Monday, 4 August 2014

Having a Conversation

So, if you're a regular visitor to the Leaflocker or just the kind of person that archive binges any blogs that you happen to come across, you'll know that I have a bit of a book problem. It's been in remission for a while, as my reading habits have been on the wane, but about a month ago the desire to read came back and hit me with a vengeance. I didn't have the opportunity at the time, but now that it's Blaugust and if I'm to keep to tradition I need to get posting book reviews anyway, this seems like as good a time as any to start a ridiculous project.

So, there's this guy on the internet reading the Great Books. Specifically, he's reading the Encyclopedia Britannica's Great Books of the Western World. Reading 100 pages a week, he thinks it'll take him about 7 years, and half way through he's well and truly on the way. I know what you're thinking: "Thom, crazy people do crazy things on the internet all the time. You don't need to get sucked into the crazy". But it's too late. I love this idea of the Great Conversation, of knowledge passed down, and assimilated and surpassed by through the generations, and I just want to be part of it. I want to read the classics, and I don't just mean Dickens and Austen. I want to read Sophocles, I want to read Cicero, I want to read philosophy and science and poetry and plays and I want to read them all, bu I have to stop somewhere. So I'm going to read along, three and a half years behind.

He's got this nice system where in the 100 or so pages of homework set each week there's excerpts from five or six different works. This should help to combat boredom and give us a little more variety. I find it hard to read books like this, too, preferring to consume a book whole in a single or a few sessions, so maybe I'll learn to read books this way, and hopefully it will teach me a little self-control and help me to actually stop and think about what I'm reading, and maybe even leave me a little time to share my thoughts with you guys here on the Leaflocker.

'Doctor J' is a classics nerd and lecturer, so he started his project with a level of base knowledge that I don't have, but I'm going to take advantage of his disciplined approach and see if I can't make it work for little old undisciplined me. Still, though, the whole project is a big ask, there's a whole book of Freud, a whole bunch of Aristotle, and there's the very fair criticism that this list is, on the whole, a list suffering from a surfeit of Dead White Males.

With that in mind, I'm going to make some changes while staying as close to his framework as possible, so that I can still crib from it mercilessly. First, I'm not reading anything on the 'Gateway' list, if it didn't make the first 59 volumes, I'm not interested. Second, I'm not reading anything that isn't acknowledged by at least two other authoritative lists of Great Books as complied helpfully here, to counter Mr. Adler's odder choices. I plan to re-read anything I've read before, given that I'm sure to become a wiser and more discerning reader having begun the Conversation. And finally, I reserve the right to get bored of an author and dump the rest of their stuff. These rules will dump out a lot of early 20th century psychology and some of the less popular works of the Greeks and Romans, but keep many of the history and development of the sciences books that I'd kind of like to read, if only for the giggles.

In order to plug the gaps I create by cutting almost 20% of the content off the bat, I'll supplement the list with the other high-ranking titles from GreaterBooks that Adler left off of his list, and we'll just read through these additions at whatever pace seems to fit in with Doctor J's plan best. This should help me combat Dead White Male syndrome as well as greatly supplementing my fiction reading, which should help me stay sane. I might also still read other books for fun, but as much as possible for the next seven years or until I get bored, I'm going to read 100 pages a week of the best books of all time.

So, what stands before us? 293 books. Some large, some small. No science fiction unless you count Gulliver. I hate to think how many pages. From across the gamut of fiction and verity, philosophy, poetry and the natural sciences. 104 were originally written in Ancient Greek. 20 were written in Latin. A stupidly large number of them are by some guy called Shakespeare. I've read nearly 10% of them before, but the rest are almost entirely new. And of course, I'll post the reading plan as we go so that you can play along, in whole or in part as you see fit, at home. Most of these books are available either free on the internet or from your local library in dead tree form, one of the advantages for reading things that are in large part millenia old.

Because Doctor J started off most of the first year with the Gateway series that I've refused to read, the first year is going to be very heavy in those books that make many other lists but that Mr. Adler didn't see fit to add to Great Books of the Western World. For the first three or four weeks, we don't touch the Great Books at all, this gives us a chance to start off relatively simply with a bit of more 'modern' fiction than we can expect to find throughout most of the project and ease ourselves into the Conversation. I've chosen three books to start with for the simple virtue of their being on my shelves already.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#not_gbww #copyrighted #fiction #english
Part One, Ch. 1 - 9 (30 Pages)
I've tried Lolita before and gave up because the subject matter just creeped me out too much. Let's see how we go this time. This one is still in copyright here in Australia, so if you're not able to get your hands on it, you're excused.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
#not_gbww #fiction #english
Book the First, Ch. 1 - 7 (43 pages)
I've read a bit of Dickins over the years and always had fun in a brainless kind of way. I'd expect the biggest difficulty not to be anything about Dickins' writing at all at all but more to do with the fact that my copy used to belong to a chain smoker. That said, this is reputed to be the toughest, least fun Dickens of them all, so let's not count our chickens.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book the First, Ch. 1 - 7 (24 pages)
I last attempted this one only a couple of years ago and got about 80% of the way through before getting distracted by other things. I was enjoying it though, even if Hugo is as distractable as I am, so I don't foresee any problems getting this one polished off.

Let's get reading!


John said...

Whoa, that's some serious ambition there. I don't think I could find the steel to extend my "serious" reading horizons much beyond classical literature and perhaps some Shakespeare and Dostoevsky - Dickens makes me want to run and hide under a gigantic rock. Splitting everything up into instalments is an interesting approach, but I think I'd probably lack the discipline for it and would just latch on to one or two that I really enjoyed while neglecting the rest.

Michael5000 said...

Shoulda gone with MY Reading List. With you on a reading list of your own, I've lost my only chance of anyone ever recycling mine.

Is this already happening? Hard Times is still on my Dickens list, and I'm always up for another read of Lolita.

UnwiseOwl said...

We've only just started, Michael. At the rate you read, I'm sure you could be caught up in no time. Any hey, after seven years of this if I still want to read I'll do your list next, mkay?