Vanity Sized Achievements

A Facebook friend of mine recently linked to Amazon’s List of 100 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Die.

I noticed how many people commented that they’d read many of them, and were pleased with themselves. “I’ve read 60% of the books on this list!” “Great picks.” “Good to see some of my favorites on here.”
So I thought, “Oh, she must have very well-read friends.” Then I clicked on the link to see if I stacked up to her literary standards.

I was astonished. This list is pathetic. Yes, there are some great works of literature on there. Without a doubt. It’s not even up for debate. But anyone who feels proud of themselves for having read “Valley of the Dolls” and “The Hunger Games” should be ashamed of themselves. And I am not trying to denigrate the skills of these authors. They obviously tapped into something the pubic craved, and that takes great talent. These books are also very enjoyable and fun to read.

But what I am saying is that much of what’s on this list (not all) smacks of vanity sizing. In the same way that if I wanted to delude myself, I could feel good about being a size six. Now, I know I am not really a size six. Designers want me to think that so that I will buy the dress. Then I can skip out of the shop feeling confident that I am the same size as Hollywood actresses, which is total bullshit.

This list is not about being well-read. This list is not about being aspirational. These types of lists used to make you think, “Damn. I haven’t read ‘Moby Dick’. I’d better get to it.” But this list is primarily about patting people on the back for ever having picked up a book at all. Amazon’s book editors are literally giving people credit for reading “Goodnight Moon”, a book we all drooled on when we were 6-months-old. “Good for you! You read something! Or at least you gnawed on it at some point!”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I shouldn’t be able to say that I’ve read every book on the “100 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Die” list and I can. For one thing, I really don’t think I’m particularly well-read. For another, I’m not ready to die just yet.


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