Suspend Your Disbelief

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One book to rule them all


A recent discussion on the community blog Metafilter asked, “Please tell me one book you think everyone should read and why. Fiction or nonfiction, doesn’t matter. I’m not so interested in hearing about your favorite book or your desert island book, but a book you think everyone would benefit from reading.”

In a matter of hours, over a hundred people responded with their recommendations. Many suggested nonfiction—from Richard Dawkins to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond to The Art of War to the Bible—but surprise! Many others felt that the one book everyone should read would be fiction.

Here’s a sampling of novels and collections recommended by posters as the One Book, and why. Notice anything?

  • Where I’m Calling From, by Raymond Carver (“Honed gems of short stories about the human condition” and “Wonderful insights into human behavior, in some cases simply within a drunken conversation. They show us what we’re capable of.”)
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller (“It portrays the inescapable absurdity and irrationality of life, and different ways human beings can respond to that. Hilariously, and movingly.”)
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus (“It is, for me, a How To Survive as a Member of A Larger Society Handbook.”)
  • The Good Earth by Pearl Buck and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (“These beautifully written novels (the latter is practically musical) are entirely different, yet comparably profound explorations of human desire, motivation, and angst”)
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (“Because most of us are invisible. And if we are not, we should try to understand the invisible ones.”)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (“to hopefully begin a dialogue on race and class matters, and how much (or how little) has changed since the book was written in 1960”)

All of these suggestions look at fiction as a way to explore and understand our humanness and our place in the larger world. I’m not sure I could name One Book Everyone Should Read, but I’d agree that few things can explore the human condition better, and more lastingly, than fiction.

What would you recommend as the one book everyone should read, and why?

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