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“Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card,” said a wise beyond his years aardvark. However ,as we depart further from childhood we realize that reading and fun have established themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum. In high school reading became a chore, in university the library became a prison. Reading for pleasure is not cool anymore, and if you have enough to read for school as it is, then it’s certainly not enjoyable in you “leisure” time, as you like to do anything but read when you’re trying to relax.
However, writers once ruled the world, and a single book could make a tremendous impact and eternally change cultural conditions. Below are a few of the books that shocked the world.
1 – THE WAR OF THE WORLDS BY H.G. WELLS
This book is awesome, and was the first science fiction novel to talk about an alien invasion occurring in a plausible way. Following a unnamed man and his brother across London, Wells paints humans as helpless to the Martian creatures attacking them. So distinct from other literature at the time, it still managed to frighten people forty years after it was originally released.
Back in 1938, radio host Orson Welles did a dramatic reading of the first person narrative. He was so convincing, that people flipped their shit and ACTUALLY thought Martians were making a touchdown. Panic and chaos ensued, as families began fleeing their homes; priests were giving out last rites; and some people even wrapped towels around their heads to protect themselves from Martian gas. To be fair, World War II was just around the corner and Orson Welles was a pretty good actor— later winning an academy award for Citizen Kane.
2 – THE KAMA SUTRA
This ancient Hindu text teaches you how to have sex the awesome way, and it’s all thanks to an Englishman named Richard Francis Burton. On Wikipedia this man is listed having many different jobs and titles, but I feel he can be best described as a traveling sex man. Burton was fascinated with sexual practices and how they differed in the many regions of the world— even going so far as to measure the penis sizes of various inhabitants.
Most of his writings were too shocking to publish in his day, but he became famous for translating the Kama Sutra and privately distributing it throughout London. The text itself is bizarre— containing early Viagra recipes, 64 saucy positions, and the suggestion that tying a gold encrusted hyena bone to your ankle will make you irresistible to women. As a woman, I concur.
3 – UNCLE TOM’S CABIN BY HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
According to Abraham Lincoln, this book started the Civil War. Although written by a rich white lady, the novel depicted the cruel conditions of slavery through America’s first African American protagonist—Uncle Tom. The novel sold millions of copies in its first year, and is believed to have been heard by millions more… because back then people read to each other for entertainment (weird, right?). This book forced white people to question beliefs that were instilled in them since the birth of the nation, and encouraged a positive movement towards ending slavery.
Respect, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
4 – FRANKENSTEIN BY MARY SHELLEY
Science is the bad guy in this novel. On the surface we’re dealing with a doctor that has created a piteous, homicidal monster, but on a deeper level, Shelley introduces the concept of artificial life and suggests that taking science too far can lead to the perversion of the natural order.
People hated the book when it was first released, many thought that Shelley was totally gross for talking about reviving dead body parts with electricity, and everything that entailed. This book, however, set the groundwork for many other science fiction novelists to explore the discourse of theoretical science, and the responsibilities mankind would have to face for whatever it created.
5 – PARIS IN THE 20TH CENTURY BY JULES VERNE
Written in 1863, it took 131 years for this book to be published, because Verne’s publisher felt the grim depiction of the future might depress his fans. The book depicts a 1960’s Paris, where Michel, a sixteen year old boy, graduates with an English degree only to realize that business and technology are the only things valued in an increasingly mechanized world. In the novel, Verne predicts the formation of the electric chair, computers, cars, internet, modern architecture and even hippies. It’s spooky how accurate Verne is, and makes you wonder if he possessed the very time machine that he wrote about in his earlier work.
Reading books have helped shape the world as we know it. It is a skill that separates us from the monkeys, and a strength that we should never let perish. This summer, dust off the old bookshelf, or maybe even download a book or too on that iPad thing you play games on. You can find most of the old ones for free on the internet!
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