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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Seven paragraphs to read if you want to

I should probably spend less time thinking about stupid clickbait listicles that mention Jane Austen. My mental health would improve. My blood pressure would drop. Birdies would sing and flowers would bloom.

 

But then along comes a piece headlined “7 Classics Every Woman Should Read,” and I just can’t help myself.

 

It’s not that I dislike the books on this list, compiled by the English-language Indian news channel WION. On the contrary: I consider four of them (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Mrs. Dalloway) to be stone-cold masterpieces and the remaining three (Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Bell Jar) to be excellent novels. Heck, you could probably talk me into moving Little Women and To Kill a Mockingbird onto the masterpiece list.

 

Rather, my objections are twofold:

 

1. Could we please stop telling people that they “should” read particular titles? Pride and Prejudice is funny. The Handmaid’s Tale is a page-turner. Mrs. Dalloway is shatteringly beautiful. Why turn engrossing, transformative literary experiences into homework assignments? Read ‘em if you want to! But if not, there are lots of great books out there—read one of those instead!

 

2. Could we please stop pigeonholing titles by gender? Sure, all these books were written by female authors and feature female protagonists—but so what? You never see a list of “7 Classics Every Man Should Read,” headed by the Iliad, Crime and Punishment, and The Lord of the Rings. Women aren’t the only people who can benefit from reading books by and about women! Women's experiences are human experiences! Great literature is for everyone!

 

OK, I’m done now. Taking deep breaths. Counting to ten. May go reread Mrs. Dalloway—but only because I want to.

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