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21 Books You Don't Have To Read

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message 1: by Dara (new)

Dara (cmdrdara) | 2702 comments GQ has 21 Book You Don't Have To Read along with suggestions for (in the authors' opinion) better alternatives.

Manuel Gonzales, author of The Regional Office Is Under Attack! suggests A Wizard of Earthsea instead of Lord of the Rings:

I liked The Hobbit. A lot. But while Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books are influential as exercises in world building, as novels they are barely readable. It never seemed to me that Tolkien cared about his story as much as he cared about rendering, in minute detail, the world he built. Why not instead read Ursula K. Le Guin's magnificent (and as beautifully rendered) stories and novels surrounding Earthsea? Le Guin captures the world of Earthsea through a powerful, dark, gorgeous kind of storytelling that is irresistible. Perhaps Le Guin's work—along with an entire universe of fantasy fiction—wouldn't have been possible without Tolkien's influence behind it, but in its time, Le Guin's books are more influential and make for better reading.


I can't say if I agree with the sentiment as I haven't read A Wizard of Earthsea.


message 2: by Paul (new)

Paul  Perry (pezski) | 493 comments I'd have to agree. As much as I love Tolkien, le Guin is a far better - and probably more important - writer.


I rather dislike the article title; your don't have to read any particular books.


message 3: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4267 comments Le Guin...more...important...than...third...highest...selling...novel...of...all...time. Well, we're all entitled to our own opinion!

I like Le Guin fine, but LOTR is a juggernaut.

Saw that list on FB and read the article. The ones GQ rejects make a pretty good to-read list.


message 4: by Anthony (new)

Anthony | 5 comments I'm glad I found this post, I'd like to read this book. It sounds great!


message 5: by Paul (last edited Apr 25, 2018 08:04AM) (new)

Paul  Perry (pezski) | 493 comments John (Taloni) wrote: "Le Guin...more...important...than...third...highest...selling...novel...of...all...time."


Sorry, John. Hope I didn't make you spit coffee or yell in public ;)


message 6: by Dara (new)

Dara (cmdrdara) | 2702 comments John (Taloni) wrote: "The ones GQ rejects make a pretty good to-read list."

That's my take-away from the piece. The "must-read" books have their merits but the suggestions added more books for me to check out.


message 7: by Brendan (new)

Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Other than both being fantasy, I don't see a ton of similarities between LotR and Earthsea. They're not really the same type of fantasy? Would be like suggesting that you should substitute flour for bell peppers in a recipe.


message 8: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4267 comments Paul wrote: "Sorry, John. Hope I didn't make you spit coffee or yell in public ;)"

No...no no no no. No.

Okay, maybe *this* happened.

grandpa_simpson_old_man_yells_cloud


message 9: by Tina (new)

Tina (javabird) | 725 comments Oh dear, I wish I hadn't seen that article. Is it a joke? No need to read Dracula, The LOTR, The Old Man in the Sea, The Catcher in the Rye, the Bible?

Sure, just encourage people to stay ignorant. Who needs literature anyway?

I could go on, but it would just be an angry rant.


message 10: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2928 comments But while Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books are influential as exercises in world building, as novels they are barely readable.

Which is why I've re-read them probably a dozen times over the years? Idiot...

Amusingly, I've heard from some that they have a hard time reading Earthsea (I've started but it didn't capture my attention).

But then, it's GQ.


message 11: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Here's why the LotR entry is ridiculous:

I liked Animal Farm. A lot. But while Orwell's 1984 is influential as an exercise in political theory, as a novel it is barely readable. It never seemed to me that Orwell cared about his story as much as he cared about rendering, in minute detail, the politics of Big Brother. Why not instead read Suzanne Collins' magnificent (and as beautifully rendered) stories and novels surrounding The Hunger Games?


If a book's not for you, it's not for you, but that's a far cry from saying other people should avoid it as well. You've got to distinguish between flaws in the book and a mismatch between the author's goals and your interests.

Although the most ridiculous suggestion on that list has to be The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer was a journalist, not a historian, and while his first hand accounts of Nazi Germany are valuable, his attempts to place Nazism within the greater context of German history are seriously flawed. Further, the book is nearly sixty years out of date. When Shirer wrote, vast troves of Nazi documents were locked away in East Germany and the Soviet Union. If you're going to point somebody to a book on Nazi Germany, it had better be one written after the fall of the Iron Curtain; anything before that is obsolete.


message 12: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2928 comments OK, scanned some of the list and it seems this is one of those "attack a wellknown classic of a type and sub in something newer" lists. It's not serious, it's meant to provoke. At least I hope that's the intent.

