“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.”
As I suggested in the second post in this blog challenge, we need to gather bits and pieces of ideas, information, opinions—idealings—and allow them to incubate and then mingle with other idealings in order to generate full-blown great ideas. If that truly is the case, and I believe it is, (and not just because I suggested it), then reading is a very pleasurable and efficient way of doing so.
After all, if you want to explore philosophical thought, why not go directly to Seneca, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer? If you want to explore metaphysical/spiritual thought, why not read the words of St. Augustine himself rather than Dr. Wayne Dyer expounding on St. Augustine’s words? As Descartes said,
The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of the past centuries.
I doubt if many people will argue the value of reading great books. Even though we may not actually read great books, I would venture to guess that most of us would agree that doing so would be a good thing to do. So why don’t we?
Speaking for myself, I guess that one of the problems is that I don’t know which books to read. We can go into a big bookstore and wander around with great intentions, but without guidance, how do we know where to start? Is there some kind of guide to reading books that will change your life?
Well, since you asked….yes, there is. It’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die by Peter Boxall and Peter Ackroyd. This 960 page tome has spawned numerous blogs and online reading challenges. If you want to join one, here are two to choose from: The Bookworm Challenge and the Pub Writes Challenge.
According to the reviews on Amazon.com, this books is a joy to have, if not to actually read. Apparently (I haven’t looked at it yet but I intend to go to the local Chapters and search for it this weekend), it has beautiful images and it’s a pleasure to browse through. The books on the list have been handpicked by a team of over twenty international critics and literary luminaries, including Derek Attridge (world expert on James Joyce), Cedric Watts (renowned authority on Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene), Laura Marcus (noted Virginia Woolf expert), and David Mariott (poet and expert on African-American literature).
Each entry is accompanied by an authoritative yet opinionated critical essay describing the importance and influence of the work in question. That feature alone makes it a better source, in my opinion, than the Listology list of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.
Having perused a few blogs based on this list, it appears that the list is updated and changed every year and those who are trying to work their way through the 1001 sometimes find that some of their reading is no longer on the list. I bet that would be disappointing.
I’d never heard of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, but I guess the rest of the world has. In fact, some people are such avid followers that there are even spreadsheets you can download to keep track of your progress. Here’s one for you.
If 1001 Books seems a little overwhelming, here’s something you can start with: Penguin’s Great Ideas Collection. You can buy the twenty books that they think you should read before you die in either a boxed set or separately on Amazon.com. The website is a great read in itself, with excerpts and endorsements by Penguin authors. There’s even a poll where you can vote on your own favourite great book.
So here’s an idea…choose one of the books listed in the 1001 Books or one of the twenty in the Great Ideas Collection, and read it. Okay don’t just read it. Reflect on it. After all, Edmund Burke said,
Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.
And what would be the point of that?
PS Okay hold on. I just found something even BETTER than 1001 Books to Read Before You Die…..1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. The list includes my personal fav: Are You My Mother? by PD Eastman. Setting myself the challenge of reading that 1001 seems much more doable.
Enter the Great Idea Challenge and while you’re there, tell me the book you think I should read.