22 Mar 2018

Balzac & Houllebecq on Writing

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As a child in the 40’s and 50’s I read a lot and our city had good libraries. Our schools were good too and reading and learning still happened there. For many years after my work and family severely cut into my reading. I have often wondered if there is a “best” course of reading/study for a serious young student. There are numerous 100 book reading lists and I have no doubt that they contain good choices. I also suspect that at least part of the decision in those choices is the intent to leave nothing out and not offend any culture or interest. Diversity often rears it’s ugly head (did I really say that?) and in so doing destroys that which it attempts to make diverse.

What is the right list, be it 90 books/plays/poems or 110 or 300 or whatever? What is the best sequence of these books and the most useful and doable choices? I have read many of Will Durant’s books and found them to be informative and interesting but never saw any of his books on a reading list. I have struggled through some of the classics and found it difficult sometimes to get much useful from them. There is after all a kind of virtue signaling to include Joyce or Plutarch on the list to show how intelligent and diverse you are. But then I wonder if the list is 100 books and 40 of them are there simply to plump up the resume of the person who compiled the list what was left out that would be useful?

The bottom line is if a person wanted to understand our European roots with a sprinkling of other non-European influences of the last 2-3 millennia, and they didn’t want to wade through a thousand unintelligible tomes what would that list look like? Any suggestions?


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