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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Best List of Books to Read Before You Die

I have long been a proponent of NOT making lists of the books you should read. In my 10 Rules of Basic RA Service and a few other places I have multiple links that address this issue. Yes, I train people who are helping leisure readers. Yes, my job is to know about all the books so I can help people find the best read for them. And yes, I want to read all the books. But here's the thing, I cannot read all the books and I never will. I have gotten over this, and it was not as hard as we make it.

Our job is to help people find books that are right for them. Most of us also like to read for fun. But, too many of us toxically combine these two truths and turn what we HAVE to read into an anxiety inducing problem that takes over our lives.

I say it over and over, but I know it needs to be repeated-- 1. You can read whatever you want and 2. you are not a better person to librarian if you read more than someone else. This is nonsense. Yes I believe in the work I do and I take it seriously, but it is work. It is not my life or reason for being. It does not define me.

Also, YOU WILL NEVER READ ALL THE BOOKS, SO STOP TRYING! You will never even read all the books you want to read. Get over it. I could go on and on, but below I have compiled a few of my best posts that address this issue from a variety of angles:

  • Here is the link to my popular and helpful [so I've been told] post on handling TBR anxiety. I think this is the first step. Managing your personal stress about all the books you will never get to.
  • The next step is understanding that you can help all the readers without reading all the books as long as you use resources to help you. This is a HUGE focus of my signature training program. The best way to start is to focus on reading ABOUT all the books, instead of trying to read all of them. You actually learn more about who would like the book and why if you read about a book. When you read it, it is easier to get caught up in your own opinions and experience. It takes a lot of practice to extricate yourself as a reader from the process. But, when you read multiple opinions, reviews, reader comments, and articles ABOUT a book, you get a fuller picture and can actually help more readers connect to it. Click here for one of my many posts on this topic. And also here for my 10 Rules of Basic RA, of which many delve into this more.
  • There is also the issue of shaming others about how many more books you have read than them. It should be clear from the bullet points above that I don't care how many you read. And if I don't care, the leading provider of RA training in the country, who are you trying to impress? Seriously. Take a step back and check yourself. No one cares how many books you have read. And, furthermore, as I have established above, it doesn't make you better at your job.
But all of this work I have done over many years has never stopped the books you "should" read debate, and I am sick of it!

You should read whatever you want for whatever reason you want. And, just because you are a library worker or bookish person, you are not above others. We spend so much time shaming people for what they like to read-- especially genre readers-- and I am never here for this behavior. No matter what anyone wants to read, they should read it. End of sentence.

We are not the reading police. We should not be gatekeepers. We are simply guides, matching people with their best read. I explain it to library workers this way: your goal should be to have every single book in your collections checked out at the same time. Obviously this is impossible, but that is what you should be striving for. This means not only are you working to match people with books, but also that your collection is responsive to what they actually want to read. It is a whole library effort.

In my first rule of RA Service, I have long held up this excellent list of the books you "should" read. It is all about serendipity or based on what you want to read. It is 28 examples. But just the other day, I was alerted to this even better list of the Books Your Should Read Before You Die over on Twitter:

Click here to see the tweet
The image reads:

List of Books to Read Before You Die
  1. Any book you want
  2. Don't read books you don't want to read
  3. That's it
  4. Congratulations you did it
There is a comment: "I really like this list. All my favorite books are on it."
And a second comment: " Thanks! I worked really hard on it."

[Thanks to Twitter handle Library_Kevin for positing it and my colleague and LibraryReads Board MemberJoe Jones, for getting it into my timeline.] 

While this list is not perfect, the sentiment is EXACTLY what I have been trying to get across to all of us for years. Print this out, book mark it, whatever it takes to remind yourself  that we are not saving the world here, we are simply making it a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Read what you want. Stop making rules and judgments about what we should read. 

I hope all of the links here today will help you help yourself first, so that you can then pass this healthier attitude on to your colleagues and patrons. 

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