Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Still still here

Those Four Horsemen known as Work, Computer Travails, Other and Stuff have kept me away from here and will continue to do so for the next few weeks, I'm sorry to say. In the meantime, though, here's a little something to read and, if you're so inclined, respond to at your respective places.

The big thing for some of the smarter bloggers out there of late has been to follow Tyler Cowen's lead and post a list of books that have influenced their thinking. Here is Matthew Yglesias' list; he links to Cowen's list, and the comments section has a good discussion of both the list and alternates for inclusion. Looking over the list made me want to join in the fun. So, here's mine.

These aren't necessarily favorite books (NB: some non-books included); they're books that, for better or for worse, have shaped my way of thinking about stuff. Most of these won't surprise long-time readers of this blog (again, for better or for worse).

1) Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith. This was required reading in my Intro. to Theology class, which I took in my first semester of college. Taught me not just that it's okay for a believer to doubt, it's necessary if his faith is to survive and grow stronger.

2) M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Essential for its discussion of heteroglossia (multivoiced-ness) in the novel--an important idea for me, in that it taught me how to listen to novels, not just read them.

3) William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses. "The Bear," this book's long center-piece, may have been the first thing by Faulkner that I read, back when I was a freshman in college. Years later, a re-reading of "Delta Autumn" would serve as the starting point for my dissertation/book-in-progress.

4) Henry David Thoreau, Walden. A book whose prescience about our own "the railroad runs us" times, elegance, wit, and firm conviction that life is best when experienced in its least-complicated form continually rewards--and challenges.

5) Wallace Stevens, "The Idea of Order at Key West." Yes, it's a poem and not a book, but not only is it the essential Stevens poem, it also made me realize, more powerfully than anything else I've ever read, the power (and, for that matter, the impulse) of the human mind to so shape our understanding of the world that it becomes very difficult to understand the world as it is apart from our perception of it.

6) Edward Snow, A Study of Vermeer. Snow is an English professor at Rice (he teaches Shakespeare and Milton classes), but he's best known for his translations of Rilke. I never took a class with him, but I did hear him give a talk on Brueghel's Peasant Dance that made me realize I had no idea how to look at paintings. I still don't, really, but this book helped me do it less-poorly. It also teaches the larger lesson that, as with so many other things, patience in academic criticism is a virtue.

7) Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Other books came before (Carlos Fuentes' The Death of Artemio Cruz) or are more analytical in their approach (Octavio Paz's The Labyrinth of Solitude), and, as I was reminded recently while reading Roberto Bolaño's 2666, magical realism now seems a bit dated given certain contemporary, brutal realities. Still, García Márquez's novel was still that book that, when I re-read it while living in Mexico, made emotional sense of the place I found myself.

8) Martin Luther, The Small Catechism. The simplest, most direct explanation of the essential expressions of Christian doctrine that you'll find. As Luther himself says, "This is most certainly true."

As I said above, if the spirit moves you, consider yourselves tagged; I hope you'll let me know if you decide to post your own list.

See y'all around.


zunguzungu said...

You should consider reading some Cormac McCarthy; considering your interests, he seems right up your alley. ;)

John B. said...

Yeah. I've heard really good things about him.

Russell Arben Fox said...


Hope all is well with you. I like your list very much; I've read a fair amount of Luther, but never his Catechism, and I ought to.

I actually responded to this meme twice, here and here. The first list is my college/intellectual list, the second is more my "life in general" list. Basically, I just talk too much to be able to agree on a single list.

Pam said...

I like reading these lists - so thanks. GGM is a huge favorite, as is Thoreau and Faulkner (Faulkner blows me away - but then, I suppose I am a southerner). Snow's 'A Study of Vermeer' is going on the list, and oddly, I haven't read much of Wallace Stevens (some, but not much) and I have no idea why not - so that too will go on the list.

Hang in there - those Four Horsemen can be awfully demanding from time to time.

R. Sherman said...

Just a quick pop-in to make sure all is well and that you're surviving end-of-semester weirdness. Take a break this summer.


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