We all know that the concept is flawed at best. I mean, after all, do you really need an editor behind a computer screen in New York to tell you what books you should read this week, this year, or even this century? And yet those lists are so much fun, if no other reason than for the debates they provoke.
Newsweek has a new one out this week, this one called "Fifty Books for Our Times." Of course, as the Newsweek editors themselves point out, "No one needs another best-of list telling you how great 'The Great Gatsby' is." But what is useful, they argue, "in a world with precious little time to read (and think), is to know which books – new or old, fiction or nonfiction – open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways."
So in that spirit they offer their 50 titles, ranging from Trollope (because his novel "The Way We Live Now" has a "Madoff-before-Madoff" character) to "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film" by David Thomson ("If you don't argue with Thomson on just about every other page, then you aren't paying attention.")
In between there are some titles you could have guessed would appear ("Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe, "Underworld" by Don DeLillo) and others you might not ("Cotton Comes to Harlem" by Chester Himes, "Disrupting Class" by Clayton Christensen.)
You could argue (or I could, anyway) as to whether "Frankenstein" or Rudyard Kipling's "Kim" are books that you really must read "now," but of course arguing is the whole point of the list. And there are some recommendations ("Random Family" by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, "The Unsettling of America" by Wendell Berry) that are likely to send readers off on unexpected but very worthwhile journeys.
If you take a look at the Newsweek list, be sure to read all the way to the end. Then click on their "Top 100 Books: The Meta-List." This one is guaranteed to keep you debating (and reading) for a very long time.