Pick nine, only nine

From the NYT Lede blog:

The president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, is trying to encourage more of her citizenry to read books by giving boxes of as many as nine books
to 400,000 poor families, according to The Economist. The big question,
of course, is which nine books, exactly? The London-based weekly
newsmagazine said Chile’s selected titles, like “The Catcher in the
Rye” by J.D. Salinger and “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, were
“unexceptionable fare.”

How about you? If you had to fill a box with nine books that
everyone ought to have, what would they be? What if you had to pick
just one work of literature?

Wow. Nine and only nine. What a concept! Should one go for the lofty and cerebral? The literary and timeless? The uproariously funny?

Here’s my stab at a list, which I’m sure I’ll revise mentally many many times, especially immediately after posting it:

  1. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond does an excellent job of explaining European world dominance and historical patterns from a science-based, non-racist perspective… and is a lively good read to boot. Really, if I could get the ideas from only one book widely disseminated planet-wide, it would have to be this one.
  2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez goes all over the place in a gorgeous, profane, heartbreakingly beautiful sprawl, yet is tightly written enough that not one word, one spectral appearance is wasted.
  3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is really more like "the one book people should read so they can really Understand My Unique Temperament," but, yeah. ‘S good.
  4. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Some people have complained that this book is depressing; I would argue, rather, that the truth (about the selfish nature of our evolutionary impulses) will set us free.
  5. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, because everybody should know about cooking and enjoying good food. (Also now available in a vegetarian version! Because meatless can be delicious, oh yes it can, and that’s quite enough from the peanut gallery, Mr. Beloved Sweetie.)
  6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams in a convenient omnibus edition containing all five novels in the series. Who else could deal with life’s philosophical quandaries so deftly, and with such a deliciously absurd British flair?
  7. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages in the edition and binding of your choice. ‘Cause nobody loves a philistine.
  8. Material World by Peter Menzel, for an appreciation of the similarities and differences throughout the human family. Also, looking at the photos of the possessions of the family in bullet-riddled Sarajevo makes your own too-small, cluttered, even funny-smelling surroundings seem positively palatial in comparison. Also, what you learn from this book is that the contentedest-looking people in the whole world live in Iceland.
  9. The Oxford English Dictionary, or at least one of its sturdy smaller siblings, such as the American Heritage Dictionary (my favorite: pretty pictures!). Precision in word choice is the beginning of precision in understanding. Or something.

And you? I’m so tempted to tag here, despite my fear of calling anyone out by name, but rest assured that this is one in upon which I most heartily encourage y’all to weigh.

Also: I have joined the Powell’s Partner Program (P-P-P-hat!) and am now linking to their inventory items exclusively in new posts. I’ll go back and update the old ones someday, maybe, if I get time and the inclination, so probably not. Anyway, just remember that you can keep two hapless unschooled children from being completely unprepared for the future… as long as you Shop Pic-Dem ™!


About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
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5 Responses to Pick nine, only nine

  1. Amy Sorensen says:

    THis is an intriguing idea…I’m going to think about it. That said, I am giggling at your description of The Bell Jar, as that is how I relate to it, too. I occasionally have a Random Esther Image pop into my head, her dropping all her clothes off the balcony in NY, or trying to drown with that mantra keeping her afloat, or stuck in the crawl space. Anyway. There is a link on my blog to a little Shakespeare bit that I think you would like!

  2. Magpie Ima says:

    Hmmmm….nine books that *everyone* should read? I’m much better off with one of those desert island scenarios where I would choose the books I would want to have. Are we talking about an English speaking audience? The titles listed by The Economist seem kind of weird to me, but what do I know about what Chileans read though I’m guessing Neruda over Kafka.
    I think some version of the Bible would be a reasonable thing for much of the word to have on hand (I’d choose the JPS Tanakh). I like the suggestions of the Gardner art book and Material World. A Shakespeare Collection? A big old Norton anthology of literature? A one volume encyclopedia? Too hard to narrow down the choices with a head cold!

  3. azureavian says:

    ok, this may just be too hard. on one hand–*everyone* should read? on the other–just nine!?!
    i can’t think of just nine books in my library that encompasses what i think my children should know, much less everyone.
    tentative to add to list, tho:
    –Gray’s Anatomy
    –Boy Scouts complete guide (must be an older edition as the new ones are missing some actual, useful information)
    –any really complete first aid book
    –any survival or how-to book on communes from the 60s or 70s
    –Devils, Drugs & Doctors, a book on the history of medicine and the medical avocation. worth its weight in silver just for the understanding of where we came from and how much better our understanding of what is good in medicine and what is useless.
    –the book from the series Angel, the one that pulls up any book you want if you can just name it. yeah, that one.
    let me think about it and if i come up with a good enough list, i’ll post it in my journal.

  4. JJ Ross says:

    Here’s mine, not nine they all “should read” but rather, nine they “get to” read. 🙂
    Good list and good meme, RedMolly!

  5. Choose Nine Books for Your GiftBox

    Books to give, that is, not books you want to get and read. Red Molly explains it here, and Im taking up her challenge, rare for me but how can an old librarian resist a BOOK meme??
    (If you take on the challenge too, please leave a link here so…

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