If you have any friends on Facebook who’ve ever read a book, then you’ve probably seen the little book challenge floating around. The gist of it is this: post 10 books that have “stuck with you” or “changed the way you think” and tag a few friends.
You may also by now have seen Alexis Kleinman’s arrogant and pandering response to this trend. Posted earlier this week on The Huffington Post, Kleinman decries the Facebook book challenge as an exercise in “humblebragging,” suggesting that everyone in the world prefers JK Rowling to William Faulkner but would rather lie about it in order either to seem smarter or to make their friends look dumb.
Kleinman’s article—like much of the negative drivel up at The Huffington Post—fails on many levels:
1. It’s not funny. Kleinman could have used this opportunity to poke fun at these lists. She could have created a fantastic satirical piece. Instead, she insulted anyone who has ever read and enjoyed a book of any kind.
2. It misunderstands the point of the post. For someone who supposedly studied English, Kleinman seems to have a tough time with basic reading comprehension here. The idea is to post 10 books that have stuck with you or changed your thinking. It is not meant to be a list of the 10 most enjoyable books you’ve ever read.
3. It isn’t true. Kleinman’s “real life” list suggests that most people prefer fun books over challenging books. I would argue that “fun” books are far less likely to have any long-term impact on the reader. Yes, you probably won’t read Infinite Jest as many times as you would Harry Potter, but even reading half of Infinite Jest will likely have more lasting impact on you as a reader, writer, or person. (Author’s note: Interestingly enough, I have read 7 of the books on Kleinman’s “preposterous” list and only 1 on her “real life” list.)
I suppose if this had been ten albums that impacted your life, we would have to leave off anything by Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Beethoven, or Aphex Twin for the likes of the musical styling of AC/DC, Nickelback, Miley Cyrus, and ‘N Sync.
Yes, Kleinman is absolutely correct when she states it’s okay to like fun books. When I taught high school English, I frequently told my students I didn’t care what they read on their own time—as long as they read something. Whether they had their noses buried in Twilight, a comic book, a car magazine, or a damn cereal box, I just wanted them to read. By reading anything, you gain a greater appreciation for reading. While you may love reading Twilight as a teenager, it probably won’t be the book that sticks with you or changes your thinking. But there’s nothing wrong with liking it, and there’s nothing wrong with putting it on your top-ten list.
While Kleinman seems to want to abolish these lists on the premise that they are just ways to one-up your friends, I argue these lists are necessary and valuable. Seeing one of these lists does several things for us:
1. It reminds us of great books we may have forgotten about.
2. It gives us recommendations of great things to read.
3. It makes us think about how reading has impacted our lives.
How could anyone—especially someone who studied English and claims to be a journalist—be against any of these things?
I’m not sure who this Alexis Kleinman person is or why she holds her friends in such low-esteem, but her article is insulting to anyone who has ever enjoyed a book. According to Kleinman, you fall into one of two camps: you either lie about your favorite books in order to seem smarter than other people, or you are a dumb person who doesn’t like challenging books. But remember, according to Kleinman, you can’t like challenging books. After all, no one has even finished reading Infinite Jest. It’s a catch-22. Wait, are we allowed to like that book?
Whether your list is filled with challenging books like The Sound and the Fury, fun books like Harry Potter, or even obscene books like Hairy Twatter, it doesn’t really matter. Your Facebook friends aren’t really judging you based on your book list. In fact, 90% of your friends will never even know you posted the list. And most of the rest won’t care. Chances are though, at least one of your friends will find a new book he or she loves because of your list, and that makes the whole exercise worth more than a thousand Huffington Post articles.
Of course, we all know The Huffington Post gets the last laugh here. After all, the objective of this article wasn’t to challenge the idea of what an important book is. No, the point was to be just controversial enough to piss off intelligent people so they would share this article. After all, all that really matters is the number of impressions their ads get.
So, if you care at all about the value of reading a book, please post a comment or share this article instead. Let’s show the internet just how meaningful our experiences with books can be.
© 2014 Nathaniel Tower
Image “Ulysses Sepia” © Flickr user Andreas Levers
Nathaniel Tower is a former English teacher who now spends his days at a computer. When not at work, he writes fiction and manages the online literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. If he's not writing or editing, he's either spending time with his wife and daughter, listening to records, or going for long runs while juggling. His short fiction has appeared in over 200 online and print magazines and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Million Writers Award. His first collection of short fiction, "Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands," was released in 2014 by Martian Lit. Visit him at nathanieltower.wordpress.com