Monday, May 26, 2008

Life Books

At the beginning of 2008, one of my objectives for the year (which doesn't sound as risky as "resolutions") was to identify some life books. The impetus for this came from reading The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership a couple of years ago. It was written by Steven Sample, the President of USC. One of the chapters was called, "You are what you read..." He argued that rather than reading all the latest, fadish books (like his), those who aspire to become better acquainted with humanity ought to read old books, and to master a few of them. So, I'm aiming to put together a list of less than ten of my "Life Books"--books that I will read over and over.

After about five months of this, I'm thinking that the objective might need to be modified slightly (which is always easier than breaking a resolution!). There is certainly something universal about the human condition, and the greatest of literature (fiction and non-fiction) captures this. But there is also something about our particular contexts--our situatedness, to anticipate a future posting--that I don't want to conceal or obliterate. To that end, I may need two lists. And right now I think I'm separating those lists rather arbitrarily, by the year 1900: those written before, and those written after. (And for the post-1900, I've only considered fiction so far.) Aside from dates, I'm trying to have some reasonable cultural distribution too, but ultimately I'm relying more significantly on the criterion Robby Prenkert gave me for such purposes: does the book enchant?

Here are the working lists so far:


  1. The Holy Bible
  2. The Iliad, Homer
  3. The Republic, Plato
  4. Confessions, Augustine
  5. Don Quixote, Cervantes
  6. King Lear, Shakespeare
  7. Meditations, Descartes
  8. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant
  9. The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevski
  10. The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne

Post-1900 Fiction:

  1. The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
  2. Lord of the Rings, Tolkein
  3. Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis
  4. Things Fall Apart, Achebe
  5. The Chosen, Potok
  6. Silence, Endo
  7. 100 Years of Solitude, Marquez
  8. Name of the Rose, Eco
  9. Beloved, Morrison
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini

Objectives may be revised at any time without further notice.


D.C. Cramer said...

Interesting lists. I thought you axed Don Quixote and The Scarlet Letter, though. Have they re-enchanted you since we last talked?

P.S. Andrea is thinking of finishing off your post-1900 list. She's already over half way there.

J. B. Stump said...

I'm not really happy with Cervantes and Hawthorne, but they're still there until bumped by something else. Suggestions?

Crowbard said...

May I propose Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book published by Wm. H. Wise & Co. of New York City? It's probably cheating since it was published in 1923, but it is a compendium of wonderful excerpts from a plethora of inspirational writings from earlier times. As a non US citizen I was astonished by its simple readability, its range, perspicacity and inspirational power. If you don't list it, have a glance into it. It's what I call a sticky book, I just can't seem to put it down!
All Blessings,
Carl Horner (UK)

Amanda H. said...

always good to see someone else puts King Lear in their list.

Searing Truth said...

I hate to read, can you narrow the list down to 1 for me...