Book Bucket Challenge

As a bibliophile the book bucket challenge was a truly exhilarating experience for me. It was also a very humbling and educating experience. Now, many of you might be wondering what I am rambling about. Talking about a silly list making game as a cherished adventure. Read on all ye faithless, I’ll try to explain.

So, I will start by confessing that I stalked many of my friends’ walls searching for any and all book lists. What I found was at times inspiring and other times saddening. So basically all this starts when I get challenged smack in the middle of the exams. A very unfortunate event but the important part was that the first list I came across was a list from which I had read not a single book. I had just about heard of half of those books. But quick Google searches told me that each of those books were brilliant books, highly acclaimed but from genres that I had for reasons still unknown to me religiously stayed away from. With a humbled feeling coursing through me I went on to try and make my list. What I found was that although I have managed to read a few books, all my books tend to linger around in very similar genres. Educated, I moved on to botch together enough books to actually make a top ten with which I was more or less convinced. Determined now to get a better idea of all the kind of books that people read I started my stalking.

I read through a lot of lists and came to know about many new books but all that is just the background story to what I actually want to talk about. The inspiration for this whole article comes primarily from two conversations to which I was privy. One happened over the internet and the other was a face-to-face conversation. Both of these pertained to the kind of books that “today’s generation” read. Now the argument in both these conversations was that “today’s generation” was out of touch from certain authors that our parents and their parents used to read and in general had a poor list in terms of variety.

Ok, so now before any of you start to shout at me for telling you to read antique books let me clarify. The books being talked about here are not the authors who were popular during our parents’ time or their parents’. These books are evergreen. We are talking here about Marx and Proust, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Plato and well, you get the idea. When comparing these against the names that pop up again and again in the list of younger people we get names ranging from Chetan Bhagat to Ayn Rand and J.K. Rowling to Dan Brown. The literary merit of the latter list may or may not be questionable but that is immaterial; what I want to talk about is the untestedness of the latter list.

People like Plato and Euclid have survived the test of time and still find audiences. When you see that these people are still referred to, it does give an indication of how even after two thousand years people haven’t come up with alternatives to these people which could replace them. They’re irreplaceable. The same goes for people like Dickens and Conan Doyle, the Bronte’s, Wells and Verne and innumerable others. These people wrote a long time ago and yet their work is still considered to be some of the best ever written. Not reading these works so that one can read some of today’s books might be a mistake, it might be missing out on some of the most important ideas and stories that humans ever produced.

“One of the most compelling aspects of literature is its relationship to human experience. Reading is an act of engagement, clarification and discovery. Literature allows us, a chance to overcome the limitations of our own subjectivity and those of our cultural and social environment. Literary characters offer us immediate access to a wide range of human experiences we might otherwise never know.”[1]

The reason one should read as many varied books as one can is so that we can discover the social and cultural contexts of different places, different nations and different times. When books are meant to be a medium of expression, one of passing on learnings and stories, what is the point of reading unless we exploit it to the fullest? When the aim is to use this as food for the brain who wants to eat only bland food? Go and eat all those sizzlers and pastas and pizzas and dalwadas. When it comes to food the more variety you have the better it is, why isn’t it so for books? I agree that it is amazing when you can have your usual in comfort but no one can say no to variety when the options are as good if not better than your usual.

“The relationship between literature and experience is a reciprocal one. As literature allows us to participate in the experience of others, it too has the power to shape and alter our attitudes. If we are sensitive and perceptive readers, we have much to learn from these encounters, which can enrich the quality and affect the direction of our lives, though the precise effects of these encounters are impossible to predict. One mark of a ‘great’ work of literature is its ability to have an effect on the reader. Works survive as classics because they have offered generations of readers the opportunity to clarify and perhaps even modify their views of life.”[2]

Now, whatever you read is going to bias your opinion. Each written word that you come across is going to change you and shape you. To make sure that this is for the better is still in our hands and that is what we should focus on. One thing that we could do is to make sure that we get biased from as many avenues as possible. That way we’ll allow everything to shape and change us. This is actually one place where a lot of bad can actually be good. When we get biased from many points of views we get an idea of the different perspectives that people have, get a look at the distinct ways that individuals from different eras think. The more of these encounters with independent literary ways that we get the better things are for us.

Looking at these lists I see some unfortunate patterns. Barring a few most people tend to only read specific genres and sometimes only specific authors. Having a favorite genre or author isn’t a bad thing at all. It is when that prevents you from reading other kind of books and authors that a problem arises. In my opinion reading of books is an exercise by which one gets to know about other people’s ideas. When we end up reading the same author or books only from one genre we inadvertently filter out other ideas. Although I agree that my list myself was heavily biased towards certain genres and authors I feel that there is a general need to start reading books from genres that aren’t really your ‘comfort’ genres. Explore just the way you search for new restaurants and cuisines. I have decided that I’ll try to ‘expand my genres’ if that makes any sense. I will be picking up books from the lists of other people that seem to have titles that I would never pick up normally. That seems to me to be as good as any way to decide on good books from random genres.

I started by saying that the ‘book bucket challenge’ was an exhilarating, humbling and educating experience for me. It was exhilarating because of the sheer number and quality of books that I came to hear about. Yeah, that is enough to give me a feeling of euphoria. The simple realization that I might never be able to read all of those books was pretty humbling. I felt truly humbled that I know people whose collective lists make for such an amazing read in themselves. The lists gave me lovely insights into my own book reading habits and made me ponder over many things increasing my appreciation for books. This whole exercise has made me crave for more interactions with people who read, something like a book club.

Sources: (Both quotes can be found here)

  1. Paraphrased from above link. Couldn’t find original source.
  2. Paraphrased from Concise Companion to Literature, by James H. Pickering and Jeffrey D. Hoeper, New York: Macmillan, 1981, pages1-7.
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