I’m a millennial.
I take WiFi for granted. I love Instagram. I mean, I know what a Walkman is, but my generation had the iPod Classic and there still has yet to exist anything that tops it. (Please don’t tell my mom I said any of that.)
I’m a millennial, but I’m not empty-headed. I grew up in the age of smartphones and social media, but I can still hold a conversation. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many of my peers.
I run the risk of sounding pedantic (ooh, look at that SAT word), but when I begin conversations with others my age, it’s hardly five minutes before I’m faced with the biggest disappointment people my age have to offer:
Nobody. Reads. Books.
It’s bad, folks. We’ve even passed the age of “The Scarlet Letter? Oh yeah, I read that in high school but I don’t remember it.” Now when I bring up any sort of literature I have to brace for questions like, “Who’s Maya Angelou?” Or my personal favorite: “The Great Gatsby was a book?” That particular person didn’t even know there was more than one movie.
Yes, the world is faster and smarter and busier than it’s ever been. But if we forget the importance of committing to a book, if we discredit the necessity of exercising our imaginations, if we shirk the responsibility to inform ourselves of the stories of those who’ve come before us…well then we’ve failed the ones who’ve made this world possible.
The good news is that books are still here. They’re not going away. And at least at the time of this writing they haven’t started banning them again. It’s not too late to pick one up and be amazed at how cool it is to be swept away by mere words on a page.
So for anyone (or anyone’s friend) who wants to simultaneously increase their understanding of the world and become instantly more attractive, here are my suggestions.
There are hundreds more, and taste in books is wildly subjective, but these five floored me.
1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This is the first book I ever read that showed me the power of the written word. It has changed not only the way I read, but the way I think, the way I hope, and the way I live. And it’s readable in one or two days.
It’s a great conversation starter, too. Its gradual journey from “reality” to pure magic challenged me to see in my own life what had always been there but, for some reason or another, had not been visible to me. Namely, the enormous potential of the human spirit. If we cared as much about that as we do about our material success…well, read and you’ll find out.
2. 1984 by George Orwell
I’ve read this book more than any other. I believe I’m about to start on my sixth time through, and I know it’s going to be just as shocking, just as riveting, and just as timely as ever, if not more so.
Stories are cool. Really fantastical stories in fictional universes are captivating. But a story in a world that isn’t ours…but could be? That’s perhaps the best story of all.
And I’ll never get tired of what has become my favorite opening line:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
This is what I call a perfect novel. And I am sure I don’t just speak for myself.
It’s about family. It’s about love. It’s about time. It’s about hate. It’s about revenge. It’s about growth.
It’s about people.
It’s hard to choose just one of Steinbeck’s many classics (get your hands on Travels with Charley and Of Mice and Men whenever possible), but this one stands out as a true epic. One where, each time you read it, you seem to unearth a little bit more of its meaning, and in the process dig up a little bit more about yourself as well.
4. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
This one’s a beast.
It’s a good deal more than 1,000 pages, and it’s probably my favorite book of all time.
The government and the citizens are at odds, and it’s only getting worse. Classism is creating enemies out of neighbors. Fear is threatening to reign.
No it was not written recently. It just seems that history as a way of…what’s the saying again?
And if you are already a fan of the hit Broadway musical, consider this reading mandatory. Also, if you’re a fan of a love story that explores love in its many different forms, read this, too. Actually, just everyone read this. It’s worth every word.
Please don’t let Russell Crowe scare you away.
5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
I recently sent a spit sample to the labs of 23andMe and two weeks later got my genealogical results: “100% European”.
I am a blonde, blue-eyed, white male in the USA. I have an enormous amount of privilege, and I am taking responsibility for that more every day. Because there are other boys just like me in this country who have the same dreams and work even harder to achieve them, but have already been shot for something I’ve never thought twice about.
This book is important. This book is enlightening. This book is jarring. And it is necessary.
Beyond that, I will just say: read it now.