Sadly, it's so obviously trollish that I'm not really likely to check out the alternative book from each person and I'm sure there are some really good, er, reads there.


message 13: by Rik (last edited Apr 25, 2018 03:30PM) (new)

Rik | 777 comments Paul wrote: "I'd have to agree. As much as I love Tolkien, le Guin is a far better - and probably more important - writer.


I rather dislike the article title; your don't have to read any particular books."


More important?

There is no more important author in fantasy than Tolkien. There probably isn't a fantasy genre if Tolkien doesn't write LOTR. You can argue technical merits and criticize the overall story but his importance to the genre is unmatched.

If you include Sci Fi authors then he's up there with Jules Verne and HG Wells (the two fathers of Sci Fi) as the most important author in the sci fi / fantasy genres.


message 14: by Brendan (new)

Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments The piece didn't actually say important...


message 15: by terpkristin (new)

terpkristin | 4220 comments GQ is just happy for your clicks. :) And talking about this just gets them more clicks!


message 16: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Rik wrote: "There is no more important author in fantasy than Tolkien. There probably isn't a fantasy genre if Tolkien doesn't write LOTR."

That's hyperbolic. The genre might not have become as popular without him, but it was well established by the time LotR came out. Morris, Baum, Burroughs, Cabell, Lewis, Howard, Peake, Moore, Norton, and Bradley were all writing fantasy before LotR made its impact.


message 17: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8949 comments Sean wrote: "Rik wrote: "There is no more important author in fantasy than Tolkien. There probably isn't a fantasy genre if Tolkien doesn't write LOTR."

That's hyperbolic. The genre might not have become as po..."


True. Plus, it took LotR something like 10-12 years to start becoming popular. It’s not like Elvis Presley or Star Wars, which were incredibly popular soon after hitting the market. LotR doesn’t even crack the NyTimes bestseller list until 1966, and then it was the paperback reprint.

Rock’n’Roll and SF movies would’ve likely still been popular without Elvis or Star Wars, but they really kickstarted it. LotR was more of a slow burn, becoming influential over time. So arguably someone else might have been just as influential in that era.

We should look at Fantasy novels published between 1954 and 1965 to see what else was trending. Dune came out in ‘65, too, and it scratches the same itch as LotR. There was something appealing about those types of books then.


message 18: by AndrewP (new)

AndrewP (andrewca) | 2550 comments I can't understand what people see in Wizard of Earthsea. Le Guin basically rewrote the movie Forbidden Planet as fantasy and passed it off as revolutionary. Even worse, the movie was a take on Shakespear's The Tempest so Le Guin's is a third hand retelling at best.


message 19: by Ed (last edited Apr 28, 2018 04:22PM) (new)

Ed (swampyankee) | 30 comments Tina wrote: "Oh dear, I wish I hadn't seen that article. Is it a joke? No need to read Dracula, The LOTR, The Old Man in the Sea, The Catcher in the Rye, the Bible?

Sure, just encourage people to stay ignoran..."


The only reason I've read Catcher in the Rye or anything by Hemingway was to pass high school English class.

I've also read quite a bit to reduce ignorance. It's called non-fiction; the idea that one has to read some random novels to avoid "ignorance" is believable only in some weird fantasy land. All fiction is escape literature.


message 20: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8949 comments “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
― Mark Twain

“You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”
— Will Rogers


message 21: by Clyde (new)

Clyde (wishamc) | 437 comments IMHO, that's a silly click-bait list. Nothing more.
Guess it is working on us.


message 22: by Richard (last edited Apr 29, 2018 10:35AM) (new)

Richard | 99 comments If a clickbait article gets a good conversation going, it's not an entirely bad thing. :)

Couldn't get into Hemingway. I feel like an actual biography of Hemingway would be more interesting than his semi-autobiographical novels. Steinbeck is the author that should be held up as the greatest of the early twentieth century, in my opinion.

