Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Well-Educated Mind

I recently came across a link describing the best classic books to read, based on the intellectual experiences you will have with each.  Here's a blurb:
To find good classic books, there are trusted recommendations that can help us. The recommendations are found in the books How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren, and The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer, both of which I believe are high-quality books. You can read the books for complete information about their recommendations (with suggestions on how to read them), but here I will directly give you the titles of the books which are recommended by both of them.
The premise is that certain books will give you a difference perspective, which will change how you view the world.  So both these authors have suggested a list of books, plays, etc which are supposed to change your life, in a way.  I figured I may as well list them here and incorporate some of my comments.

Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes) - own it and always wanted to read it, but the large number of pages has kept me away.  I'm really waiting on Nick on this one, because we both purchased expensive leather copies and this book will be forever linked with him, in a good sort-of-way.  How you liking that Easton now, Nick? ;)

Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift) - I read this one, and when I think about how it has changed my life I can only pinpoint one part, though I enjoyed the novel.  Someone asked a very tiny human (in Lilliput, IIRC) how people looked when they were so much bigger than him and he said that they were actually very ugly because all their personal flaws could be seen to be magnified.  I think this checks me a lot in regards to materiality of people and things.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) - I cannot for the life of me figure out why this changes the lens at which you view the world.  Most of these Victorian novels teach me that it's always better just to tell the truth because it generally creates less drama.

Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) - Ever year I try to get people to read this in the book club, and every year it is voted down.  My knowledge of Dickens is circumspect, but I notice that very few want to read anything by them.  Perhaps they have poor experiences with his works in general?

The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Moby-Dick (Herman Melville) - This is probably the only book I have started and not finished, and it was just due to the sheer size.  I should give it a go, because I still have a vivid image of Queequeg and his harpoon.

Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)

Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky) - Teaches one that guilt is powerful [doesn't the Tell-tale Heart do a better job of this?].  This is what sticks with me about this book, without re-reading it.  Oh, also... lock your doors when strangers come and don't be a crusty old lady that makes money off the poor or you're liable to find a hatchet in your back.

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) - Embrace your childhood and always seek adventures.  I think I need to be reminded of this once or twice a year.  Switzerland will be the latest adventure.

The Trial (Franz Kafka) - Taught me that bureaucracy can always get worse, and sometimes you have no option but to co-exist in the system... and other times you should just run away screaming and never look back.

Autobiography and Memoir
The Confessions (Augustine)

The Complete Essays (Michel de Montaigne)

Meditations on First Philosophy (Rene Descartes)

Walden (Henry David Thoreau) - This has been my top book to read every year, but every year someone in the book club votes it down.  I'm going to read it on my own, because I just have a strong gut feeling that I am meant to read this book.  I also feel that the time is nearly right for me to do so.  This book is classically referred to by all nature lovers and hippies.


The Histories (Herodotus)

The Peloponnesian War (Thucydides)

The Republic (Plato) - Another book on the book club list, that people are afraid of.  Perhaps it's the old language... I'm really not versed in the subject matter.

Lives (Plutarch)

City of God (Augustine)

The Prince (Niccolo Machiavelli) - I tried to read this in high school and didn't get very far.  It's short though, and at the end of the day what I keep hearing people ask is "do the ends justify the means?"  I think of this a lot, regardless of the fact that I haven't read this manifesto.

Utopia (Sir Thomas More) - Loved this book, though it was somewhat a slog due to the language in 1551.  Always fight for the things you believe in, and try to do the best you can for others and society as a whole.

The Social Contract (Jean Jacques Rousseau)

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Edward Gibbon) - Nick and I both own this, and neither of us have read a page.  If you're going to read anything about the Roman Empire, I'm told this is where to start.  Be prepared for a long read though... there are typically three large volumes (some are spread into 8 - ie: The Folio Society)

Democracy in America (Alexis de Tocqueville)

The Communist Manifesto (Karl Marx) - I have this on my Amazon wish list.  Christmas is only 5 months away, people! ;)


Agamemnon (Aeschylus)

Oedipus the King (Sophocles) - I guess this is where the term Oedipus complex comes from, so it's probably an incestuous read. :P

Medea (Euripides)

The Birds (Aristophanes)

Poetics (Aristotle)

Richard III (William Shakespeare)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Shakespeare) - I don't get it. Perhaps they meant "Macbeth"?

Hamlet (William Shakespeare) - Not surprising, though I don't think it has created a different lens in which I view the world.  Perhaps I was too young when I read this - the details are a bit blurry.

Tartuffe (Moliere)

The Way of the World (William Congreve)

A Doll’s House (Henrik Ibsen)

Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw)

No Exit (Jean Paul Sartre)


The Iliad (Homer)

The Odyssey (Homer) - Every day I wake up and look at my bookshelves, I am saddened by the fact that I have only read snippets of this.

Odes (Horace)

Inferno (Dante Alighieri)

The Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer)

Sonnets (William Shakespeare)

Paradise Lost (John Milton) - Make sure you get a copy with Dore's prints in it.

Selected Poetry (William Wordsworth)

The Complete Poems (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
I seem to be afraid of a lot of these 'poetry' books, but I should really give them a shot.  I have six of them on my shelves, but I just never seem to get to them.
7 of 48 read is not a good track record.  Perhaps this is why I'm not learned good.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) said...

Nice list. I've read about 100 pages of Don Quixote and I loved it, I just haven't got around to finishing it (and now I need to start again!). Don't be put off by the thickness - it's really entertaining and can be read like short stories almost.

Um, Pride and Prejudice is a Regency novel, not Victorian! (That is, written/set in the time of the Prince Regent, George, who later became King after Mad King George finally karked it, who was King during the Napoleonic Wars/French Revolution.) Victorian era starts in the 1830s. Sorry, I'm a stickler ;)

Didn't like Crime and Punishment at all. Ugh.

I've read Madame Bovary but I can't remember a single thing about it!

Ooh, I've read The Peloponnesian War - year 11 Ancient Civs! Also some of those Greek and Roman plays, Euripedes - I liked the Medea. Can't remember if we did Oedipus...

Oh you should absolutely read The Canterbury Tales!! Even if it's a modern version (Middle English is a bitch to read!); it's hilarious. We did it first year uni, I think it's the story of the Miller's son or something, that has a classic scene involving adultery, a hasty escape out the window and something "a bit rude" involving someone's bum. And then there's - oh I can't remember the name, but the story about what a woman really wants. Honestly it's worth reading, and very readable in the modern translation.

Anonymous said...

I pretty much lump everything into "Victorian" which deals with any sort of character similar to Mr. Darcy. I know it's wrong, but it's all the same to me [either this is ignorance or ambivalence, with a hope for more of the latter].

I came across maybe three or four of these books in pretty copies today and I didn't buy them, probably because I wasn't quite sure and didn't have the list with me. I think I'll bring it along next time. I do doubt that I would read a lot of these though, so I'm kind of conflicted.