This is a topic that most students have VERY STRONG OPINIONS about, and most non-students think are primarily self-inflicted.
In this case, we'll be looking at the concept of other people telling you what you should or shouldn't read. I can't say I have STRONG OPINIONS about this (not being a student) but at one point in my studenting days, I absolutely did have strong feelings on the subject. At the time, I'm not sure I could have explained why.
Some book stores have "must read" lists. In the case of pushier franchises, like Barnes and Noble, they have a list of "books you should have read by now" just to guilt you into buying/reading those books. (Out of the 25 on B&B's list, I've read 3, and have absolutely no desire to read the rest.) Powell's "25 Books to Read Before you Die" is a little less accusatory, and also a little more well-rounded, including books that don't necessarily fall into the "classics" category.
The problem I personally have with a lot of these "must read" lists from what are intended to be authoritative sources (like stores and schools) is that about 80% of the books are dystopian or otherwise explicitly depressing; books like 1984 and A Brave New World are about the world being terrible and there being no point to fighting. Books like Lord of the Flies and Atlas Shrugged are about how humanity is terrible. A lot of the rest, like Jane Eyre and Walden are either boring as anything or straight-up unpleasant to read. (Don't even get me started on Moby Dick.)
My point is that the majority of "authoritative" reading lists are chock full of books that no one actually enjoys. And maybe they have important messages or the prose is really powerful, but when those messages and that power are used to make you feel like the worst person ever is it really worth the effort?
Next there are a million and one reading/book blogs (like this one) that make it their business to tell you what's worth reading. Some even do a regular post summarizing which books you should definitely read out of their reading lists.
These, I think, are the most helpful, since they're not trying to guilt you into purchasing their goods, but rather giving pointers to books you might enjoy if you like the things they usually read - but isn't that a roll already filled by their regular reviews?
Ah, you say, but this has all the information in one spot so that the people who don't actually read all the blog posts can still benefit from the blogger's hard work!
True enough, but how do they know that their taste and that of the blogger overlap if they don't read the blog?
There are definitely pros and cons to both sides, so here's my thought on the matter:
Lists are good for general reference, but once you start feeling like a Slave to the List, then that boat has sailed and it's time to move on to something you actually want to do. Reading is educational and excellent for broadening your horizons, but if you're not enjoying yourself, then there's probably a better book out there for you, and it might not be on this list.
That's all for now, Inklings. Let me know in the comments what you think about reading lists. Are they helpful for you, or did you (like me) avoid them like the plague?