Here is a list of the books and media I’ve read over the years that I have either (a) enjoyed the most or (b) learned the most from.
Within each category, authors are listed alphabetically. Where more than one book is listed for an author, I’ve listed the books in order of preference.
Dante Alighieri, Inferno
Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine; Fahrenheit 451Willa Cather, O Pioneers!; My Antonia
Albert Camus, The Stranger
It was after four then, and I lay in the dark, listening to the rain and to the morning trains coming through. They come from Buffalo and Chicago and the Far West, through Albany and down along the river in the early morning, and at one time or another I’ve traveled on most of them, and I lay in the dark thinking about the polar air in the Pullman cars and the smell of nightclothes and the taste of dining-car water and the way it feels to end a day in Cleveland or Chicago and begin another in New York, particularly after you’ve been away for a couple of years, and particularly in the summer.
One way to put the question I want to answer here is this: why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?
Important as science is to our present outlook, we mustn’t exaggerate its causal role here, and make it the main motor of the transformation. Our encasing in secular time is also something we have brought about in the way we live and order our lives.
In an article published in Friday’s Washington Times, economist Tyler Cowen makes several interesting and provocative arguments about reading and books.
1. “What should you do when, 20, 50 or 100 pages in, you realize you just don’t like a book?” Cowen says: “Give up.”
2. “We should treat books a little more like we treat TV channels,” (Cowen) argues. No one has trouble flipping away from a boring series.”
At the very center of conservative thought lies this idea: that the present division of wealth and power corresponds to some deeper reality of human life. …They want to say that whatever the division of wealth and power is, it naturally is, and that all efforts to change it, temporarily successful in proportion to their bloodiness, must be futile in the end.
–“In Defense of Equality” in Howe, ed.
From The Man-Moth
He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
proving the sky quite useless for protection.
From Mourning Poem for the Queen of Sunday
Oh who and oh who will sing Jesus down
to help with struggling and doing without and being colored
all through blue Monday?
Till way next Sunday?
From Questions of Travel
Should we have stayed at home,
I made it, but I have always tried to remember that I owe it to my lucky star, not to myself, and that right next door are entire neighborhoods of unfortunates. I will say even more: the thought of their grueling labor and unfulfilled hope, of the gigantic prison system in which the unneeded are kept, taught me to look skeptically at (America’s) decorations - those well-kept houses amidst the suburbs’ greenery.
We make the coffee with river water, dipping a canful from among the rocks and letting it set for a time until the silt settles to the bottom. For entertainment we have the murmur of the river, the drone of cicada and amphibians, the show of nighthawks plunging through the evening gulping bugs. Afterwards we sit by the fire until the fire gives out, listening, smoking, analyzing socioeconomic problems:
“Look here, Newcombe,” I say, “do you think it’s fitting that you and I should be here in the wilds, risking our lives amidst untold hardships, while our wives nad loved ones lounge at their ease back in Albuquerque, enjoying the multifold comforts, benefits and luxuries of modern contemporary twentieth century American urban civilization?
I once said that, after the experiences of the last two years, I could no longer hold to any truth which might oblige me, directly or indirectly, to demand a man’s life. Certain friends whom I respected retorted that I was living in Utopia, that there was no political truth which could not one day reduce us to such an extremity, and that we must therefore either run the risk of this extremity or else simply put up with the world as it is.
I discovered one of the best poems on war I’ve ever read the other day while reading David P. Barash’s Approaches to Peace, an excellent edited volume on peace and conflict studies:
Conscientious ObjectorEdna St. Vincent MillayI shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,