I just read Slaughterhouse Five last year and loved it. John Adams as well. And I just re-read Lord of the Rings for this first time in like 30 years, and found it held up better than I expected.


message 23: by Ed (last edited May 05, 2018 03:25PM) (new)

Ed (swampyankee) | 30 comments Richard wrote: "If a clickbait article gets a good conversation going, it's not an entirely bad thing. :)

Couldn't get into Hemingway. I feel like an actual biography of Hemingway would be more interesting than h..."



I disliked every work by Hemingway I was forced to read by my high school English teachers. Even more than that, I despised, and continue to despise, the concept that reading fiction makes one a better or more educated person.


message 24: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3675 comments Mod
I loved Hemingway in my teens. I don't know if they'd have the same appeal 40 years later though. But I wouldn't rate him above Steinbeck or Twain as the greatest US writer.

I could see the argument for reading fiction making one a better and more educated person. It would be a minor effect, but still a positive one.

Fiction does introduce you to a lot of concepts and ideas that you may not be aware of. It can help you to see points of views, opposite your own, through another persons eyes.
Also you can learn things (history, culture etc) as long as it is represented correctly.


message 25: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1650 comments Ed, if I didn't know better, I'd think you didn't like reading fiction, but I do. So, are you saying that fiction only provides entertainment, and has no other value? If so, I'm not sure I agree with that.

I know as both a former ME, and currently an engineer in another less rigorous field, that reading fiction helped me quite a bit in my problem solving abilities. It helped build my creativity and train me to look at other options, it helped me to be more observant of what was truly going on around me, and it helped me look at the problem through other peoples eyes. All things I believe are important to making me better at my job. Yes, the science, math, and engineering background ultimately allow me to solve the problem, but determining the root cause, and coming up with the best solution are heavily influenced by the other.

I'm honestly curious if you have not found this to be the case in your past.


message 26: by Rick (last edited May 06, 2018 10:33AM) (new)

Rick | 2928 comments Reading - fiction or non-fiction - absolutely helps one become more educated and perhaps better. "Perhaps" better because that implies an ethical or moral judgement. But more educated with a broader outlook than if they didn't read? Of course. Any counter-argument is essentially anti-intellectual - why learn anything if it doesn't improve us in some dimension? By the way, I'd argue the same for listening seriously to music, watching plays or good movies, even watching some of the excellent TV (The Wire, etc), not just reading. All of these broaden one's perspective and expose a person to new ideas and emotions.

Now, does this mean that certain 'canon' books are inherently the best books? No. While I think there are certain foundational books that really are almost required in order to have a good grounding in western history and civilization* and that some works are almost indisputably great or important, that doesn't mean you are uneducated or a bad person if you've not read them.




*I'm sure there are books like this for the various Asian and African civilizations too, but I'm not familiar with them.


message 27: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8949 comments When I was in high school speech class, my teacher (who was a black woman, which becomes important later) had this belief that “books = good and smart” while “teenagers = dumb and dumber”. I asked about scenarios where we disagreed with a book’s ideas and her response was that we didn’t know enough to make those judgement calls. I challenged her on this and she shut me down. Her attitude was that a book was always going to be right and we were always going to be wrong.

If the catchphrase “challenge accepted” had existed in 1980, I would have uttered it then and there.

What I did instead was pull out quotes from my Bible Concordance (this was Catholic school) which were either contradictory or put women in a bad light. Then I went to the library and got books about the Confederacy, with a dash of Mein Kampf.

The day of my speech I stopped by the Vice Principal’s office and told him that I was going to be sent to see him later that day. Sure enough....

She did not take my presentation well. In my defense, I told her that while I personally disagreed with the Bible that slaves should obey their masters and that women should obey men, I wasn’t allowed to make that judgement call. I didn’t get a good grade, but it was worth it.

Not all books elevate or inform.


message 28: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2928 comments Love the story Trike. But is anyone actually arguing that all books elevate or inform? I'm certainly not.

However, just to play along, reading the books you did even enough to pull quotes out of them allowed you to make your point. Had you not read them or at least known enough about them to know that those points were made in them, you'd noe have been able to do the presentation.


message 29: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8949 comments Sure, but if I didn’t think for myself or if those were the only kind of books I read, I would have made a non-ironic presentation.

This was the time of the Women’s Lib movement, the crest of first wave feminism, when there was a concerted nationwide push to amend the US Constitution to include the Equal Rights Amendment, also called the E.R.A., which would have become the 27th Amendment.

