Last week, Time Magazine came out with a list of 35 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime as prescribed by Reddit readers. And while that seems like a pairing to make one’s head cave in from consternation, it actually brought up some interesting ideas. It’s one thing to have a prestigious publication give you a list of the most important books of all time, but it’s quite another to have that list come from eager internet folk. Because while movies and TV definitely dominate most of our lives, books are still an important (if quieter) part of our cultural landscape. We all know that it’s hard to have a conversation these days if you can’t quote The Big Lebowski, or if you don’t have an opinion on the How I Met Your Mother finale. But there are certain books that still influence our everyday lives and conversations, not just for the more literary-minded, but for our world at large. Here are the book equivalents for those overly-referenced shows and movies— the things we know so well we quote them without even realizing we’re doing so.
And you know the drill: add yours at the end, you beautiful bibliophiles. What books do people need to have read to be able to hold even a basic conversation with you?
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
This made Time/Reddit’s list, and while I’m sure there are tons of people (silly people) who wouldn’t count it in their list of the most important books of all time, it is for sure one of the most quotable. If you want to hold your own in a conversation with a pop culture lover (not even a conversation about this book, or any book— JUST ANY CONVERSATION AT ALL— you’ll need to have read this book. 42! Carry a towel! So long, and thanks for all the fish! If these are references you can make, you can stay.
Catcher In the Rye
Luckily you probably read this one in high school, because you really can’t be a functioning adult in the world without an opinion on this book. I’d say I witness at least two parties a year devolve into Lord of the Flies-type cutthroat chaos between the pro-Holdens and the antis. Oh, speaking of…
Lord of the Flies
Hamlet (And a bunch of other Shakespeare plays while you’re at it)
Feeling lethargic? Depressed? Needing to make a decision, but utterly incapable of doing so? Gee, wouldn’t it be great you had a oft-referenced literary figure to compare yourself to? While you’re at it, you may as well read some of Shakespeare’s other stuff. You know, since he invented basically every saying you use all the time anyway.
Yes, you can make references to “Big Brother,” but if you can’t follow it up with some decent doublespeak (or to be able to push up your glasses and point out to the room that Orwell never actually used that word in the book, thank you very much), everyone’s just going to assume all you’re familiar with is the reality show.
Like 1984, sure, it may be enough to be familiar with the term “Kafkaesque,” but you should have some material to back that up. Preferably material that involves a dude turning into a giant bug and scaring the sh*t out of his family.
This one maybe isn’t such a broad everyday necessity, but it’s essential if you want to hold your own with a certain crowd, or catch little inside jokes hidden in basically every TV show ever written by a person who loves Dune, which apparently amounts to every show ever.
Of Mice and Men
Maybe this is just me, in constantly referencing how I’m at risk of “Lennying” my cat with too much affection. So sure, if you want to have a conversation with me about my cat, read Of Mice and Men.
The Great Gatsby
No, the movie doesn’t count. Unless you want people to know that you think Kanye West has direct ties to the Fitzgerald legacy.
The Giving Tree
It’s the best analogy for unbalanced, codependent relationships, and is therefore something you should have in your back pocket.
To Kill a Mockingbird
It’s not just in the last few weeks that this book has become an important prerequisite for everyday conversations. It comes up everywhere. How else are you going to avoid a life of asking kids named Atticus what their names mean, or know why Britta was dressed like a ham on that Halloween episode of Community?
The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings
Another one where you can’t just see the movies. Mostly because you need to be able to hold your own in every conversation you’re bound to encounter about why the movies suck compared to the books. Which they do.
Game of Thrones
This one is more of a life choice. Until the run of HBO’s Game of Thrones is done, you can either be a book reader, or you can cut off all contact with book readers. Those are the only options if you don’t want your SUnday nights to end in fist fights.