10 Books I Pretend to Have Read

After I finished the "10 books that have influenced my life" challenge last week, a friend commented he was thinking of starting a "10 books I pretend to have read" meme.

Since I know he's a busy guy, I thought I'd better help him out.

In that spirit, here's the list of books it seems like everyone else read in high school or college, but which I was never required to read and never got around to reading on my own.

I'll share my hunch of what the books are about, then I'll include the Wikipedia synopsis of the book after I've Googled it.

I invite you, readers, to tell me which ones on this list I really ought to read.

1. Fahrenheit 451

Hunch: Based solely on the cover design, since I know literally nothing else about it, I'd say this book has something to do with censorship.
Wikipedia result: "The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and 'firemen' burn any that are found. The title refers to the temperature that Bradbury understood to be the autoignition point of paper."

2. Animal Farm

Hunch: I think this book is an allegory about the chaos of political ideologies.
Wikipedia result: "Animal Farm is an allegorical and dystopian novel by George Orwell, published in England on August 17, 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalin era in the Soviet Union. Orwell, a democratic socialist, was a critic of Joseph Stalin and hostile to Moscow-directed Stalinism, an attitude that was critically shaped by his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. The Soviet Union, he believed, had become a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality and enforced by a reign of terror. In a letter to Yvonne Davet, Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin ('un conte satirique contre Staline'), and in his essay 'Why I Write' (1946), he wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he had tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, 'to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.' "

3. 1984

Hunch: It's perhaps a bit unfair to pick this one, because the concept is so culturally pervasive. That said, my hunch is this also is a dystopian novel, and it's about Big Brother taking over all aspects of Western life.
Wikipedia result: "Nineteen Eighty-Four, sometimes published as 1984, is a dystopian novel by George Orwell published in 1949. The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government's invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as 'thoughtcrimes.' The tyranny is epitomized by Big Brother, the quasi-divine party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist."

4. The Jungle

Hunch: I do know a little, tiny bit about this book because of a research paper I did on "yellow journalism" during college, but it's really fuzzy in my memory. I am pretty sure it's an expose on the meatpacking industry. 
Wikipedia result: "The Jungle is a 1906 novel written by the American journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968). Sinclair wrote the novel to portray the lives of immigrants in the United States in Chicago and similar industrialized cities. Many readers were most concerned with his exposure of health violations and unsanitary practices in the American meatpacking industry during the early 20th century, based on an investigation he did for a socialist newspaper."

5. Catch-22

Hunch: Because I know this title is where the saying "catch-22" comes from, I think the book has something to do with an impossible choice. Other than that, I'm clueless.
Wikipedia result: "The novel follows Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occur while the fictional 256th Squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea, west of Italy. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp. It focuses on their attempts to keep their sanity in order to fulfill their service requirements so that they may return home. The phrase 'Catch-22' has entered the English language, referring to a type of unsolvable logic puzzle."

6. War and Peace

Hunch: I think this one might be set during the Crimean War and follow the lives of soldiers and their romantic partners.
Wikipedia result: "War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature. It is considered as Tolstoy's finest literary achievement, along with his other major prose work, Anna Karenina (1873–1877). War and Peace delineates in graphic detail events surrounding the French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families."

7. Crime and Punishment

Hunch: I think this one is about a couple of criminals who did something very minor but were given harsh sentences over it and then subsequently sought revenge. (I have absolutely no idea.)
Wikipedia result: "Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Raskolnikov argues that with the pawnbroker's money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of a worthless vermin. He also commits this murder to test his own hypothesis that some people are naturally capable of such things, and even have the right to do them. Several times throughout the novel, Raskolnikov justifies his actions by comparing himself with Napoleon Bonaparte, believing that murder is permissible in pursuit of a higher purpose."

8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Hunch: I'm pretty sure this is a memoir by Maya Angelou. I don't know any details about it, though.
Wikipedia result: "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the 1969 autobiography about the early years of African-American writer and poet Maya Angelou. The first in a seven-volume series, it is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. The book begins when three-year-old Maya and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their grandmother and ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of 16. In the course of Caged Bird, Maya transforms from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice."

9. Lord of the Flies

Hunch: I'm pretty sure this is about what happens after an airplane full of young boys crashes on a deserted island and leaves behind a bunch of survivors. A social hierarchy develops, and I think there might be some murder or cannibalism involved.
Wikipedia result: "Lord of the Flies is a 1954 dystopian novel by Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding about a group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results. ... The book indicates that it takes place in the midst of an unspecified nuclear war. Some of the marooned characters are ordinary students, while others arrive as a musical choir under an established leader. Most (with the exception of the choirboys) appear never to have encountered one another before. The book portrays their descent into savagery; left to themselves in a paradisaical country, far from modern civilization, the well-educated children regress to a primitive state."

10. Slaughterhouse-Five

Hunch: I know this is a work by Kurt Vonnegut. I believe it has something to do with humor and death. It could be anything! 
Wikipedia result: "Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969) is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier named Billy Pilgrim. It is generally recognized as Vonnegut's most influential and popular work. Vonnegut's use of the firebombing of Dresden as a central event makes the novel semi-autobiographical, as he was present during the bombing."

School me

Based on what you know of my personality, or what I've written in past blog entries, which of the above books do you think I'd actually like to read? Or, if you don't like that question, which one(s) do you consider essential reading material for a well-rounded person? Leave me a comment here or over at my Facebook page, Rachel E. Watson.

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Zach Vinson said...

Farenheit 451 is great (from what I remember a few years ago), and a short enough read that it's not a huge commitment. Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five both fill the same space in my head of books that are hilarious (especially Catch 22) but also disturbingly graphic at times. And if you're going to commit to a big Dostoevsky novel, I think Brothers Karamazov is much more rewarding than C&P...

Rachel E. Watson said...

Oh wow, I had no idea Catch-22 was actually *funny.* Might be worth a read, then. Vonnegut would be an easy place to start, because my husband owns several of his books.

And, I am thankful to say that I have for sure read The Brothers Karamazov, and it was verrry good. As you say, it was hard to read quickly, but worth the time investment.

Sarah Mascara said...

Rachel, you MUST read "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Do it now!

I read "1984" for the first time a few months ago, and it's easily the most depressing book I've ever read. And that includes books by Albert Camus.

I've read five of the books on your list, and if I could only pick one to read again, it would be Maya's, without question. Read it!

Rachel E. Watson said...

Cool, good to know, Sarah! Thanks!