It was such a pervasive discussion that another kid in my class gave a speech that included a comment about “the Christian era”, but he said “Christian E.R.A.” It made me wonder what the heck he thought that passage was about, since the E.R.A. was a modern concern.

Now *he* was one of those dumb teenagers my teacher was talking about, and he has grown into an even dumber middle-aged man based on what I see on his Facebook page, so I feel it is imperative to correct his mistaken assumptions on a weekly basis. He reads the wrong sorts of things.

Two sides of the coin, is what I’m saying.


message 30: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4267 comments Maybe he thought it was like A.D. and B.C.

Although, a Constitutional campaign for a Christian Equal Rights Amendment might make a helluva SF book...


message 31: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1250 comments While I (obviously) love reading fiction and I do think that it helps to broaden the mind, I do also kinda agree with Ed above. A lot of readers (especially of litfic, although SFF readers are by no means immune from this) seem to have the idea that reading books makes them better people - not only better-educated but also morally superior to those dumb plebs who don’t read. I guess you have to feel there’s some benefit to struggling through Hemingway...

On the Fantasy Faction Facebook discussion group they had a thread recently talking about whether reading books makes you more ethical and/or empathetic. The consensus was... not really.

Books are great, but I don’t think we should kid ourselves that reading them makes us better people than non-readers.


message 32: by Rick (last edited May 07, 2018 09:41AM) (new)

Rick | 2928 comments "Better" is such a subjective term that I don't know that we can have a real discussion about it. In general, I don't think that reading books makes one better in a moral or ethical manner. It can make one more empathetic since it can expose you to different viewpoints but that's often a result of discussion about the book in a class setting etc vs simply reading the book.

More well rounded? Yes, I'd argue that readers are as a group more well rounded than non-readers just as people who travel are more well rounded than non-travelers, moviegoers can be more well rounded than non-moviegoers, etc. That's not a function of reader per se but of exposing oneself to new and different experiences.

Flip this, though. Are non-readers as informed, well rounded and do they have as much exposure to other ideas as readers? As a I group, I'd expect not. So, yes, there's a definite benefit to reading. Obviously it's affected by how much reading is done and of what kind and on an individual level it will vary a lot but as a group? I'd actually tend to argue that readers are in some dimensions 'better' than non-readers simply because they've done more. I'd also argue that people who travel widely are better in some ways than non-travelers etc. But not 'better' as in morally superior... better as in having had more and different experiences, as in having thought about more varied ideas, etc.

Compare a broadly illiterate population with one that's literate. At a population level, which is going to advance more, have more complex ideas, etc?


message 33: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1650 comments For your perusal

https://www.scientificamerican.com/ar...

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/s...

I remember reading something about this a while back, I just didn't remember there was a difference between "Literary" fiction and "Genre" fiction. Although I think the idea of works based more on character development vs plot makes some sense, of course we can get that in SF&F as well.

And of course, this article points to other studies calling into question the results of the first.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/a...


message 34: by Joe Informatico (new)

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments If you're not assigned it for a class or working on a degree in literature, there's no reason you have to read any of the books on this list or any of the suggested alternatives either. Academia can debate the existence of a literary canon and what should be on it all they want, but there's no reason any individual reader has to be beholden to it.

That's just what the written word needs: to stifle new potential readers by demanding they read archaic, impenetrable texts full of the off-putting and offensive trappings of their era. The number of people who read for pleasure is already in decline: budding ones should be encouraged to read what they like without a bunch of elitist gatekeepers telling them they're reading the wrong books.


message 35: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8949 comments Joe Informatico wrote: "That's just what the written word needs: to stifle new potential readers by demanding they read archaic, impenetrable texts full of the off-putting and offensive trappings of their era. The number of people who read for pleasure is already in decline: budding ones should be encouraged to read what they like without a bunch of elitist gatekeepers telling them they're reading the wrong books. "

My mom, who is an inveterate reader, once said that she tried reading the books on a list of “Great American Novels” and all the ones she tried, like An American Tragedy and The Adventures of Augie March, were so depressing that she abandoned it.

