From the NYT Lede blog:
The president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, is trying to encourage more of her citizenry to read books by giving boxes of as many as nine books to 400,000 poor families, according to The Economist. The big question, of course, is which nine books, exactly? The London-based weekly newsmagazine said Chile’s selected titles, like “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, were “unexceptionable fare.”
How about you? If you had to fill a box with nine books that everyone ought to have, what would they be? What if you had to pick just one work of literature?
Wow. Nine and only nine. What a concept! Should one go for the lofty and cerebral? The literary and timeless? The uproariously funny?
Here's my stab at a list, which I'm sure I'll revise mentally many many times, especially immediately after posting it:
- Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond does an excellent job of explaining European world dominance and historical patterns from a science-based, non-racist perspective... and is a lively good read to boot. Really, if I could get the ideas from only one book widely disseminated planet-wide, it would have to be this one.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez goes all over the place in a gorgeous, profane, heartbreakingly beautiful sprawl, yet is tightly written enough that not one word, one spectral appearance is wasted.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is really more like "the one book people should read so they can really Understand My Unique Temperament," but, yeah. 'S good.
- The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Some people have complained that this book is depressing; I would argue, rather, that the truth (about the selfish nature of our evolutionary impulses) will set us free.
- How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, because everybody should know about cooking and enjoying good food. (Also now available in a vegetarian version! Because meatless can be delicious, oh yes it can, and that's quite enough from the peanut gallery, Mr. Beloved Sweetie.)
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams in a convenient omnibus edition containing all five novels in the series. Who else could deal with life's philosophical quandaries so deftly, and with such a deliciously absurd British flair?
- Gardner's Art Through the Ages in the edition and binding of your choice. 'Cause nobody loves a philistine.
- Material World by Peter Menzel, for an appreciation of the similarities and differences throughout the human family. Also, looking at the photos of the possessions of the family in bullet-riddled Sarajevo makes your own too-small, cluttered, even funny-smelling surroundings seem positively palatial in comparison. Also, what you learn from this book is that the contentedest-looking people in the whole world live in Iceland.
- The Oxford English Dictionary, or at least one of its sturdy smaller siblings, such as the American Heritage Dictionary (my favorite: pretty pictures!). Precision in word choice is the beginning of precision in understanding. Or something.
And you? I'm so tempted to tag here, despite my fear of calling anyone out by name, but rest assured that this is one in upon which I most heartily encourage y'all to weigh.
Also: I have joined the Powell's Partner Program (P-P-P-hat!) and am now linking to their inventory items exclusively in new posts. I'll go back and update the old ones someday, maybe, if I get time and the inclination, so probably not. Anyway, just remember that you can keep two hapless unschooled children from being completely unprepared for the future... as long as you Shop Pic-Dem (tm)!