Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A lifetime of reading

A comfortable reading room of ones own.

Since the economy when south I have had a lot more time for reading. I welcome this.
I love to read, and to discuss books and ideas with people.
One day I hope to have a large comfortable reading room (like the one above) to read, relax and host small gatherings for conversation and debate.

I decided to compile a list of great books. A very general list of great works that everyone be aware of and should consider reading or at least grazing through at least once in their lifetime.


When I was younger I had a very difficult time appreciating classic texts. It is much easier now. I have a much more open mind and have infinitely more patience. Both required to fully appreciate a wide range of achievements.

In 1990 I spent a year reading Joyce, Dostoevsky, Baudelaire, and Genet. It was a serious challenge but very worth it. I was exhausted at the end of it.
I had to take a long break to absorb all that I had read, and after a long break and then lots of underwhelming new fiction, I started interspersing classics with contemporary works. That was a much better way of approaching it. Much contemporary work pales next to the classics and Gives me a deeper appreciation of those early achievements. When I run across a new work that stands out (and they are everywhere) I can see the influence (direct and abstract) of many works that preceding them woven in in subtle ways.

It's impossible to connect with every book, but every so often I have extraordinary experience. A few years ago I read Nathanial Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. What a revelation! (Not for the impatient, though)
I found that I had to keep a dictionary close and on average would run across one to two words every few pages that were fantastic... and that I had never run across. It was a delight to discover new words (useful ones too) in additional to enjoying the wonderfully told story.

I rooted around the internets and compiled a list of my own. It's very incomplete and subjective of course, but a good starting point, and perhaps useful to someone else.

this list includes titles I've read with many more I haven't.

The recent works are all arguable... I wanted to add a ton of others but focused mainly on older established works that continue to engage and provoke.

Please feel free to share with me titles you think should be included.

The list is composed most recent to least.




Thomas Pynchon—Against the Day
Joan Didion—The Year of Magical Thinking
Cornel West—Race Matters, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism
Susan Sontag—Regarding the Pain of Others, [collected essays]
JM Coetzee—Disgrace
Vikram Seth—A Suitable Boy
Don DeLillo—Underworld, White Noise
Salman Rushdie—The Satanic Verses
Toni Morrison—Beloved
Alice Walker—The Color Purple
William Gibson—Neuromancer



Thomas Pynchon—Gravity's Rainbow, The Crying lot of 49, Vineland
David Foster Wallace—Infinite Jest
Samuel R. Delany—Dahlgren, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue
Yukio Mishima—Confessions of a Mask
, Runaway Horses
Noam Chomsky—Manufacturing Consent, Understanding Power
Howard Zinn—A Peoples History of the United States
Edited by Ralph Young—Dissent in America: The Voices That Shaped a Nation
Bertram Gross—Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America
Gabriel Garcia Marquez—One hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera
Philip K. Dick—Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Kurt Vonnegut—Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Sirens of Titan
Frank Herbert—Dune [1-6]
Jack Kerouac—On The Road, Visons of Cody,
J.D. Salinger—The Catcher in the Rye, Nine Stories
William S. Burroughs—Naked Lunch, Cities of the Red Night
Allen Ginsberg— Howl, Kaddish (Collected Poems)
Malcolm X—The Autobiography of Malcolm X
C.S. Lewis—The Screwtape Letters
J.R.R. Tolkien—The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit
Upton Sinclair—The Jungle
Aldous Huxley— Brave New World, Island, The Doors of Perception
George Orwell— 1984, Animal Farm
Rilke—Poems
Ralph Ellison—The Invisible Man
Herman Hesse—Siddhartha, Steppenwolf
Jean Genet—Our Lady of the Flowers, Miracle of the Rose, Prisoner of Love
Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea; No Exit, Being and Nothingness
Max Planck: Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory
William Faulkner—Absalom, Absalom!, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying


F.Scott Fitzgerald—The Great Gatsby

Naguib Mahfouz—The Cairo Trilogy
T.S. Eliot—The Wasteland, The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock
D.H. Lawrence—Lady Chatterly's Lover, Women in Love
Honore Balzac—Old Giriot
Franz Kafka—Metamorphosis, The Trial
Joesph Conrad—Heart of Darkness, Nostromo
Virginia Woolf—Night and Day, A Room of One's Own
James Joyce—Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake
Albert Einstein— Relativity
Thomas Mann—Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain


