprehensive list of sheer beauty, and last night was punctuated by “Ohhhhhh” as I remembered first reading some of the recommended books.  It was my first introduction to greater structure of thought, words that achieved timeless beauty.  Words that I first saw in college, and considered boring,  later became personal.  Once I decided to read "The Classics", the wording became understandable and gorgeous.   I was, frankly, surprised that I could understand them, since I had not been formally schooled in appreciation.   “Classic Literature”, as they call it,  is really the hallways of imagination and beauty that has since given birth to modern literature. 

History (my father’s favorite reading genre) ranged from Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus (an Ancient Rome historian) to Che Guevera’s A Revolutionary Life.   I have Herodotus’ Histories on my bookshelf, but it has never been read, and I grew up knowing that Will and Emily Drant were to be admired...but I can say that History (like Science Fiction) is not a genre of choice. 

Memoirs was a stunning collection of recommended reads that I have only tasted.  It made me thirsty to read more, describing the personal diaries of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) who, apparently set the standard for memoirs.  I’ve never read the famed book, composed over nine years of the authors life, but quickly jotted it down on my “need to read” list (ever-growing).  Also highlighted were Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis, and Kafka’s Diaries.  Sigh... not enough time to hear all of the stories.  Memoirs have a way of making you feel like the author’s friend. 

Modern Fiction.  I perused through it, seeing many that are now housed in book stores under “Classic Fiction”.  The new classics are gorgeous, and I never thought I’d say so.  Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter, Things Fall Apart by Nigerian writer Chinuna Achebe, The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass; One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  So many new authors that have elevated language and stories to beautiful, eternal blessings that do more than provide entertainment: they become part of us once they are read.  On and on the selections went...until I fell asleep.

I woke up to a familiar sight: my husband tenderly taking away the open book from my chest, removing my glasses and smiling, “You did it again,” unspoken.  

He shut off the light and I drifted off.

Will I ever be one of them?