To Read or Not to Read (Off of Recommended Reading Lists)…


I am currently in the middle of a reading revival, and one that I hadn’t even known I’d needed because I hadn’t realized (at least not for a very long time) that anything was lacking or lackluster or generally uninspiring in my reading life before.

As I’ve mentioned before (like here and here and here), I have this “thing” about recommended reading lists—

I’m OBSESSED with them.

I have kept every single recommended reading list ever given to me (starting with my sophomore Honors English teacher), and I have printed off scads of other ones in the years since, including the list of all Pulitzer Prize winners, all Newbery Awards books & finalists, and even all the books listed on the Rory Gilmore challenge. And for over ten years now (ever since I got this particular list from my AP Lit teacher), I have had the life goal of reading every work on the 100 Most-Recommended Classics list.

I always knew I had a problem with lists, but I didn’t realize until very recently that maybe the lists WERE my problem. I didn’t realize it, in fact, until I noticed that I felt like I was “sneaking” other books (and feeling guilty about it) because I felt I “should” be reading something off of one of my lists instead.


The fact is, I’ve set reading goals for years that involved reading a certain number of books annually off of my lists, which led me to the point I was at until recently where I’d feel all sorts of guilt if I chose to read other stuff that wasn’t “recommended” (read = “literary”). Finally, nearing the end of last year, I’d basically given up my goals with recommended reading lists as a bad job and started reading whatever the heck I felt like, and you know what?

It felt FABULOUS (and just a little indulgent, even).

My “revival” has meant that I’m spending much more time reading than before and finishing books at a much faster pace–last year, I averaged about 2 books a month, and this year, I’m averaging almost a book a WEEK. That translates to more than double of what I was reading before.

(What am I reading now, you wonder? Well, I’m doing this “thing”–because I can’t just read one book at a time–where I read 10 pages out of 4 books on most days (for a total of 40 pages daily). Within those 4 books, I read an adult fiction, a YA fiction, a memoir/biography, and an informational/motivational nonfiction. Because the general categories are pretty different, it helps me to be able to keep the books separate. Anywho, my current reads are Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (memoir/biography), All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (adult fiction), Essentialism by Greg McKeown (inspirational nonfiction), and Icefall by Matthew Kirby (YA fiction).)

Lest you think that I’ve abandoned lists altogether though, I’ll have you know that one of the books I’ve finished this year (The Tale of Despereaux) was a Newbery winner, and one of the books I’m currently reading (All the Light We Cannot See) was a Pulitzer Prize winner–but it feels different than before because I’m reading those books purely because I FEEL like it, not just because they are on some list.

And even though in the end, it will basically amount to probably the same amount read off of my lists as before (and who knows? maybe even more…), I’m sure enjoying it a lot more nowadays because it doesn’t feel like I “have to” anymore.

You know what I mean?

(Actually, you probably don’t. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few people in the world with this particular brand of crazy.)

Do you read books off of lists? Or how do you decide what to read next?