Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Maybe This Wasn't Such a Good Idea After All

I hate to pull an Oprah, but I'm having second thoughts about the "Books Every Child Should Read Before She Leaves Secondary School" list I started yesterday. Not the books on the list, just the fact of a list itself.

Philip Pullman said that we can learn all kinds of things from fiction, and I agree with him. But you have to seek this stuff out for yourself. Reading is a form of communication. Only you can decide who you need to communicate with. The prospect of imposing a list on anyone...

Nonetheless, one should finish what one starts. So here are a few more titles.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder because it's about the pioneer experience and the whole pioneer thing has had an impact on the American psyche.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry because the cowboy and cattle drive era--though in reality it didn't last all that long--has become part of the American identity. I chose Lonesome Dove because it's the only western novel I've read, and it did win the Pulitzer Prize. But, by all means, choose another.

Something by Raymond Chandler. His outsider heroes with personal codes of honor--very iconic. I found Fell by M.E. Kerr very Chandleresc, and I have a young relative who liked the whole series so much that he would snatch them out of the library basket on his way out the door to catch the school bus.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I thought several times before including this. I loved this book when I was a teenager, but I've read that African-Americans are not as entranced by it. They see it as a feel-good book for whites because the white family tries to help the African-American in the story but fails. The family then gets to feel virtuous for trying. When I reread the book as an adult, I didn't think it was so much about race as it was about daddy-worship. Not that there's anything wrong with a girl loving her father. The book is still a good one, it's about the American south, and God knows, like Catcher in the Rye, it has spawned a host of imitators. Why not read the first and the best?

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. A story of the American south from African-Americans' experience and a Depression-era story. And just a really good book.

A Native American book. I have to admit that I'm not terribly familiar with Native American writers. I liked Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King, but it's been a while. Plus, he's Canadian, which is like Native American Continent rather than Native American. Joseph Bruchac has a Native American background and is a well-known writer for young people, though I haven't read any of his books. I've heard him speak though. Very good.

So, altogether, I have more than 10 books. You can live a very fine life without reading any of these titles. But I think these books will give readers an inkling of how we came to be the way we are. And, more importantly, I don't think they will drive anyone away from reading. My hope is that instead of making readers feel "I've read Paradise Lost. Thank God that's over," they will encourage readers to look for more of the same.

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