Ten Books to Read Before You Die

I’m not altoGETHer sure how I feel about the trend in “before you die” books. They’re kind of fun in their own way, but I keep feeling these authors are missing something fairly basic. I’m not planning to die. I can’t fit it into my schedule.

Anyway, suppose I gave you a list and you read the ten books and then you died? I’d feel AWFUL (in most cases.)

Furthermore, MY customers are not allowed to a) die or b) buy just ten books. I thought you knew that.

A lot of people, though, do come to me and ask me to recommend a book. Sometimes they phrase it “So what are you reading these days?” This is a bad way to start. I happen to be one of those people who have seven or eight books sitting around with bookmarks in them so I can leap from one to another when my interest lags. Their eyes lose focus and they start to shuffle their feet as I say, “The Lord of the Rings, Murder Must Advertise, The Satyricon, The Case of the Cautious Coquette, The Encyclopedia of Marvel Superheroes, a book where I can’t remember the author or title but he was really famous for writing nasty political humor in the 1840s, How To Write Bad Hymns, Watership Down, and Volume 8 of Who Was Who in America.”

I don’t like recommending books in any case, because I’ve had books recommended to me, and I know how it works out. One of my volunteers adored biographies but she didn’t like them with a lot of scandal or unpleasantness. She liked books about people who DID things, she said. I read a couple of the books she recommended and found she liked people who did things which could be described at great length in rather long, uninteresting chapters. (She didn’t recommend it, but the most disappointing autobiography I ever read was At Random, by Bennett Cerf. The man refused to say an unpleasant word about any person he named in the whole book. Mine won’t be like that.)

There was another volunteer who liked to give me books which would make me write the sort of novels she wanted to read. “Here,” she said, “This will give you an idea of what you could do if you put your mind to it.” Once she gave me a book she’d liked halfway through: “See how you would have written the ending,” she said. “You’d’ve done much better.”

I even have one volunteer who likes to give me books she hates. “Here,” she said, just last week. “Here’s a book where chapter five is completely wrong-headed and infuriating. Read it and see what you think.” Why, oxtail croquette, would I want a book that’s wrong-headed and infuriating when I have you?

So don’t look to me for a list of things to read before you die. If you want my advice (and if you do, you need someone else’s advice really quick) I think you should read as many books as you can find time for before you die. Some of them will be worth it. Others may make dying more attractive. 

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