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What to Make Of Booklists

A novel begins on a solitary path. It exists in the mind of its author. Then it goes public and shares the open road with readers. Each book tacks according to theme, nuance, context, tone, character, and plot.

Booklists, on the other hand, slouch toward Calvinism. They provoke guilt. They beg repentance. Before we even pick up such a list, we know there will be many books we did not read. Many we will never read, no matter our intentions.

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The last thing we want to do with the two lists in today's section is make anyone feel guilty about what they haven't read.

Take a look at the two lists. Treat the books that you have read like an old friend, someone you share insights with on the passage of time, or more pointedly, the irrelevance of time.

And the unread books? Put them on a mental shelf for good conversations. Someday, you might try one because it will take you to interesting places.

In high school, I threw off the yoke of booklists. I did this by reading Shakespeare. No book on any list rivals the Bard. He is the best. Whether I was assigned "A Tale of Two Cities," or chuckled at Mad magazine on the bus, having read Shakespeare, I brought more to what I read and took more from what I read.

Inside books dwell good guys and bad guys. There is love, romance, nobility, honor, courage, and all the wild things of nature. Also lurking in the pages are anarchy, tragedy, despair, absurdity, love lost, and death.

Shakespeare held a mirror to life. Reading anything the way I read him is so much more enjoyable than having my eyes pedal through a book because it sits on a list.

* Comments or questions? Write to Ideas Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail

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