Are you ready for the 30 book challenge? If you haven't seen it on social media yet, there's a new meme making the rounds related to Marie Kondo and her Tidying Up show on Netflix. Apparently, she feels people ideally should have fewer than 30 books. Crazy, huh?
Now, I've got to admit I've watched a few episodes with my wife and kids. The overall premise of tidying up and cutting out clutter is actually pretty refreshing. And I enjoy learning a new way to fold clothes and organize my kitchen utensils. But I've also got to admit there's no way I'm ever going to have fewer than 30 books in my house.
(Also, before you get too fired up at Kondo, check out this article that explains she believes there are times when it makes sense to keep more than 30 books.)
That said, let's play a game in which we try to list out the 30 books we'd definitely keep. You can play along in the comments below or on social media with the #30BookChallenge hashtag. It'll be fun (and probably painful)...but mostly fun (and mostly painful). I've included my list below (in no particular order).
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The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Okay, this super slim book may be my absolute favorite. I've given copies to friends and family and read it every year or two (and always get something out of it). So yeah, this story of a man stranded in the desert with a prince from another planet is going to make the cut.
Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
I've never read this book from cover to cover. But I've poem-jumped (new verb!) through it since high school. And since I have hundreds of poetry collections in my office, I know that I'm going to have to swing big with my poets.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare
Am I cheating by including this huge volume of Shakespeare's works? Probably, probably. But the rules are the rules, and I have a huge book that gets all my Shakespeare together in one place. Did I mention my youngest son is named after the Bard?
The Holy Bible, by Various Writers
I'm not here to tell anyone what they should or should not include on their own 30 book challenge lists, but the Bible makes mine easily. Even if you take faith out of the equation, which I admit is hard to do, this is a book filled with books (stories, advice, and even poetry).
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
I think everyone's 30 book challenge list is (or should be) something deeply personal and specific to each lover of books. Such is the case for this novel/collection of short fictions by Anderson, who was born in Camden, Ohio. And yes, I may give it more credit for being by an author from my region. But truly, it is a great book too.
Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Some people may ask how I can put Cat's Cradle on the same list as the Holy Bible. To them, I'd say that I'm just a complicated person. I don't know that I really am. But I do recognize that I live in a complicated world with many complicated truths. I love Vonnegut's stories, and this is probably my favorite.
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
Everything about this book is brilliant. The subject matter. The concise chapters with multiple narrators, including a chapter that just says, "My mother is a fish." Even the title of the book is a sad statement and joke. For me, this is the best of Faulkner.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
I've always linked this novel to The Great Gatsby. Not because of subject matter, but because of the beautiful writing. For me, this novel wins the competition, though Gatsby is an amazing book (maybe THE Great American novel). But this is my list.
Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
Speaking of beautiful writing, there are passages in Blood Meridian that just take my breath away. And that's juxtaposed against a violent and chaotic world in which anything can happen at any moment. And when I finished it, I knew I'd read a great book.
'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King
Before I'd read anything by King, I was warned by multiple readers of The Shining. Great book. Scary, for sure. But the book that terrified me more than any other ever was 'Salem's Lot. As a writer, I love the framing device for this novel, but it's really the vampires that got me.
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Great books spark great emotions! Lord of the Flies depressed me more than any other novel ever. And I read it later in life (after Orwell, Bradbury, and Huxley). For many, I'm sure that will keep this book off their lists. But it makes mine, though I may need to use The Little Prince as a chaser.
1984, by George Orwell
As long as we're falling into a bottomless pit of despair, let's break out this novel. As a hopeless romantic, 1984 beats out all other dystopian novels because of the relationship between Winston and Julia. Plus, this novel contributes several slick phrases still in use today like Big Brother, doublethink, and 2 + 2 = 5.
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
I'm a sucker for a compelling narrator. For me, Holden Caulfield is a compelling narrator who hooked me from his opening 63-word sentence. He rambles, raves, and makes a fool of himself at times. But he's also incredibly honest and human.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Speaking of novels that are incredibly honest and human, Watership Down reveals so much human nature in what I consider the greatest adventure story ever written. And he does it with a cast of characters that are mostly...umm...rabbits. But don't let these cute and furry woodland creatures deceive you, the stakes are as high as they get in this novel.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
A complicated love/ghost story in a foreign land? Sign me up. Each character appears caught in a trap between what they want and what they can conceivably obtain. And nothing is as easy as it could be, which is what kept me reading.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
A complicate love/ghost story in a foreign land? Seems like I just got done saying that. Oh yeah, but A Christmas Carol transcends romantic or obsessive love. In this novel, Ebenezer Scrooge learns to love his fellow travelers on the planet. There's a reason why there are so many versions of this classic tale.
Selected Writings, by Edgar Allan Poe
Notice I didn't specify stories OR poems. Because I have a collection that includes both! I've always loved Poe's unreliable narrators and dark settings. But it's a crime to overlook his incredibly lyrical and intricate poetry. Regardless of who he was as a person, Poe was a true master of writing.
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
I admit that it was a challenge to figure out which Steinbeck novel I'd pick. There are so many good ones. But I chose Of Mice and Men, because I love the simple and complicated relationship between Lennie and George. And if there's a more tragic story, I don't know what it is. Plus, rabbits!
Selected Poems, by Anne Sexton
This 30 book challenge is tough! It hurts my head and heart (and soul) to pick one poet over another, but Anne Sexton works her way on my list. I'm not even going to start naming the poets I had to snub, because that list alone is more than 30. But my list has probably already revealed that I like romantic writing and dark writing, and Sexton does both.
Selected Poems and Letters, by Emily Dickinson
From one Massachusetts poet to another, I suppose. Dickinson is a champion of all writers who claim to "write for themselves." She published fewer than a dozen poems during her lifetime. It wasn't until a few years after her death that a collection appeared, and she's remained in print ever since.
Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett
I love a great short story. And there are so many collections I had to leave off this list (Barth's Lost in the Funhouse, Hemingway's In Our Time, Moore's Birds of America, Joyce's Dubliners, and so many more). In Ship Fever, I love the history, the science, and the stories. These are worlds I enter and wish I didn't have to leave.
The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Susan Harris
This poetry anthology sticks out for me because of the time AND destinations covered. So many nationalities and voices are represented in this collection, and I often turn to it when I want to find a fresh voice or perspective.
Solving the World's Problems, by Robert Lee Brewer
Is it bad that I'm including my own book on this list? Maybe. Okay, probably. But hey, it's my list, and I have more than 40 unique books on my shelves with my name on the spine...so I'm going to pick the one that I care about the most. And it's this slender selection of lyric poems. I apologize for the faux pas.
The Harry Potter series (all 7 books), by J.K. Rowling
I thought about picking one or two of the books. But they build on each other in a way that I feel like I'm doing a disservice to cut any of them out. So they're all included, and all of a sudden I have my 30 books. Say what?!?
Going through this process confirmed something that I already knew to be true. There's no freaking way I'd ever be able to do this in real life. I'm all for cutting down on my clothing, the junk in my garage, and appliances in the kitchen. But things are going to get real if you try taking my books.
That said, which books made your 30? Or do you think you can cut it down even more? Let me know in the comments below or on social with the #30BookChallenge hashtag.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, specifically working on the Market Books, WritersMarket.com, and maintaining the Poetic Asides blog. He loves his books, whether they're on shelves or stacked in random piles around his house. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.