Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hemingway: my take

I read "For Whom the Bell Tolls" about 15 years ago. I could only remember that it was about the Spanish Civil War, the main character was in trouble at the end, and that "the earth moved". Reading it again, I do feel like I rediscovered a good book and I derived more out of it the second time through.

I imagine that Papa will be re-discovered by every generation that reads his books. I enjoyed the five works of his that I finished in the last 5 weeks. His writing is simple and easy to digest, but also thoughtful and philosophical, depending on how much you are willing to invest. If you read him and know his biography, you know that he wrote about his own life. I do admire him for that, since he was really putting himself out there, in the world, over 80 year ago. "A Farewell to Arms" is literally an autobiographical account of his time serving as an ambulance driver in Italy during WWI. "The Sun Also Rises" is based on people he knew when he lived in Paris following the war and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" recollects some of his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. To me, Hemmingway is adventurous and he writes about his experiences in a way that is simple and direct, but his writing still has deep meaning.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reading: Comprehension and Time

It is not fair to say that I have never read any of the classics. However, my interest was often just in finishing the book for a class or for the benefit of being able to say I have "read" it. Now I have a more academic interest in reading and I earnestly hope to derive something of value from the experience. It would be ideal to be able to discuss these books with someone else reading them. In the absence of that, I do have other resources.

The GBWW collection comes with a comprehension guide which summarizes each literary work, provides questions and offers suggestions for further reading.

A second option is online resources. Besides Wikipedia, there are also Sparknotes and Cliff Notes.
Reading consumes time. To maintain my reading schedule, I have had to limit my other activities and I try to read at every available moment. I have curtailed my TV viewing, which is an easy sacrifice. However, I am also not reading my periodicals, which is something that I do not want to give up. I have a stack of twelve magazines that I need to read, which will surely be outdated by the time I finish them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

More details

As I mentioned in my last post, I plan to read books recommended by critics and readers. Here are four different web sites that I have collected lists from and compiled into an Excel spreadsheet.

Time Magazine

Random House publishers

The Guardian (London Newspaper)

Sybervision (an Audio book company - which may be a bit biased toward books they have in audio :)

These lists will be used to supplement the reading that I will be doing from the "Great Books of the Western World" The GBWW has yearly reading "assignments" for each year of its suggested 10 year program. Following the schedule, I will be starting old school reading Plato.

Here is the GBWW reading list for year one:

Plato: Apology, Crito, The Republic
Sophocles: Oedipus the King and Antigone
Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, Politics
Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans
Old Testament: Book of Job
St. Augustine: The Confessions
Montaigne: The Essays
Shakespeare: Hamlet
Locke: Concerning Civil Government
Swift: Gulliver's Travels
Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The Declaration of Independence
The Constitution of the United States
The Federalist
Marx-Engles: Manifesto of the Communist Party

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Plan

When you think of all the books that are available to read, some published recently, some written thousands of years ago, it is difficult to know where to begin in a lifelong reading program. So, how do you decide what books to read if you want to broaden your perspective and read the classics? There seems to be an infinite number of good books and more are published every day. So, what do you read?

For myself, I have decided to abstain from reading books that I have had a previous proclivity toward. This means avoiding popular fiction, non-fiction history books or any other book not on my "classics" list. Now that I have my not-to-read-list what do I read?

The plan will be to use two different methods to tackle the sheer number of great literary works available. I will limit myself to literature from Western society, initially. A program which holds promise for me is the Great Books of the Western World. This series of 54 books covers over 2000 years of literature, philosophy, poetry and other works from Western civilization. It is a good place to start and this series comes with a 10-year reading program with additional suggested reading.

My second plan is to use the opinions of others as to the greatest literary works. There are several lists provided by readers and critics that detail, for example, the "Greatest 100 novels" of all time. Of course following these lists is not comprehensive, but I think it is the best place to start. If I can maintain my goal of reading one book per week, I think over 10 years I will have at the minimum made a good beginning toward my goal.


This blog is to document my reading experiences over the next few years. This year I will be turning 35 and I have recently become aware that I am not particularly well read. By this I mean that I have not read widely or attempted to tackle many of the so called "classics" of Western literature. The only time I have been introduced to well-known literary works is as reluctant requirements of my high school education. With age and fresh maturity, I have begun to wonder if I am missing something by not reading these works. I do not know if reading the classics will enhance my life, widen my perspectives or make me see the world differently. But at the same time, I believe I have more to lose by not investing the time and thought into exploring these literary works. If anything, at least I will be able to say, "Yes, I have read that".