Hooks for Books ~ BitterSweetLife

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hooks for Books

Superb Reading, "Great" Books, and a Master Book List

It always baffles me when people allow the bestseller lists to dictate their reading material—a sort of bondage to the tyranny of the vacuous chic. Why feel compelled to read “what’s new” when most of the world’s classics have, in all likelihood, already been written? To read widely—and wisely—is a revolutionary act these days. It's not easy, but the rewards are proportionate.

As Ravi Zacharias writes:

Good reading is like looking for something you have lost and finding it, but in the search finding something else that also had been lost. - Recapture the Wonder
For awhile now, I've wanted to start building a book list comprised of titles which I've personally read and thoroughly loved—books which could show up on the NY Times list...but probably won't. Especially if they were published a few decades ago.

To this end I'm about to launch a Master Book List* which will be updated on a continuing basis. I'll probably add a sidebar link for ease of access. But I could use some help on one issue; as with any exclusive club, I'll have to have entry requirements, and my initial book-cred is as follows:

  1. The book is not widely read, but, due to its overall quality, should be.
  2. The book makes higher demands on the reader than usual, via concepts or language, with proportionate rewards.
However, a definitive answer to the question, "What makes a book 'good,' 'great,' 'classic,' etc.?" remains elusive. What are your takes? What makes you love a book?—and admire it? I may tear through a novel, smile at its pulpy plotlines, and discard it just as fast. This would be the one night scan variety. By the same token, I may wade through an intellectually rigorous tome, nod in hard-earned agreement, and sell it off on Half.com with a sense of relief. The key qualities reside somewhere between surface charm and oceanic depth. But how does one quantify this quality?

By default, I've got to have some kind of justification for the books I toss out the back door, and my current book cred dispenses with many. However, I'm not convinced it does justice to the volumes I include. Just saying, "They're classic" isn't enough; though there's a subjective element inherent to all book lists, one must outline it more precisely. Your thoughts?

Whatever is concluded about the parameters of great literature, one truth, thankfully, remains unchallenged: We should all be a little more bookish.

*This list previously existed in partial form on another blog, Books Not Everyone Is Smart Enough To Read. I've had some fun there, but busyness dictates that that site be quietly put down, and not resuscitated.

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Oneway said...

Quoting Ravi proves to be edifying; quite simply, I love books that cause me to wonder.

I look forward to your list.

Sherry said...

Well, I'm getting older daily, and for me one criterion is that I actually remember the book. It's a classic if I remember it well enough to tell you what I earned or what I loved about it.

Andrew Simone said...

Sherry has a point, a great novel for instance tells infinitely more than life experience may whisper. This is because a novel is experience distilled.

For instance, read "A Moveable Feast" by Hemmingway and you will see. It is a collection of short stories and ranks up there with Salinger's "Franny and Zooey," as great under-read literature.

They connect with both mind and heart and there is truth because it connects with both (incidentally, that is what I mean by denying the dicotomy).

Simply put, Great literature expresses humanity well.

Anonymous said...

A great book is one that is alive in some since. It has the ability to draw you into the reality of its world, care about the people that inhabit it, and in a way, draws you to live vicariously through at least one character, learning as he learns, discovering truth through his eyes. At the same time, however, a great book allows you to separate yourself from the proceedings and interact with it as an outisde observer as well. Does this sound confusing?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that a wonderful book invites you in, yet respects you as an outside observer that has the right to draw conclusions and fill in the blanks where necessary. You are actively inside and actively outside the story (I'm talking about fiction, of course).


Ariel said...

Wonder-full. Memorable. Human-truth-distilling. "Live" and absorbing.

Some refreshingly eclectic guidelines are emerging here. I'm going to try and incorporate these into a stereo-type busting book-cred...if I can find a way to do it.

Good thoughts! And I know there are more out there...

Ariel said...

Sherry's extended take on this topic is worth scanning. She maintains an estimable book list herself.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife