“People who have read only one book can be quite dangerous.” Molly Ivins (who illustrated her point with mass murderer Timothy McVeigh—he apparently only read Ayn Rand)
Reading has always been an important part of my life. Dad was a reader. When we went to a used bookstore together, he would buy me something: Robin Hood or Treasure Island, something age appropriate.
Schoolteachers had us read Charles Dickens, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway and Jane Austen. Trying to improve us, high school teachers also assigned The Odyssey and Julius Caesar.
I began college as a math major, but after a year I discovered I could get a degree for reading books I wanted to read, so I became an English Literature major. Some stretching continued as I read assigned books that didn’t interest me. But I also kept reading for fun. I discovered Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Willa Cather, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conon Doyle, and Dorothy Sayers.
Somewhere along the way, my love for Southern Literature led me to Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren, Walker Percy and Clyde Edgerton.
What I mean by “adult reading” has nothing to do with an X-rating. When I was 20, I didn’t have enough life experience or knowledge of world history to understand War and Peace. I do now. I read it a few years ago at the recommendation of Pat Conroy (My Reading Life), and I loved it. I now understand Flannery O’Connor in a way I didn’t as a young man. Moby Dick and Zorba the Greek are great literature because they speak to fundamental issues of life about which most of us are clueless until we reach age 30.
Of course, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm and Death Comes for the Archbishop are easy and good to read at any age. I’ve enjoyed some books when I was a teenager and again as a mature adult.
Additions to the above:
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Night, Elie Wiesel
Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw
The Good Earth, Pearl Buck
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (ghost written—since Malcolm X was dead—by Alex Haley)
The Habit of Being, Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald
The Prince, Machiavelli
The Seven-Story Mountain, Thomas Merton