books, readers forum

Read This: The Twelfth Voreblog Readers Forum

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In an article entitled “What To Read Now. And Why,” Newsweek recently attempted to compile the 50 books which

–new or old, fiction or nonfiction — open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways. … The fact is, no one needs another best-of list telling you how great The Great Gatsby is.

We hate these kind of lists, and we love these kind of lists. They are an invitation to argue and nitpick. We don’t want to take them seriously because it seems like an easy ploy to sell more magazines. But we take them seriously because we care about books.

The writers at Newsweek make some inspired choices (among them Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America and Anthony Shadid’s Night Draws Near) and some blinkered ones. We like Lee Child, but does his latest book, Gone Tomorrow, really “open a window on the times we live in”? (The writers all but confess this is a non-essential pick when they write of the book, “Escape into a fantasy….” We don’t have anything against escapism or fantasy, but that wasn’t the point of the list.) Furthermore, after casually discarding The Great Gatsby from consideration, the writers go on to select “Leaves of Grass” and Frankenstein, plus books by Faulkner, Twain and O’Connor, though not the ones you might expect. So which is it? Is The Great Gatsby excluded because it’s too obvious? But other classics are allowed in because they’re somehow “sexier”? Does Gatsby really speak less to our times than Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, the top pick on the list? (Full disclosure: We have not read it.* Someone else will have to answer that last question.)

All this got us stirred up enough to launch The Twelfth Voreblog Readers Forum. It’s simple: What book would you include on the list, and why? Interpret Newsweek’s criteria as you will. One commenter on Newsweek.com said, “I think any list of important books will differ between any two people.” As it should. Comment now!

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* = “It” being The Way We Live Now, not The Great Gatsby. Just to clarify.

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25 thoughts on “Read This: The Twelfth Voreblog Readers Forum

  1. Here are some titles that I hope were considered and I would have likely included:

    1. Bowling Alone
    2. Glass Castle (or Running with Scissors)
    3. Tipping Point
    4. Imperial Life in the Emerald City
    5. Then we came to the end
    6. Omnivore’s Dilemma
    7. God Delusion
    8. American Gods
    9. Longtail
    10. It’s hard out here for a Shrimp

    1. The God Delusion was mentioned numerous times in the online comments. It’s Hard Out Here For a Shrimp? Not so much.

  2. Benvore
    I teach Gatsby. Some students love it; others detest it, but only a handful of them would have read it if I hadn’t made them. I suspect some of them didn’t even though I made them (Sparknotes and such). If they hadn’t taken my class, they may never have read Gatsby. They needed someone to tell them, and having someone tell them that it is amazing and relevant and such is worthwhile, even if other lists have told it to other people so many times. Just because it’s been said before doesn’t mean it isn’t true or doesn’t deserve repeating. I think I actually would choose Gatsby, but that seems too easy or contrarian, so I’ll say The Things They Carried. It is a favorite book of mine but I think of it because it’s the one that more of my students connect with than anything else they read. They like Huck Finn, but half of them come in saying they cried when Rat Kiley shot the baby water buffalo, they argue over whether he should have gone to war or not, etc.

  3. Dave Camp!

    Congrats on becoming an uncle.

    You bring tears to our eyes at the thought of you commending Gatsby to another generation. Well done, good and faithful English teacher. And your nomination of The Things They Carried puts most of Newsweek’s list to shame.

  4. I can’t believe I forgot Fast Food Nation. It should seriously be in the top 5. It’s probably the one that I am AMAZED didn’t make it.

  5. The last book or two you read that you tried to force someone else to read. Mr. Vore – you know of which books I speak.

  6. Mike — What, no Indognito?

    And would you care to expound on your appreciation for The Looming Tower or are you going to leave that task to me?

    Erik — Besides The Castle (and Carter Beats The Devil), what other books do you speak of? Oh yeah — probably Craig Johnson too. Are there others?

  7. The timeless book by the inspirational, and genius author and coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacred Hoops, had to have been on the list. It is without a doubt my number one.