It’s the surest way to turn people off of reading.


message 36: by Baelor (new)

Baelor | 169 comments Joe Informatico wrote: "demanding they read archaic, impenetrable texts full of the off-putting and offensive trappings of their era. "

Demanding seems the problem here, since it seems of obvious social benefit to read books about different ways of life and perspectives, even if they are offensive. This falls into the broader argument that reading provides experiences, of which having greater variety and number is "better" in some sense.


message 37: by Iain (new)

Iain Bertram (iain_bertram) | 1529 comments Ed wrote: "Richard wrote: "If a clickbait article gets a good conversation going, it's not an entirely bad thing. :)

Couldn't get into Hemingway. I feel like an actual biography of Hemingway would be more in..."


Being forced to read anything in High School seems to always destroy the ability to love an author .... Dickens, shudder.


message 38: by AndrewP (new)

AndrewP (andrewca) | 2550 comments Joe Informatico wrote: "That's just what the written word needs: to stifle new potential readers by demanding they read archaic, impenetrable texts full of the off-putting and offensive trappings of their era. The number of people who read for pleasure is already in decline."

I know that this was true for me. I used to read a lot before I was forced to read certain 'classics' for 'O' Level English. After that I read almost nothing for many many years. Eventually some good SFF got me back into reading on a regular basis:)


message 39: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2928 comments Trike wrote: "Joe Informatico wrote: "That's just what the written word needs: to stifle new potential readers by demanding they read archaic, impenetrable texts full of the off-putting and offensive trappings o..."

First, I am always amused that SFF geeks who by the nature of what we read accept alien societies and complex, often grim dark fantasy worlds, have such a problem with writing from another era that actually existed.

Second, who's demanding anything here? I think it's valuable and useful to read some of the Western literature canon because some of it expresses core concepts upon which our society is based. I think it's better to do that in class where you discuss it, relate it to other things going on during the era when a book was written (one of the best books I've read about this is Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light) but if you don't... that's fine. There's no way we can read all of those works and even in a good class setting, some of them simply won't appeal.


message 40: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3675 comments Mod
Iain wrote: "Being forced to read anything in High School seems to always destroy the ability to love an author .... Dickens, shudder."

It does depend on how it's presented. Many authors I read in high school, I went on and read for enjoyment. eg Steinbeck


message 41: by Iain (new)

Iain Bertram (iain_bertram) | 1529 comments Tassie Dave wrote: "Iain wrote: "Being forced to read anything in High School seems to always destroy the ability to love an author .... Dickens, shudder."

It does depend on how it's presented. Many authors I read in..."


After writing essays on the theme "the Nature of Justice" in my final year of high school I was pretty burnt out on serious literature. One depressing book after another.

When The Crucible is one of the lighter books on the list you are in trouble.


message 42: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3675 comments Mod
Iain wrote: "When The Crucible is one of the lighter books on the list you are in trouble."

Ouch. At least we got "Death of a Salesman" by him.

Though we did get a bit too much Shakespeare for my liking :-?
Booooooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnngggg.


message 43: by Ed (new)

Ed (swampyankee) | 30 comments John (Nevets) wrote: "Ed, if I didn't know better, I'd think you didn't like reading fiction, but I do. So, are you saying that fiction only provides entertainment, and has no other value? If so, I'm not sure I agree wi..."

I'm a recovering aerospace engineer ;)

I actually quite like reading fiction. I also think it should be kept in its place: escape literature.


message 44: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2928 comments Ed wrote: "I actually quite like reading fiction. I also think it should be kept in its place: escape literature.
..."


Ridiculous. Dismissing most of the Western canon from Homer on as 'escape literature' makes me wish this place had an ignore button.


message 45: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4267 comments ^ If you really mean it, select the person, scroll down to the bottom of their page, and click "Block this member." I would say "surely we can all get along in discussion" but on some rare occasions I've blocked people on discussion sites. It can happen.


message 46: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3675 comments Mod
I have no problem with people referring to fiction as 'escape literature'.

For a lot of people that's what it is. I personally think some of it is more important than that. But we do use it to escape into another person's imagination for a short while.

or (for some) to escape a boring, mundane life.


message 47: by Aaron (new)

Aaron Nagy | 379 comments I don't really get it, a lot of why people say you must read X book. Isn't because the book itself is amazing, but because of maybe the idea's it presents or it's effects on the world later down the line. Which means if you are reading for that shared knowledge, you should probably read the same one everyone else did. If you want to read more and go ohh yeah this other one did it better that's fine, but it's only a part of the reason you would read most of these books.


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