Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Few Musings about Reading

The Answer Sheet Blog reproduces lists of influential booksScholastic created the lased based on responses made on the You Are What You Read website.

Adults listed
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee The Holy Bible
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Kids listed
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney
The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
First, why didn't adults list Green Eggs and Ham or any Seuss book?  In that light, it's surprising that no Lemony Snicket books made the list.

More importantly, it's good to see that the lists share a common element, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.  Americans hold too few things in common.  They don't share a common religion or ethnicity; increasingly, they don't share a common language.  Americans probably never shared a common English grammar.  They have been divided by region and class.  Young and old frequently conflict.  Mark Laptia writes, "In America, the chasm between rich and poor is growing, the clash between conservatives and liberals is strengthening, and evil and good seem more polarized than ever before" (HT Andrew Sullivan).  Having small things in common in an increasingly fragmented society seems important.

Further, the kids' list has a healthy dose of books based on Greek myth.  That element links them to a long and great tradition of Western Civilization.  Once again, it's a small link to a larger tradition, but it's a link nonetheless.  That link to the past is necessary to succeed in the modern world.

Now, kids need to start thinking about and playing baseball instead of soccer.


yanktonirishred said...

Reading has saved my sanity on more than one occasion, rescuing me from restless longings in a small town, angry reactions to South Dakota traditions, sickness both self caused and medicinal and just the basic boredom of an overactive imagination.

I remember getting to check out my first book from the adult section of the library. It was the summer between my 3rd and 4th grade year and I devoured every book I could get on being a Vet and the Alfred Hitchcock 3 Investigators series.

My proudest academic achievement remains testing out at a 12th grade reading level as a 4th grader on one of those Iowa tests of something similar.

I have not read any Rowling yet, I'm making myself wait until they are no longer popular so as not to be tainted by my general distrust of anything popular. For my money the best fantasy series (even over Tolkien) is the first Shanara trilofy (Sword, Elfstones and Wishsong) by Terry Brooks. Well today I say that, tomorrow it may be the Gunslinger series by King or the Sandman series by Gaiman.

The first "adult" book that I really got, I mean the humour, the innuendo's, the dialogue, the adult situations...the whole thing was between my 8th grade year and freshman year reading The World According to Garp. My hardcover copy of that is beat all to tar, I still read it at least every other year.

Where would we be without the legacy of stories?


LK said...

"Where would we be without the legacy of stories?"

Great question, Shane. The short answer is that our lives would be much poorer. I always bristle at those who claim that literature is only useful for recreation. It's necessary to the fulfillment necessary to exercise our humanity.

I have to read the final Potter book. I hope to get to that one this summer. I enjoyed them.

The kids' list certainly seem to develop a fantasy/sf bent. I have been going off into detective fiction more heavily over the past years. Chandler's The Big Sleep is a must read every other year or so. I've mentioned Craig Johnson's book somewhere on the blog. His Walt Longmire books are awesome reads.

On the "serious literature" side, I need to get a few more Cormac McCarthy books read, but they are rather bleak and I can only do one a year.

yanktonirishred said...

Children's fantasy is huge business and really seems to cut across the lines of age. I know many of my friends (well they may not be the best gauge as most of us are just big kids, but regardless we are all in our late 30's to mid 40's) that read much Children's fantasy.

This summer I will be reading cookbooks, the writings of Michael Ruhlman, Linda Greenlaw and most likely some King.

I do want to get back to the Brat Pack (Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitzas) I am behind on their writings and truly enjoy them.

I just started reading Mouse Guard to Derek and he wants the next chapter of the Mouse Story tonight. Much of my reading tends to be in the Goodnight Moon/Sandra Boynton genre right now, but I don't seem to mind.