Good book-reading intentions

The Top Five books I’ve always meant to read, and why

1. Dante’s Divine Comedy. This massive work stands like dark-matter at the heart of my medieval readings. Every time I open a scholarly book on the ancient epics, or read a modern baroque horror, each time I formulate a concept of the underworld or a catholic mythology… I find a reference to Dante.

2. John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton’s epic about the fall of Lucifer (or it could be about something else – I haven’t read it) is virtually the font-head of much “evil is cool”.

3. Cao Xueqin’s The Dream of the Red Chamber. described this book as the greatest chinese novel never read. My chinese friends tell me it is actually relatively popular in China, though none of them have read it themselves. Chinese literature is explicitly about ideas – the philosophical commentary and subtext is at least as important as what we’d describe as the story. This pivotal work then, gives you the impression that not only would its compelling narrative enthrall you, but give you a solid mastery of Taoism and Buddhism. Unfortunately, the copy I own is a translation into English of a German translation. I also find the enormous cast of characters with names I cannot easily pronounce a bit daunting. (BTW, John, you can borrow it any time – I’m not going to get round to it any time soon)

4. Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. You can hardly through a metaphorical stone in economic or political theory without hiting one of two names: Adam Smith and Fredreich Hayek. Whether agreeing or disagreeing with their free-market wheeling and dealing, you must address what they say. Having read a bit of Hayek and browsed selected quotes of Smith’s, I get the impression that they are not as similar as often portrayed by the new right.

No single book seems important enough, or missing-enough to fill out the top 5. There are a number of books I’d like to read, that I feel would probably in some way enhance my life. Jack Schaefer’s Shane, as a kind of template for much other Western literature. Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – now interesting for its historical methods on history as well as for the actual content. The Second World War by churchill; if for nothing else than spawning one of my favourite quotes “History shall be kind to me, for I intend to write it”. Frankenstein by Shelley; though this is a concept which is so well subsumed into modern culture I wonder whether the original work really has anything to add any more. How can I die not having read Tristram Shandy, the post-modern novel before there were modern novels? It seems a shame to omit War and Peace from my repertoire, simply based on reputation and scale. Like every schoolboy in my day, I wanted to be Huckleberry Finn without knowing precisely who he was. I could easily go on: there are some truly great novels, histories and philosophical works.

[Insert a thinking period of almost two weeks]

5. If I must pick one, and I set the rules of this myself so feel compelled to abide by them, then the last book would have to be… First Hunder by local gaming celebrity Dale Elvy. He’s a long-time acquaintance, if not friend, and not only a New Zealander, but a Wellingtonian; it’s almost a patriotic duty to read it. Yet, I haven’t, because it just didn’t look very good. I’m pretty sure that this is the fault of the blurb-writer; Dale’s both an interesting fellow and a good storyteller.

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16 Responses to Good book-reading intentions

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have an abridged version of _Paradise Lost_ around somewhere that I’ve always been meaning to read.. And ditto on Dante — I get the feeling I’d appreciate a lot of fantasy a lot more if I’d read it.

    Every time I read Zelazny’s _Lord of Light_ I feel I should read some Indian mythology.

    Anyway, I have a suggestion for your #5, if you haven’t read it: _Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid_ by Douglas Hofstadter.

    • Whoops — reformatted my computer, and so my cookie died.

      • mashugenah says:

        Not only not read it: not heard of it. 🙂

        Just checked the description on amazon, and it seems like one of thos synergistic books which I especially like. 🙂

      • Wikipedia’s got an article on it also.

        I have a copy; I can lend it to you if you like. Maybe trade for the _Red Chamber_ 🙂

        (incidentally, have you read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?)

  2. threemonkeys says:

    The blurb on First Hunter is a pretty good indication of what its like. I met Dale not long after it came out and it was a bit embarrasing admitting that I had read it and then struggling to think of anything significant to say about it. It is actually a pretty good example of its type – its just that the type is pretty blandly generic.

  3. bowdlerizer says:

    I had to do Paradise Lost for Renaissance lit. It’s about the fall of man or, as Milton put it, an attempt to justify the ways of god to man. The thing that’s really good about it is that Satan is such a charismatic dude and God is a bit of a pompous ass. I have a copy too, with interesting asides in pencil.

    • mashugenah says:

      Was it actually any good? was having a go at reading it, but I never actually heard whether it was worth the effort.

      After the exams are all over, might I borrow your copy?

      • bowdlerizer says:

        I don’t know whether I would of got through it if I hadn’t had to – it’s one of the books that’s been on the ‘I really should’ shelf for a while. That said I’m really gald I did, and not just so that I could say that I did either. But of course you may borrow my copy, I shall bring it with me to the 247 exam to distract us from exam angst.

      • mashugenah says:

        Sweet. 🙂

        I’m not feeling too bad about the 247 exam. Charles liked my second essay, and even though he mocked my first essay in the tutorial he didn’t give it a bad grade. I’ve still got Perlman to finish, but I’m pretty confident I know four texts well enough to write on…

        You read many of the books twice, the exam should be a peice of cake for you… 🙂

        Famous last words, every one. 🙂

      • bowdlerizer says:

        Ah, but I am Not An Exam Person. I blame my niccotine addiction, I find the concentration waning halfway through.

      • mashugenah says:

        Fair enough. They’re not a very naturalistic experience, are they?

  4. adrexia says:

    Unfortunately it took me a while to realise that you seemed to be speaking a different language than I did. It’s hard to communicate when there is no common ground…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm, if you’re determined to torture yourself with macro-economic theory, why not some Keynes? He seems to take the place of “the other guy” in modern economics — not wrong so much as low-profile. Not that I know anything about economics 🙂


  6. mashugenah says:

    Marlowe’s Faust was on my list… then I bought a copy and read it. 🙂

    I have yet to read the Goethe “original”… but I imagine it’s pretty similar.

  7. bowdlerizer says:

    And I just noticed the Frankenstien thing – absolutely worth it, fabboorama methinks.

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