Have you ever gotten an email forward with a list of 100 books you should read or posted on your blog a long list of books from the Western Cannon and checked off the ones you have read? It seems these lists are becoming even more ubiquitous as social reading sites crop up all over the place. Sam McGrath's post for today got me thinking more about what we should read.
I clicked over to wikipedia's article about the Western Cannon. I didn't know there were so many different versions of it and these lists are not short. It is somewhat overwhelming. Take a look at St. John's reading college reading list. It's pretty amazing. Sam asked if we think we should try to read everything. The problem is, the cannon itself is controversial: should it include more works by women and other minority groups? Should we abandon it altogether? Is the notion of universal truths as represented in these works of fiction a load of nonsense in itself?
Personally, my response is similar to Sam's. You can't read everything. But you can read a lot! I think being really familiar with the works from the cannon, if not having read a significant portion of them, is important because so much of what is written even know is intertextual with it. The writers within the cannon used each other's works as launching points or just used bits of these famous works in their own. It adds so much to the readers' understanding to know what has been said before. But I also would agree that there are works super far flung from the cannon that are worth reading.
That's why social reading sites like Goodreads are so awesome. See what your friends are reading or have read. Read reviews by your friends or just people in the community and get an idea of what you'd like to read and know. You can even make goals at Goodreads about how much you'd like to read this year and create personalized lists of books to-read.
Photo attributed to rachel sian| Flickr