On April 19, the editors of GQ published an article called “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read,” in which they listed 21 books and explained why people did not need to read them. Many critics have condemned the list.
The backlash came, specifically, when they listed the Bible as being “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.” They said that “The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it.” The backlash is honestly no surprise.
As a believer who has read the Bible in its entirety and unabashedly reads it daily, you can imagine that I have a huge problem with their judgment. But believe it or not, I have a bigger problem with the list in general.
Jesus taught his followers that the world would misunderstand them as they did him. That part comes as no surprise to me. What shocks me is that in a country where free speech is a fundamental principle anyone could be arrogant enough to tell someone else to write off certain books because they’re not cool.
Take the Bible for example. Even if you are not a believer, the Bible is without a doubt one of the most influential pieces of literature on planet earth. The article conveniently leaves that out. For one thing, it is the foundation for three of the world’s most popular religions, namely Judaism, Christianity, and to an extent, Islam. It’s simply impossible to understand these religions in depth without any biblical knowledge.
For another thing, like it or not, biblical principles are at the foundation of Western philosophy and Western society. The Gospels’ exhortation to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the reason why hospitals, charities, and other things of that nature exist. The Bible’s emphasis on music and singing to the Lord is the reason behind why the ancient church made great strides in developing music. The desire to know the world God made is the reason why the Catholic Church funded universities and scientific pursuits that led to many scientific discoveries. I could go on, but without a doubt, Western society would not be what it is without the Bible’s influence.
In addition, the Bible provides critical insight into the ancient Middle Eastern world. Many different authors at different times in Israel’s history wrote the Bible over thousands of years. As such, it gives a historical look at how the world was and how people thought. We would not be able to understand the ancient world as well as we do without the Bible and other ancient manuscripts written at this time.
Notice how the list of GQ conveniently leaves that out. They purposefully ignore its importance because it doesn’t fit into their standard of cool.
I have not read all the other books on their list, but I know that similar arguments can be made for the other 20 books. They have all had an influence on society in some way, even if it is only to a few people which is the reason for their standing the test of time. These books provide a glimpse into the time when they were written and help the readers understand that world better. Even the worst of them provide a glimpse into the minds of their authors which is a valuable insight in and of itself. That makes these books valuable.
By telling readers they shouldn’t bother to read these books, these editors are engaging in a form of censorship whether they realize it or not. They are acting like bullies or dictators who spread gossip to control how people think about someone they don’t like. The editors are telling readers what to think and denying them the freedom to think for themselves. This kind of thinking is dangerous, not to mention unbelievably arrogant.
GQ, not liking a book doesn’t make it unimportant. Every book has value at the very least in being a representation of someone’s thoughts. That alone merits the right to exist, even if the book’s content is bad. To dismiss and try to silence someone’s thoughts is a step on the slippery slope of censorship. Keep that in mind the next time you try to tell someone not to read.