Monday, December 9, 2013

Half Price Books thinks I should read these "classics"

I got a free calendar at Half Price Books, but this wasn’t a sign of unconditional love. Half Price Books includes on the page for August (I still got time!) a reading list. A reading list! Is this what I have to do to show I am worthy of Half Price Books and their free calendar? Let’s see, maybe I’ve got a head start on my assignment.

1) To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I read this in school, and thought it was pretty good. And of course I saw the movie. All you science fiction fans out there already know that Scout was the model for the young woman in Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage, a decent SF novel in the style of a Heinlein juvenile.

While I think To Kill A Mockingbird is good, I always suspect it is on these kinds of lists (and on the top of this list) because it advocates for the values the people who make these lists want us all to have and fear we don’t have. Is To Kill A Mockingbird really the best book of all time, or the book you most should have already read or whatever? I am skeptical.

2) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Everyone is constantly talking about how great this book is, but somehow they have yet to overcome my sales resistance. Part of the problem is that I feel like I know all the ins and outs of the plot from seeing it on TV three hundred times, mostly the long version starring the pretty girl from “Absolutely Fabulous” and the pretty girl from “House of Cards.” The lead actress is also pretty, but I’ve never seen her in any other show, so I call her “the pretty girl from ‘Pride and Prejudice.’”

Maybe someday I’ll read Pride and Prejudice and be amazed at how great it is. But not before August.

3) Lord of the Flies by William Golding
We read this in school, and I read it once as an adult as well, and it is pretty good. We were all saying “Sucks to your assmar” for months afterwards. I mean as a kid, not when I read it as an adult. Well, not as much.

4) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Like Lord of the Flies we read this in school, and then I read it as an adult. Somehow it didn’t make the impression on me that it makes on a lot of people; I thought it was just OK. The thing I always remember about it is that it was the first time I saw the word “holocaust” outside the context of the German program to exterminate the Jews, without a capital letter.

Anyway, I think the “Great American Novel” is Moby Dick.

5) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I read this once as an adult, and it is pretty good, due to the plot and ideas. I don’t remember thinking the style was very good.

6) Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I haven’t read this one. I read Cat’s Cradle at Rutgers, and I read at least one other Vonnegut book as an adult, but I wasn’t blown away by them, and have not read any more Vonnegut. (Well, we read “Harrison Bergeron” in high school, which was not bad.) Someday I may read Slaughterhouse-Five, but probably not before August.

7) The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I have not read this, and am quite unlikely to. I read The Three Musketeers as an adult, and was amazed at how lame it was. A boring adventure story full of lame jokes? I couldn’t believe it. Not only was the alleged adventure boring and the alleged jokes not funny, but after spending my whole life being sympathetic to the Huguenots, in The Three Musketeers I am supposed to think of them as the enemy? I kept hoping a Huguenot sharpshooter would kill Balthazar, Melchior and/or whatever the other guy’s name was.

I think maybe Half Price Books is going to break up with me.

8) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Like Pride and Prejudice, this one has lots of good PR, but I have yet to be sold on it. Like Pride and Prejudice I have seen more than one version on TV, and the plot seems OK. Maybe I’ll read this one day.

Or maybe not. In college (on the banks of the old Raritan, as we say) I read Hard Times, and didn’t think it was very fun. (I had a hard time reading it, ha ha.) My other exposure to Charles Dickens, like everybody else with a pulse, is from seeing three million versions of "A Christmas Carol," three million times each. As a kid I always thought Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, and Boba Fett were cooler than Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, and I had the same thing going with Scrooge and all those nags trying to get him to stop saving his money. When the Death Star explodes, or Boba Fett gets eaten by that, uh, well, we all know what it looks like, I feel a little deflated, and I always feel a little deflated when Scrooge gives in to the nags and starts throwing his money around, trying to buy their love or maybe their silence. I don’t know if Great Expectations is a celebration of nags and a denunciation of frugality, but I fear it could be.

9) Animal Farm by George Orwell
Orwell is a good writer with a very good style, and this is a good book. Of course, I may be vulnerable to the charge that I like this book because I am hostile to the Soviet Union. Maybe there are Bolshevists out there who think Animal Farm sucks, and suspect it is on these kinds of lists because the people who write these lists are members of the bourgeoisie and are trying to brainwash the proletariat. Maybe it is on this list at number 9 as a sop to those of us who are going to roll our eyes when we get to number 10 and it is The Grapes of Wrath.

10) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I haven’t read this, and I doubt I will. I saw the movie and it seemed about as subtle as a sledge hammer and sickle. If I want to hear somebody’s extravagant moaning about being poor, I’ll call up my mother.

And as I’ve already said, I think Moby Dick is the “Great American Novel.” Captain Ahab uber alles!


Alright, let’s look at the totals. I’ve read half the books Half Price Books thinks I’m supposed to read. But I’ve read some of those twice, so maybe Half Price Books will cut me some slack. And maybe I’ll get some bonus points if I’ve read some of the 30 additional books on the list at the website. (A reading list of 40 books! Half Price Books is high maintenance!) I haven’t looked at this full list of 40 books yet, and I sure hope Homer, Virgil, Dante, Nabokov, Boswell, Proust, and Melville are Half Price Book’s idea of “classics”; if J. K. Rowling and that The Life of Pi guy are on the list, I may be in trouble.


  1. This is my favorite reaction ever to a classics list.

  2. What about Half Price's Top 100 Sci-fi/Fantasy Novels:

    Any comments? :)

    1. Actually, their list is pretty interesting. Maybe I will post about it.