By Isabella Mazzei
I have many bucket books. My list of books to read before I die fills several pages of my journal, and contains exactly 86 titles (I just checked). These are books that I found in a variety of ways, some I found in bookstores, some I heard about and some I discovered while reading submissions for CLUJ and thought “wow that sounds awesome!” And then there are the other books, the books that I feel like I should read, the books that everyone says everyone should read, the books like Lolita, Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, and, naturally, War and Peace.
Here is my experience with books like this: unless you’d be interested in the book even if it wasn’t super famous, then it’ll probably suck to read. Example. Last year, I decided to embark on George Eliot’s 832-page Middlemarch. Why? Not because I wanted to read it particularly, not because I had heard from a friend that it was good, but simply because it was famous and on many respectable publications’ “100 books to read before you die” lists.
Now I’m not saying Middlemarch isn’t a great novel. In fact, I’m sure if I had been taking a class concurrently on it, I would have been able to appreciate it, as I can often appreciate while still disliking books I read for classes. However, I found it torture. And somehow, I forced myself to continue reading it, just because I felt like I should.
The same thing occurred to me earlier this year, while attempting to read War and Peace. As a fan of Anna Karenina, I thought that it probably would be easy enough for me to get through the 1300+ pages in my edition, and that then I would be able to check this “must read” off my bucket list. But, to no avail. 300 pages in, I set it down for my much-loved, much-read copy of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Half as long as War and Peace but twice as enjoyable for me to read, even the fourth time around.
Here’s my point. I don’t think books should be read just because you feel like they should be read. And it’s okay not to like every book that is considered a classic. While maybe I am glad for some classes having forced me to read some novels I would not have read on my own, when I read for pleasure I want it to be just that, pleasure. And while maybe I won’t read every single book on New York Times’ “100 best novels” list, I know I will still be well-read, and be actually excited to share about it. What do you think?