Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Are these the books everyone should read?

Heavens, no. There are many books not listed by The Greatest Literature of All Time that I've enjoyed more, or learned more from, than some books on the list. I imagine this will be most other readers' experience too.

The list is an overview, a guide to help you find good literature. From these you can branch out into all kinds of authors and books that may or may not be on the list.

From time to time, you should also try literature that's entirely unknown to you. Or give a chance to a genre that you always thought was not your kind of thing. You could make wonderful discoveries—about books and about yourself.

Nor do I think anyone must read these books. You should probably try many of them, but I see no benefit to struggling through something you hate or don't feel any connection with. Many older books are considered great because of the effect they had in their own times or because they have influenced thinking that has in turn affected our times, but they may not be easy to appreciate directly today.

Also many modern so-called greats appeal to specific audiences, while leaving others cold. By all means, give each period or genre an honest try, but working at something to the point that you come to dread reading it doesn't help.

Part of the "honest try", by the way, may include finding out more about the literature, the authors and the period. Reading the commentaries on this site, I hope, may be an aid. Check out some critical or biographical works on the writers or some histories of the period. Watch a movie situated in the place or time.

Read the introductions to recently reissued classics. Some are deadly dull, true, but the best intros can put the works in perspectives that make them interesting.

Most importantly though, sample widely. For most of us, learning to enjoy poetry, ancient classics, nineteenth-century Russian novels, and so on, is akin to someone being weaned on pop music but learning to enjoy jazz, folk, country blues or classical music.

Most of us do not grow up with a natural appreciation of diverse forms but the more we are exposed to them and the more we learn about them, the more we "get" them. And some us become rabid fans.

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