Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reading List from the 8th Dimension

Cthulhu's excellent book reviews have lately caused me to consider my own reading habits. There are lots and lots of books that someone has mentioned to me or I've seen in an article or review, and mentally put on my list to read someday.

On reflection, it turns out that I have a fairly consistent pattern. I seem to alternate between two types -- "great books" that I both want to read and feel I should read at some point in my life before I kick the bucket, and books that I have a somewhat guilty pleasure about but simply want to read anyway.

Here are some recent favorites from the first bucket:

Don Quixote (Edith Grossman's newish translation, which I loved)
Will Durant's Story of Philosophy
Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain
Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall
Richard Feynman's autobiography
Twain's Life on the Mississippi
Somerset Maugham's collection of stories about the South Seas

The second bucket consists mostly of the sorts of sci-fi books Cthulhu reviews -- though I'm usually kicking it more old school with space opera types.

I still have a bunch more to go on my "great books" list -- I have my great-grandparents' Hawthorne and Tolstoy collections in our living room library and hope to make it through them (or at least a couple of volumes) at some point. But I'm currently taking recommendations -- what should I tackle when I'm done with Balzac's Cousin Bette?

Also, I'm awarding a special prize for anyone who can guess which "great book" I just couldn't make it through. It's only happened once. Here's a hint -- it was written in 1759.

6 comments:

Chris Hartman said...

As for Tolstoy, I had to read Anna Karenina for a college course in Russian literature, but I actually did like it. That is, I read it for pleasure in my free time even during the period when I was supposed to be reading it for class.

I did a paper on Decline and Fall in high school. I will see if I can dig it out and post some especially perspicacious passages.

Feynman's autobiography was great.

You lent me Maugham's Of Human Bondage back in college and I think I've been in a melancholy mood ever since, so thanks for that.

As for your quiz, was it Gulliver's Travels by any chance?

Jake Miller said...

I was thinking maybe the quiz book was Candide.

I really enjoyed Ulysses and Moby Dick.

Lord John Whorfin said...

Yes, can you believe I've never read anything by Tolstoy in my whole life? It's crap like that which started me on this whole self-improvement project -- I didn't want to kick the bucket never having read anything by Tolstoy, or Balzac, or Cervantes, etc.

Especially because when my great-grandmother was a teenager in Russia, she and her friend walked six miles to a town where Tolstoy was passing through on a train. It was such a big event that people came from miles around and apparently he waved from the caboose. Then they turned around and walked home.

As for Gulliver's Travels, I LOVED that book. I should have put it on my list, since it was part of my program. In fact, I still reference it all the time, because there's a bit where one of the characters complains that manners and etiquette were in full decline and things were much better two or three generations ago. Some things never change apparently.

On my mystery book, not Candide, which I also liked. I'll give out a big hint -- the author shares his name with one of Chris's college roommates. That is somewhat of what we call an asymmetrical hint in the finance world, but it's the best I can do.

Chris Hartman said...

Well I ended up Googling the mystery book. I never would have guessed it. I've heard of the main character of the book via a movie that came out a few years ago, but did not know there was an author by that name.

Cthulhu, Destroyer of Worlds said...

Whoops - messed up on my first attempt to leave a comment here. I know I'm late to the party on this post but I just wanted to give a rousing co-endorsement of Richard Feynman's autobiography. I only read one or two non-fiction books per year but his was one I heartily enjoyed. Mine also came with a CD with some of his lectures on it which were also awesome to listen to.

Cthulhu, Destroyer of Worlds said...

The only thing I have read by Tolstoy was Anna Karenina. I basically liked it, but the only way I got through the entire book was by skipping all the chapters that had anything to do with Levin and just reading the chapters about Anna. I don't think it's a coincidence that most film adaptations seem to skip over Levin's plot line too.

As far as classics go, I very much enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo (or, as they said in The Shawshank Redemption, "the Count of Monte Crisco." But, then again, I'm a sucker for prison breaks, treasure islands, and swordfighting.

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