Creating Your Own Required Reading List

I really enjoyed your post! I absolutely loved reading your rebuttal and almost felt like I was sitting with you out in the garage smoking a cigar. Not to be too sappy, but I felt like I was back home when I read it.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this post. What I really want to do is keep building on this argument. I agreed with everything you said. You should never force yourself to read a book you don’t enjoy just because society said you should. That’s not the point of reading, the point of reading is gaining new knowledge, new perspective, and new ideas.

When I say that there are books out there that you need to read, I’m definitely not saying that you have to read them. You’re not in high school anymore so there’s no weekly reading assignment or list of class books you have to slog your way through. You have the right to choose what you read and don’t read. When I say that there are books you need to read, what I mean is that sometimes there are books you’re not that eager to read, but you really should to reach your goals.

Going back to the food analogy, there are plenty of foods out there that are pretty much unanimously voted to be “good” for us, like cauliflower. On the other hand, there are foods out there that are “bad” for us, like cookies. However, who gets to decide what it means to be good and bad?  When it comes to food, it’s mostly based on nutritional value, but I would argue it should also be based on what you need as an individual.

Cauliflower is a bad food if you’re prepping for a run, it just doesn’t have the carbs you’d need. Cookies are a good food if you’ve had a shitty day and need a pick me. It’s all based on what you need.


What I gained from The Dresden Files was the image of a wizard riding an undead T-rex. Who could argue with the value of that?

I think this is also true for books. There are plenty of books that English teachers across the country think I should read, like Catcher in the Rye, but I don’t feel like I need to read them because I’m not going to gain anything from them. To be honest, I feel like I’ve gained more from The Dresden Files than I ever would from those books, and you’d be hard pressed to find an English teacher that would assign the tales of Harry Dresden in class.

When it comes to reading, I feel like more people should view it as a tool to grow. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with reading just for pleasure. There’s definitely value in reading a book to relax and I’ve read my fair share of pointless books just because the cover was interesting. What I’m saying is that you should never stray away from reading a book because it’s a challenge, stray away from a book because you don’t want to read it or find no value in it instead.

And, of course, whether something has value is based on what you need, not what some authority figure told you. I decided to read Dante’s Inferno, The Lord of the Rings, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Jungle because I personally decided that I wanted more knowledge on those subjects, not because I found them on some “100 Books You Need to Read to Be Smart” list.

When I say reading for sustenance, what I really mean is that you should figure out what books will sustain who you want to be. Never, ever read a book just because someone told you to.


Sustenance in Reading, Sustenance in Pleasure

I’ll open up by saying I don’t entirely disagree with you.  There are many books that have excellent cultural relevance and I would recommend them to people.

My biggest contention with Reading for Pleasure, Reading for Sustenance is the idea that you need to cleanse your palette with a book you should read.  Your analogy was how some books are like cookies and others like vegetables.

Now before you begin writing your retort, I do understand that I shouldn’t take it literally.  I know you would never draw a hard line in the sand, but for the sake of my point I’m going to continue the analogy.

I think with sustenance you shouldn’t tell people to eat their vegetables, but you should convince them the benefits of eating healthier.  I’m sure that’s similar to what you meant!  But there are many books that people have told me to read that sucked.


Some of the best naps I’ve ever read

The Great Gatsby was a boring and I felt contained a lot of exposition that yanked me out of it.

Tortilla Flats was just a couple of dudes drinking the worlds supply of red wine.

The Catcher in the Rye is a long, meandering story of a kid and his weekend trip to New York.

This isn’t a rule.  Many modern classics are worth a read!  I’m particularly fond of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  However, as you know probably more than me, time and culture change the impact that books start to have.  They become harder to read with time and sometimes I feel they lose their classic status.

Having read many of these classics has taught me how to appreciate symbolism and subtext.  I can tell you why The Great Gatsby is a book about the American Dream.  The Catcher in the Rye is about the fear of growing up.  Tortilla Flats taught me that red wine ruins everything.  Everything.  I probably wouldn’t have liked Bear v. Shark: The Novel as much if I hadn’t read A Brave New World first.

Understanding these nuances in any book makes reading books more interesting.  You start to understand what makes good books good and bad books bad.  You learn to pick books that you like, and learn why you like reading them.

This new understanding makes me want to read more.  You are driven to find more good books.  Books that connect with you.  Books that entertain you.  Reading to attain knowledge, and reading to enjoy yourself.  Like you said, many of these books can be the same!

I think people should learn how to sustain themselves with reading.  Reading should take you somewhere with a purpose that you choose.  Because I’m able to appreciate some of the things in those classics, it helps me understand what I want to read next.  I recently finished At Home by Bill Bryson.  Its essentially a fucking textbook, but reading old histories made me more curious.

