Monday, September 01, 2014

Reading lists

A current trend is for Facebook people to draft lists of ten books that have influenced them. On balance this seems a good idea, because the lists contain items that one did not know about, or items that one had meant to read but hadn't gotten around to. Yet I doubt that I will take advantage of this accumulation of advice, even in the leisure of my retirement, because I have too many unread books lingering about the apartment as it is. 

Still, I was struck by two things in the lists. Most of the items chosen are fiction and most are recent. Fiction of course allows us to peer into the lives of others and compare them with our own. This is particularly important for thoughtful persons, such as those making up the lists now, who have not been satisfied with simply adopting an identity that is handed out to them, but have, rightly, engaged in the challenging effort of self-fashioning. I suppose that the same point applies to recent works. Still, I wonder why there is no mention of Plato and Aristotle, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Karl Marx, Dickens, Tennyson, and Alfred Kinsey, to name just a few. 

Of course, it would be pretentious to cite such authors as influences when they have not been. But shouldn't they be? In my youth there was something called the Great Books Program. People would join clubs and struggle to understand these formidable works. That was, I suppose, a preoccupation of an older generation, my own. Younger people, if the sample I am reading is representative, seem to have a different approach.