A few weeks ago, my mom and I went to the Art Institute of Chicago for a little field trip. We dropped into Cauleen Smith’s exhibit Human_3.0 Reading List while we were there and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In the exhibit, Smith offers a proposed canon of literature for the modern human. Some of my favorites included Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, Cruising Utopia by José Esteban Muñoz, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Weighty, important, academic books.
The whole thing got me thinking: what would be on my human reading list? There’s a part of me that’s very hesitant to answer that question since I’m like the least qualified person to encompass human experience (no pressure). But it’s also interesting to think about which texts have been paramount to my experience as a person and what I believe is profound enough to share with others.
What I like most about the exhibit is it’s sense of other worldliness – what kind of world would be in if the books she proposed were truly the canon of our time? If more people of color, more women, more queer people, more trans people, more non-binary people were regularly represented in main stream culture? Frankly, I’d like to find out.
Smith’s selections feel both widely prominent and deeply personal. Although I’m not sure I can speak to a larger audience, a few texts that come to mind as being part of my own personal reading list are…
- How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
To be honest, I’m sort of surprised by some of my choices (and flinched a little every time I wrote down a book written by a white guy), but it was an interesting exercise to see what struck me as both personally important and significant on a human level. I’m also curious how different this list will be in ten years, too.
It also got me thinking about what needed to be added to my own list – more authors of color, more academic books, more books from other countries. I’ve been in sort of a reading rut lately, so maybe this is the inspiration I need to dive back in!
So, I’m asking – what would be on your list? I think I’m going to start asking people in my life what their books would be – I’ll update this post as I get some answers and feel free to add yours in the comments. 🙂 It’s kind of fun to browse your bookshelf and see what jumps out at you, even if you haven’t picked it up in years.
If you’re in Chicago, I highly recommend checking out Cauleen Smith’s exhibit at the Art Institute for yourself. It closes October 29th, so it’s your last chance! Let me know what you think.