So for me, I wouldn’t often try and convince someone that they should read Dante’s Inferno because it’s better for them than, say, Animorphs. I might try and convince them that the book and others like it might make them appreciate what they read more.

When you begin to appreciate what you are putting into your brain you start making varied choices and search for the things that sustain you the most.  Lord of the Rings might secretly teach you that you love poetry, and you go buy a compendium of Emily Dickinson.  The Bible might help you understand religious standpoints, so next you read the Qur’an.  John Carter of Mars might convince you to read Speaker for the Dead because both of those books are dope as fuck.  The Catcher in the Rye might bore you to the point where you never pick up a book again, but thank goodness Barnes and Noble sells board games.

In that case, would it be a bored game?

Forgive me.

So to finish up the analogy:

Emily approaches Daniel and says, “Daniel!  You’ve had far too many cookies!  It is time to for something good for you!  Here is this new and strange vegetable that is nutritious.

“But dearest Emily, if it is so good for us, why don’t more chefs cook with this vegetable?  Or at least have recipes that incorporate this strange and frightening vegetable more?”  Daniel retorts while lowering his monocle.

“It has been at least a year since you’ve ingested anything our elders have deemed healthy!” Emily declares while ironically emptying her stein of beer.

“You make a good point, perhaps instead of eating the bitter roots of their labor, I will go to the market and pick for myself more foodstuffs than simply an enormous pile of cookies that also substitutes as my chair.” says Daniel while he attempts to hide the pizza boxes.

So: I want people to find sustenance in reading and pleasure, instead of feeling like they need to read boring older books to sustain themselves.

And perhaps it’ll stop some of them from going on crazy junk reading binges like the Twilight series.  Go read Anne Rice.  Or Animorphs.


Reading for Pleasure, Reading for Sustenance

tumblr_ngg7hfjrcs1r6wna6o1_1280I had a few topics I wanted to write about this week, like the secret to walking in heels, tattoos, and drifting away from your friends, but after rereading your post on Django Wexler’s books, I decided I also wanted to write about books.

To be honest, I probably won’t be able to read that series any time soon. I’m still slogging my way through the 2015 Popsugar Reading Challenge, which unfortunately for me has become the 2015-2016 challenge. I just couldn’t get through all 50+ books in a single year, and it was because of five books in particular. For the challenge I read Dante’s Inferno, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and the first two books of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. To complete the challenge in time, I’d have to read about a book a week and these five books took me way, way longer than a week to tackle. I think I spent a month and a half getting through The Fellowship of the Ring.

On a related note, I now hate hobbits. They sing way too much. The Fellowship was like 10 percent plot, 90 percent unnecessary singing.


Anyway, I am a bit disappointed I couldn’t finish the challenge in a year, but I’m glad I did take the time to tackle these books. You see, I’m a firm believer that there are two types of books: the books you enjoy reading and the books you should read. Sometimes a book can be both, sometime a book can be neither. The best analogy I can give for this idea is food. There are foods you enjoy eating but give little sustenance, like chips or cookies. There are foods you should eat because they’re good for you, but they’re not very enjoyable, like spinach or cauliflower. Some people don’t like chips and some people really enjoy cauliflower. It’s different for every person when it comes to food and when it comes to books.

Those five books for me were more books I needed read rather than books I wanted to read. I felt like I needed to read them because they play such an integral role in our culture and history. Dante’s Inferno was the foundation for a lot of modern day depictions of hell, The Jungle helped kick off the food safety revolution in the meatpacking industry, Grapes of Wrath is a window into one of the harshest times in American history, and the Lord of the Rings books were some of the first epic fantasy novels. I gained something from reading these books. They were frustrating as hell to get through, but I can say I’ve experienced them first hand and now understand how they affect the world around me.

I didn’t always believe in reading for sustenance. When I was younger I usually stuck to fantasy and horror novels and rarely strayed into the world of classic literature because it was boring. I remember reading A Midsummer’s Night Dream in ninth grade English and telling my teacher I found it pointless. There was no point in reading if it wasn’t enjoyable. 

He told me that I was being short-sighted. Now that I’m older, I understand what he meant.

Sure, I could’ve gotten away with never reading these books. Unlike food, there’s no medical condition associated with an acute Steinbeck-deficiency or lack of Tolkien in my diet. However, reading these books gave me better insight into our society and history and makes my experiences with current media more interesting. I can now play Pathfinder and understand where dwarves from and where we get our ideas about magic use. I can watch movies about hell and pick out the themes from Dante’s Inferno. Continuing with the food analogy, it’s like how learning to cook can make you appreciate food more. You can still enjoy your meal, but knowing what went into it makes it that much more interesting.

So what do you think, Daniel? Do you believe in reading for sustenance?