Have you ever told someone that you like to read and then they immediately respond by asking if you’ve read XYZ books from the Literary Canon? Why is that the response of so many people? “Have you ever read To Kill a Mockingbird?” You mean the same book that almost every student is assigned to read in high school? Don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason why it’s on the Literary Canon list. To Kill a Mockingbird is a work of genius. My counterquestion to you, though, is this: what else of Harper Lee’s work do you enjoy then?
One of the best things that I’ve ever done is starting to read beyond each authors “token” book. Do you remember the Academy Award-winning Brad Pitt and Cat Blanchett movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? I was pretty young when it was first released, but I’ll always remember my mom watching it on repeat. I finally gave it a re-watch a few years ago, but only after I read it first. Originally, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald as part of his collection of stories, Tales of the Jazz Age. I bought the book specifically to read “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but ended up falling in love with his short story-writing. I’ve read The Great Gatsby about ten times at this point, but Tales of the Jazz Age took its place on my list of favorites immediately. If you decide to purchase it, I highly recommend you flip right to “May Day” to experience one of the greatest combinations of characters and in so few pages, nonetheless.
This isn’t the only time I’ve had this experience with an author I love, though. In fact, this has become quite the theme of my reading experience. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is, and always will be, my number-one favorite book. Yes, a literary canon even after I preached about reading beyond that list, but how does one not fall in love with the Mr. Darcy? I love Jane Austen so much that I decided to read her entire collection. It’s not like reading Stephen King who has about sixty novels published, so it’s completely doable. When I got to Emma, I could not believe how funny it is. From already knowing that Clueless was loosely based on Emma, I had a feeling I would like it. I did not expect to love it as much as I did, though. It’s a lighter read than her other novels, but will surely have you chuckling to yourself from behind the book. Ask my sister, she was always the one telling me to be quiet.
Back to my list of favorites though, I believe I get some self-redemption from “the pot calling the kettle black” in regard to my number one favorite book. This is because I actually have two number-one favorite books. I simply can never decide between Pride and Prejudice, as I said, and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Most people, I imagine, immediately thought of Fahrenheit 451 at the mention of Bradbury’s name. I truly believe writing a successful dystopian novel requires a lot of creativity and a very skilled writer, so I understand why it has the amount of acclaim that it does. However, I’m even more impressed by an adult who can write a novel that is meant for adults, but told from the perspective of a child. Maybe it helps that it was technically a fictional autobiography, but I was so enthralled by the writing style that I tore through the book in a matter of days. I think of it along the same lines as The Catcher in the Rye, but less about angst, more about realizing the multiple meanings of life, and without the mention of any prostitutes.
Long story short, if you’re ever looking for your next book, go no further than the list of books you’ve already read. If you’re like me and enjoy hoarding your books, take a stroll over to your bookshelf and pick one to three books you really enjoyed. Do a little research on the authors’ other published works and see if anything catches your eye. You already know that you like their writing style and that they can come up with a plot that will peak your interest. It’ll take you a fraction of the time to pick something out and you might just find your new-favorite book.