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