This is part 2 in the Fundamental Reading Question series. You can read about Question 1 here.
I love to be bossy. I do not consider “bossy” to be an insult. So when my friend, Genay, tossed Fundamental Reading Question 2 at me, I immediately opened my mouth to tell her what I thought everyone should do.
But when I opened my mouth, I was speechless. Crickets.
Here is the question that stumped me. Fundamental Reading Question #2: What books should everyone read?
I have been procrastinating writing this post because of that word SHOULD. There is nothing about a Sustainably Productive life that includes the word SHOULD. Yet, I love talking about books, and I love this Fundamental Reading Question.
So with apologies to Genay, I am going to give an answer a bit tangent to this second Fundamental Reading Question. Here are 4 categories of books everyone should read.
Books That Feel Familiar
Reading is not just a hobby for me – it is an escape, a comfort, a respite, and a joy. Definitely something that can help make my life Sustainably Productive. While I rarely re-read a book, but I do have themes that I tend to gravitate towards.
I will read anything about World War II and am fascinated by the politics of the time and how the Third Reich unleashed its hate and fury on the world while good people stood by and let it happen. I will read about concentration camps, resistance groups, both sides of the war, the years leading up to it, the chaos of the whole decade, and the rebuilding after. This topic feels familiar to me and is always a go to topic I pick up when shopping at used book sales.
Taking a very hard turn from WW2 is Little House on the Prairie (LHOP). These are comforting to me, and I recently found Caroline – same stories as the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, but from Ma’s point of view. I watched LHOP growing up and started rewatching last year when it came to Amazon Prime. It is familiar to me. Although revisiting it as an adult makes me cringe at some things we thought were ok to allow on TV in the 70s, the idea of homesteading and family is familiar and comforting.
I have a couple favorite authors that are familiar to me as well. I will read anything by Fredrik Backman or Jodi Picoult. Although their recent releases were misses for me, I will give them a pass. It was a pandemic year after all.
Find a familiar genre or author that you gravitate towards. If you get in a reading slump, return to these. It never fails.
Books That Come Recommended
I will forever and always read what Laura Tremaine tells me to. She is a fellow booklover who has similar reading taste as me. What she recommends, I know I will like. With the exception of A Man Called Ove, books she has disliked have also landed on my Abandoned Books list. [I am not sure how you can’t love a curmudgeon, but I guess Laura is allowed to be wrong once.]
The flip side of this is a podcaster who has the opposite reading taste from me. I know if she recommends something, I will not like it. This is actually helpful because I know what NOT to read – or at least prioritize lower on my TBR. Conversely, when she hates a book, I put it on reserve at the library.
If you are looking to find reading mentors, I recommend starting with Anne Bogel. She has a podcast, a blog, seasonal reading guides, and a reading challenge. Something for everyone for sure! Along the same theme of accessibility for all, her podcast is set up to understand what her guest likes and dislikes in books, then Anne gives recommendations. So if the guest loves sci fi fantasy and so do you, maybe you will like the recommendations Anne gives the guest.
I would love to be your reading mentor! You can also sign up for the Sustainable Sue Bookmobile and I will send you a notice whenever I finis a 5-star read.
Books That You May Not Like
It is ok to abandon a book. Can I let you in on a secret? I have even thrown a book or two because I did not like them that much. Think of it this way – if you don’t identify what you DON’T like, it is hard to identify what you DO like. You may find you like a certain genre, but hate another. You may not be able to read a THING about the Depression Era, but futuristic sci-fi is what keeps the pages turning. Books you don’t like is a category of Fundamental Reading Question #2 because it means you are trying new things.
Speaking of sci fi fantasy – I just cannot. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane because everyone else did. Same thing with The House of Salt and Sorrows. Caving to peer pressure and picking these books up did improve my reading life though. I learned that I do like fantasy (hello, Harry Potter!), and I do like sci fi (looking at you, anything by Blake Crouch). But I need to keep those separate – it is the combination of sci fi fantasy that is not my jam.
Books That Make You Question
This category of books you should read will probably be the hardest to approach – more so than even reading books you don’t like. Books that make you question what you have always known as fact can rattle the foundation that you were raised on. Here are three suggestions on where you can start.
- American Dirt. Anti-immigration comments and views of children torn from their families at the border break my heart. The “helpful” advice, “Go back where you came from” is unacceptable. Read American Dirt and ask yourself if you are the kind of person that you would force another human being to return to a country where they will most likely be killed. American Dirt is a story about why a family fled their home and what hardships they encountered on the way to America. There is controversy about the fact a white woman wrote the story of these Mexicans fleeing from Acapulco, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater by skipping this read. It is an entry point for those who need and want to learn more about immigration stories.
- And the Band Played On and The Great Believers. No one deserved to be dismissed like gay men were during the AIDS crisis. These two books are heart breaking and at times outrageous examples of how terribly people can treat other people. Yet both books do have hope as there are good people who stood up for what was right, not what was easy.
- Nickel and Dimed, Evicted, and Hillbilly Elegy. Minimum wage is a hot debate right now. Cost of living keeps going up while basic wages don’t. Sure most teenagers don’t need to be paid $15/hour for their summer jobs, but some entry level jobs support families of 4 or more. Americans living below the poverty line cannot solve the problem by working harder and saving more. I admit I am a bleeding heart liberal, but I was raised to believe hard work can solve all of your problems. These 3 books were startling eye openers about poverty and the factors that often create a perfect storm.
I would like to offer the old saying: you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got. Ignoring other people, lifestyles, cultures around you out of ignorance is not ok. I encourage you to pick up one of these books to see where you might some similarities to your story. We are all more alike than we are different.
If you choose to pick these books up I would love to hear about it. Just a reminder I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a commission if you click through any of the links in this post and make a purchase. In the meantime, think about your answer to Fundamental Reading Question #2. Tell me what books do YOU think everyone should read?