I believe that different books speak to different people at different times in their lives. So in that sense, there is no book that everyone should read.
As examples, I’ve been reading the Bible at least since I was 6, but I’ve read different translations in the years since I started, and I’ve read the same passage at different times and seen different emphases and different messages and even had times when I’ve said “Oh! NOW I see what that means!” Same book, different times.
I generally don’t reread books (more on that in a minute). But I read Milton’s Paradise Lost in college and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 while I was in the army. While I read other books in college and while I was in the army, those have stuck with me and I’ve on occasion gone back to them, time and again. They have formed touchstones of my life because of what they said and when I heard it.
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is not a profound book, just a piece of scifi writing. But that and his Agent to the Stars, both of which I read within the last decade, changed how I thought about human nature.
The book to which I return most often is one with which I share geographical proximity. The story involved a rural town less than a half-hour from where I grew up and people I recognized even though I called them by other names. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has been the single greatest written touchstone of my life since it offered me insight into the world in which I grew up and its people and assumptions and hence into my own “self” even when that self no longer occupied space in that same location.
There was a time when we talked much about sharing a common culture, and hence about the importance of reading certain “standard” literature. Reading that standard fare gave us entrance into that shared experience. We did the same thing with music and even art. One was not educated until one had acquaintance with “the great masters” in the established canon of each of those cultural areas of human creativity and expression.
From my perspective, books offer one access to a world beyond oneself. My parents bought a set of “Bookhouse Books” when I was born, and I grew up with them reading to me and then reading them on my own.
I read stories from around the world. I continue to read stories from Japan and China, different European countries, Africa, Russia, Latin America. I think that the key is to read widely, eclectically. We make sense of our world through narrative. One never knows when any given narrative will resonate because of geography or timing or even some particular experience from the reader’s past or present.
Do you have a story you’d like to tell on the Ouachita Voices blog? Or a friend who needs to tell a story on the blog? Contact email@example.com with your idea.
The Ouachita Voices blog is a place for the people of Ouachita to tell the stories of Ouachita. Lend your voice to the conversation. Submit your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.