Oscar Wilde—The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of being Earnest, Salome
Bertrand Russell—Problems with Philosophy
Bram Stoker—Dracula
Mary Shelly—Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus
Marcel Proust—In Search of Lost Time
Anton Chekov—Uncle Vanya
Walt Whitman—Leaves of Grass
Henri Bergson—Intoduction to Metaphysics
Fredric Nietzche—Beyond Good And Evil
Henri Poincare—Science and Hypothesis
William Blake—Song of Innocence, Songs of Experience
The Diary of Samuel Pepys
The Brothers Grimm—The Complete Fairy Tales (Vintage Edition)
George Bernard Shaw—Pygmalion
Henry James—Daisy Miller, Washington Square, Turn of the Screw
William James—Principles of Psychology


Mark Twain—Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Leo Tolstoy—Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Resurrections, The Death of Ivan Ilych
Ralph Waldo Emerson: Representative Men, Essays, Journal
Henrik Ipsen—A Doll's House, Peer Gynt
Fyodor Dostoevsky—Brothers karamazov, Crime and Punishment
Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary; Three Stories

Ludwig Wittgenstein—[collected writings]
Herman Melville—Moby Dick
Nathanial Hawthorne—The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables
Alexis de Tocqueville—Democracy in America
Soren Kierkegaard—The Essential Kierkegaard
Edgar Allen Poe—[collected writings]
Karl Marx—Capital, Value Price, and Profit, The Communist Manifesto
H.D. Thoreau—Civil Disobedience, Walden
Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol
Charles Darwin—Origin of the Species


John Stuart Mill—On Liberty, A System of Logic
US founding Documents—Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the U.S.
Jane Austen—Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice
Hegel—Philosophy of History
Goethe—Faust, Poems
James Boswell: Journal; The Life of Samuel Johnson
Edward Gibnon—The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Immanuel Kant[collected writings]
Jean Jaques Rosseau—Origin of Inequality, Political Economy
David Hume—Concerning Human understanding, History of England


Henry Fielding—Tom Jones
Voltaire—Candide
Montesquieu—Spirit of Laws, Persian Letters
Jonathan Swift—Modest proposal, Gullivers Travels
Isaac Newton—The Principa
Johannes Kepler—The Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Concerning the Harmonies of the World
Jean Racine—Phaedra
Spinoza—Ethics
John Locke—Concerning Civil Government
Moleire—School for Wives, Tartuffe


John Milton—Paradise Lost
Descartes—Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy
Shakespeare—[collected writings]
Cervantes—Don Quixote
Montaigne— Essays
Machiavelli— Prince
Chaucer—Canterbury Tales


Dante—The Divine Comedy
The Quran
The Bible
The Torah
The Bhagavad Gita
Joesph Campbell—The Power of Myth, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Ptolemy—Geography
Plutarch—[Tragedies]


Virgil—Aeneid
Lucretius—Nature of things
Euclid—Elements
Aristotle—Complete Works
Plato—The Republic
CiceroOn the Republic, Rhetoric [collected writings]
Aristophanes—Lysistrata
Hippocrates—Ancient Medicine




Thucydides—The Peloponnesian War
Herdotus—History
Euripides—Medea, Trojan Women
Sophocles—Oedipus Rex, Antigone
Aeschylus—Persians, Agamemnon, Prometheus Bound
Homer—Iliad, Odyssey
Beowulf



4 comments:

mel ulm said...

Love your list of great books-to it I would add based on your Interests Thomas Pynchon's "Against the Day", "Old Giriot" by Honore Balzac (just finished it) and Tolstoy's last novel "Resurrections". "Resurrections" has some stunning set pieces in it.

Fluxion/MCH said...

Great suggestions! I'm adding them now.

mel ulm said...

Here are three more ideas. and other For a large scale reading project, "The Diary of Samuel Pepys". Great and personal look into the corridors of power in early 17th century England. The Vintage Grimm edition of "The Complete Fairy Tales", translated by Jack Zipes. This book is great for many short reads and great source of wisdom. Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych
and other stories-signet classic

mel ulm said...

Ok here are three more ideas to Ponder-Ovid's Metamorphoses-Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan -one of Samuel Johnson's favorite books (1678), "Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats"-I also have always been planning to read "Anatomy of Melancholy" by Robert Burton (1621) for 20 or so years. To me about 1600 is the cut off point where I can read English Prose without it being tiresome. There is nothing tiresome in the Diaries of Pepys, for example