  8. Looming Tower is outstanding.

    Wright’s dual narrative traces the roots of radical islam (to surprising locations) while also telling the story of FBI agent John O’Neil.

    The presentation by Wright is phenomenal. I read it as a “trilogy” along with Fiasco and Imperial Life in the Emerald City. Looming Tower was just on a different plane than either of those (and Imperial Life was very good).

    It gets my highest recommendation.

  9. whereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysseswhereisulysses?

  10. The Demon-Haunted World (Sagan) and Mismeasure of Man (Gould) should be on any list. I wouldn’t put Craig Johnson on any must read list – they’re great reads but not must reads (whereas Pelecanos, Price, Lehane, and most definitely Ellroy should all be on all must lists). I’d cram Wounded (Everett) down every single persons throat if I could. The Castle (Lennon) would be on this list – I can’t wait for you to actually read it…..I guess we can discuss in a few months. I second Erin’s choice on the Pollan….although I found Botany of Desire more interesting – Omnivore’s Dilemma is the must read. Throw some Bester, Dahl’s adult stories, all the Roth Zuckerman books, pick a James Baldwin, pick a Steinbeck, and Lanark (Gray) and that’s about it for me. I didn’t forget Vonnegut I just felt he should come last. Ask me tomorrow and it will be a different list.

  11. You take omnivore’s dilemma over fast food nation for the “food as commodity” commentary?

    Is it because it’s newer?

    is it because you really, really enjoy reading about corn?

  12. We see an awful lot of non-fiction on this list. What about fiction? That seems trickier to pick. We’d nominate Netherland for consideration. But that’s kind of like picking The Great Gatsby again.

  13. I’d agree with omnivore’s dilemma over fast food nation because at the heart of the fast food dilema are the core principals talked about in omnivore’s dilemma. Fast food nation sort of ignores the larger problem to pick on the smaller… in one man’s humble opinion.

    Besides you can’t spell omnivore without “vore”.

  14. So true, Matt Masterson, and it’s not just about corn…it’s about corn sex! No, seriously, I agree with his rationale. Fast Food Nation was wonderful, eye-opening, and well-reported, but it was too narrow in scope as far as the whole food issue of today.

  15. The intellectual smugness of this thread nauseates me. I only read Bill Simmons, GQ magazine, and the occasional Victoria Secrets’ Catalog.

  16. I know I’m going to get shit all over for saying this, but I don’t care. I enjoyed Twilight more than I am enjoying Ulysses. I plan on continuing my feeble efforts to keep up with Wandering Rocks, but Ulysses is shit. I can’t get a picture of what is going on in my head and I hate jumping from the book to the annotated thing.

    I agree with Yellow Thunder. This thread is full of pretentious douchebaggery. I’d much rather read Bill Simmons or Twilight than Ulysses. Having said that, I’m going to go read Ulysses.

  17. Yes, I only read Bill Simmons and blog posts about nip slips on egotastic.com.

    I haven’t even cracked Flying yet. I’m too busy searching for nip slips.

  18. Mike and I discussed (on the phone – I know internet people, what the hell is verbal communication?) but a) we decided none of the selections so far could count as pretentious (except the few mentions of Ulysses and maybe my choice of Lanark) and b) Omnivores Dilemma and Fast Food Nation should both be on here – they do address different angles of the same debate – Pollan more takes the individual and up view while Schlosser takes the society and down view (heavily influenced by The McDonaldization of Society by Ritzer (look it up)) (if we remembered correctly, granted I don’t remember too much about either except that I think they’re both right). Both have a similar argument (Schlosser’s has much more breadth) but use different methods to make it – and they both hate corn (but me, that shit is delicious…boil em, mash em, but em in a stew…indeed). Agreed? Yes, please. Thank you sirs and mams.

  19. Agreed.

    They’re really just two different books. I would highly recommend both, though.

    And Erik would highly recommend a salad.

  20. I guess me and Mike disagree with everyone else about these two books and that makes me happy because you all know I love to disagree – love it.

    Did someone say salad?

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