At the risk of repeating myself ….
I think it intriguing that while a major reason for public education, at least in the US, being to ensure that everyone, through familiarity with a literary canon, shares at a minimum some basic memes, the public can become so outraged at the very concept of a literary canon.
A literate nation is not about being able to decode words in a third grade reader; it is about being able to comprehend the exchange of ideas among the members of the polity. It means that when I hear the lyric, “Just ask Alice”, a broad range of maps are brought to bear because I have the key to the references. To paraphrase Barth, the key to the treasure is the treasure.
Silly lists are first and foremost silly lists, but they give us pause, at least those of us willing, to stop and reflect on the “canon” and our shared experience.
EJ Dionne argues effective that we have lost all sight of any sense of community, and the lack of shared literary exposure is part and parcel of that loss.
I certainly am not a fan of “mandatory reading”, but I also realize that I wasted much of my educational time in no small part because my teachers were not able to shift my voracious literary appetite beyond a few genres. Decades later I discovered how to manage that and I think it unfortunate we do such a poor job at that…
Today you can read just about anything you want at little or no cost on any smartphone. We have text readers and audiobooks. But we spend our time passively plugged into multi sensory media.
We need to read more.
We need to read what others read.
We need to read that which challenges us.