On Sunday a follower on Twitter hit me up for my opinion about the Huffington Post’s list of 30 Books You Should Read Before 30. After taking a look at the article, my response was a resounding “meh.”
At first I didn’t really want to get into why the list didn’t move me, in part because it’s hard to articlulate my thoughts on Twitter without getting rant-y. However, I’m known for not being able to keep my mouth shut when it comes to offering my opinion, which was this: these types of lists are pointless, because A. there are literally too many books out there and B. whichever books they choose are not going to meet the needs of wide swaths of readers out there.
I think it would have been helpful if there was a disclaimer that ‘these are the books that would fit for this particular audience’. As a black woman and as a reader, I think the list got some of the books right, but it could have used a little bit more seasoning and representation from authors of color. I think they were on point with Toni Morrison’s Song of Soloman and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”, but if I was putting together that list, I would throw some Zora Neale Hurston in there, some of Baldwin’s essays, some Edwidge Danticat, some Langston Hughes, some Maya Angelou, some Assata Shakur, some Octavia Butler, some Edward P. Jones, some Tayari Jones, some Chinua Achebe. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I wasn’t the only person who thought the list was dry – author Junot Diaz pointed out that he felt some folks were missing from the listing in this Facebook post – and I’m not nearly as well read as he. It might seem like no big deal, but as Vida stats and this count by critic Roxane Gay point out, there is a need for literary institutions and criticism to do a better job of being inclusive to books and writers outside of the mainstream experience. As America becomes browner and more diverse it only makes sense for literature to reflect those changes.
The point is, these lists need to be clear about who they are talking to. I get that it is targeted to 20-30 somethings, but we are a vast and multicultural group with vast and multicultural tastes and lives and we deserve discussions around literature that are far more robust.