Wendy Lesser, Why I Read
In our high school and college literature classes, we did have required reading. Not anymore. We can read trash, if we want, or we can sample more challenging books like some of those on her list. Nobody says we have to finish them. "There is nothing shameful about giving up on a book in the middle: that is the exercise of taste," she writes. She doesn't say so, but we also have the option to turn on the TV and not read anything.
Each of us has different tastes, in literature as in everything else. For that reason, if we each made our own list of "A Hundred Books to Read for Pleasure," they would all be different. Wendy Lesser, a professional writer and literary critic, loves literature that most of the rest of us would consider too much of a challenge for pleasure reading. Much of her book tells about the joys of reading Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and William Faulkner. At some point in our lives we might want to try something by these writers. We might even like them, as I did Crime and Punishment. But if Jodi Picoult and John Grisham are more to your taste, then their books can be on your own list.
I get a bit annoyed whenever I see lists of 50 or 100 "books to read before you die." I love lists of recommended books, such as Lesser's, but I rebel at the suggestion that life includes a literary checklist. That seems to be what Lesser is referring to in the lines printed above. Getting passage into heaven is not dependent on reading A Passage to India.