Whenever I see a list of what “we all should read” (Opinion Exchange, Dec. 23), I’m delighted to see the suggestions. Having been in St. Paul over Christmas, I’ve brought home with me a photocopy of the list of 39 essential books compiled by law Profs. Robert Delahunty and John Radsan. I’d add Henrik Ibsen, probably “An Enemy of the People.” Getting to know Ibsen when I was a senior in high school was one of the most satisfactory introductions I ever encountered throughout my education.

Patricia Maier, Lexington, Mass.

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“Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll is a good choice for a top 40 literature list.

David Wiljamaa, Minneapolis

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I’d nominate the “U.S.A.” trilogy by John Dos Passos, who wrote of the struggles of ordinary men and women to obtain reasonable working hours, unions and the end of child labor. The fictional narrative was bolstered by the use of newspaper headlines and other innovations.

Charles Dean, Apple Valley

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I find the need for including some female masters of literature. Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset for the “Kristin Lavransdatter” trilogy, Willa Cather for “My Antonia,” Barbara Kingsolver for “Animal Dreams” and Mary Shelley for “Frankenstein” are just a few that come to mind.

The list could do without “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller. And you should substitute Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” for his “Death in Venice” and William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for his “King Lear.”

Maria Hennessy, San Jose, Calif.

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There wasn’t a single entry on the Delahunty-Radsan list that I would argue against. But surely “Babbitt,” by our own Sinclair Lewis, should not only be on the list, but at the very top.

A year and a month ago, it was all the vogue to reference Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” as the election wound up. That novel is not particularly well-crafted, but I guess the theme captured attention. At the time I kept thinking: What about “Babbitt”? Not only is this book exquisitely written and funny as hell, but it focuses on something far more important and closer to home: not the failings of a candidate, but the failings of the electorate who unthinkingly hand over the keys.

While at first blush “Babbitt” seems a particularly American novel, really it describes an all-too-common human failing that Orwell, Tolstoy, Chaucer, Kafka and even Shakespeare (to name just a few authors from the above-mentioned list) would have recognized as worthy of commemoration. Very American, yes. But even the Swedes in 1930 apparently thought Lewis worthy of recognition as one of the great wordsmiths.

Our first American Nobel Prize winner for literature, a Minnesotan, and the writer who put a word in the dictionary (“Babbittry”): Sinclair Lewis’ “Babbitt” deserves inclusion on the list.

Especially now.

Thomas Henry, North Mankato, Minn.

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Having read 27 of the 39 “greatest books” listed by Mssrs. Delahunty and Radsan (and seen the movie for four others — does that count?), I feel perfectly qualified to correct it. No, don’t thank me. I’m happy to do it. But first let me express my profound gratitude to them for not including any Henry James.

Bad choices:

•  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”: Most overrated book in history.

• “The Great Gatsby”: It’s also the most overrated book in history.

• “Antigone”: Replace with the same author’s “Oedipus the King,” the best tragedy ever written by somebody not named William.

• “The Cherry Orchard”: Muscovite snoozefest.

• “Jane Eyre”: Replace Charlotte Brontë’s book with her sister Emily’s “Wuthering Heights,” structurally the best novel ever written. And I can prove it.

• “King Lear”: Melodramatic and absurdly overdone. Replace with “Macbeth,” which is every bit as good as “Hamlet” and a lot more understandable: no fardels, petards or quietuses (quieti?).

• “Rabbit, Run”: As opposed to what, “Ulysses”?

• “The Sun Also Rises”: Hemingway’s 20 drafts weren’t enough. After 20 pages, I threw it in the recycling. One more page about turning left down the Rue St. Martin and having a Manhattan with Lady Brett at Pedro’s, and I would have barfed.

• “Our Man in Havana”: Why?

• “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”: I love Le Carré, but this is a by-the-numbers cozy mystery.

• “A Tale of Two Cities”: Replace with “Great Expectations,” one of the two best novels ever written.

• “Tropic of Cancer”: I’ll use the Hitler Defense on this one: “I’ve never read ‘Mein Kampf’ either, but …”

• “Swann’s Way”: Are you insane? What if someone takes your list seriously and reads it? After 10 pages, they’ll put it down and never read anything more serious than click-bait for the rest of their lives.


• “Catch-22”: Best novel ever written.

• “Epic of Gilgamesh”: In a list like this, you ought to include the progenitor of all the rest. Besides, it’s pretty damn good in its own right.

The list is weak on comedy. It should include:

• “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by Bill Shakespeare.

• “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes.

Kurt Partridge, Edina


Truly universal, please

State Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, has again raised an important issue — paying for health care (“Why we should start talking about a state mandate,” Dec. 28). Unfortunately, he did not mention the elephant in the room. This time he does advocate for broader consideration than critical care coverage, but his proposal includes mandating insurance coverage (and allowing individuals to decide how much).

That would still leave us with the grossly inefficient nonsystem we have now. Providers (from individual physicians to hospitals) now must deal with hundreds of insurance carriers and thousands of policies. This extra overhead amounts to $400 billion to $500 billion per year nationally. Extra staff members on both sides of the transactions devote many hours to ensure that providers are paid for their services or that insurance firms minimize the payout of dollars for the medically necessary services (by competing with other insurance plans for subscribers, delaying payments, trying to avoid responsibility if there is other coverage or requiring justification for procedures before agreeing to pay for an individual’s test or treatment).

The most efficient insurance pool is everyone, and the most efficient payment system is the existing tax system. The taxes should come from the entire population, but via rates that ensure it is progressive rather than regressive. All medically necessary coverage should be provided, without deductibles or co-payments, but services such as cosmetic surgery may be excluded. Individuals could choose their providers, without consulting insurance carriers or employers. Employers would benefit by not having to pay for medical insurance. A plan (SF 219) has been proposed by state Sen. John Marty.

It would help a lot if Dr. Jensen and other Republicans would support this fiscally responsible, truly universal plan. This is one time when doing the right thing is also less expensive than relying upon the incomplete and fragmented coverage that leaves so many folks one significant illness from financial disaster. We need open debate that includes the huge savings of single-payer, and we need it now.

Dr. John T. “Jack” Garland, Minneapolis

The writer is a retired endocrinologist.


Base it on data? Yes, let’s.

I couldn’t agree more with a Dec. 28 letter writer’s statement that debate concerning permit to carry guns “should be made based on data.” Unfortunately, the powerful gun lobby has aggressively and successfully worked against collecting and using gun data to inform public policy. For example, the Dickey Amendment effectively bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence. Similarly, the Tiahrt Amendment prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from maintaining a searchable database for weapon tracking. Clearly, the NRA and the gun industry would rather influence public policy through their lobbying efforts and political contributions than through data.

Steven M. Pine, Hopkins