If you’re going to let someone tell you how to read, make it Teddy Roosevelt. He managed, somehow, to be incredibly well-read without becoming a book snob, all while president-ing and “carrying a big stick.” (No, that’s not a euphemism.)
Book Riot’s list of Roosevelt’s “Rules” for Reading was cobbled together from passages straight out of his autobiography. The first rule addresses “100 Greatest Books” lists specifically. Says Roosevelt:
It is all right for a man to amuse himself by composing a list of a hundred very good books… But there is no such thing as a hundred books that are best for all men, or for the majority of men, or for one man at all times.
It’s absolutely no surprise that I’m finding these words to be thoroughly accurate—no surprise, that is, not just because Teddy Roosevelt said them, but because they represent some pretty obvious logic. Frankly, I suspect some of the authors I’ve read for The 100 Greatest Books Challenge of trying to write terrible novels (I’m side-eyeing you, Updike). According to some people—many people, even—these books are not just great; they’re among the greatest ever published. In a way, we’re bullied into thinking they have merit even when our eyes and brains tell us otherwise.
I, for one, am taking the most dramatic stand possible: a blog. A blog in which I offer my own rant, rave, or lukewarm review of the world’s classic literature. You’re welcome, Roosevelt. I hereby dedicate this blog post to you and your enormous stick.
The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.
YES. High-five me right now from beyond the grave, OK, Roosevelt? Ugh, you think fist bumps are more masculine? Fine, whatever.
Here’s Roosevelt’s, and my, point: Read whatever you want. Like whatever you want. Accept book recommendations gracefully because they are probably well-intended—and then hate those books if you must. But most importantly, use the word “booklover” regularly in conversation, because it is glorious.