February 22, 2013, by Stephen Mumford
It lowers the heart rate. It stimulates your mind. It broadens horizons. Is there anything as lovely in life as reading a book, treating oneself to a few hours of escape? A book can be a window on a different world, perhaps a world of ideas. It can be a book of fantastic stories describing marvellous things. The book can take you far outside your routine sphere of interest. But it is capable also of doing the exact opposite, taking you deeper and deeper inside your own mind, exploring themes of human psychology, telling you truths about your own life. In a book, you can discover the world. In a book, you can discover yourself.
For those with time who can sit quietly, with no sounds or distractions, and for an extended period, then they know the height of luxury. For that time, they live like a god or goddess. How else would one live if all material needs were met? Take a book from the shelf. Turn the pages. Touch the paper. Is it an old book or a new one? They smell very different but both are delicious. And then become immersed in the mind of the author. Inhabit their world. Revisit it day after day until the whole is complete and the back cover is closed. That book is now part of you.
Commitments prevent me from reading as much as I would like. In more innocent times I thought nothing of giving my day over to a book. Often I would read with no particular purpose in mind. I read many of Bertrand Russell’s books for no reason other than pleasure and he wrote on a diverse range of subjects. I had the joy of learning about early German Social Democracy from him, and then all about Marriage and Morals, but also more challenging topics such as An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry. He even had a couple of books of fiction, all devoured with pleasure. Out of pure curiosity, I also read Anselm’s Proslogion, Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, Camus’ L’étranger, Hughes and Cresswell’s Introduction to Modal Logic. I read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. And what a joy it then was when I discovered the light relief of Charles Dickens and how I loved devoting weeks’ worth of free time to one of his novels.
When I read now, it is usually with some specific research purpose in mind. That’s not so much fun. It’s too pragmatic. But it will not always be so. My retirement will be spent working through the remainder of Dickens and I will have so much fun! Please tell me some of your favourite books.
I really enjoy Edward Feser’s Aquinas . Every time I read it I learn something new and exciting which changes the way I think about things.
I’m sending a small handful of my students quietly mad with a reading group on the I Ching right now – as one said, this book is the most alien to any conception of a book they’d ever had. So, a vote for the I Ching!
This is so true! In the past, whenever I had finished a big task, such as submitting a research proposal or a final report on one, or whatever, I didn’t hesitate to crawl into bed with a book for a day (Sunday of course) (preferably Dickens or similar) to clear my head, reset my language centre from b…t to proper language and then start the next task refreshed in mind and soul. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to find the time to do this anymore. Retirement beckons when you can allow yourself a reading binge even without having submitted a research proposal!
Strongly agree with you!
From the top of my head:
Musil: Man Without Qualities
Murdoch: The Sea, The Sea
Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint
Lenz: Arnes Nachlass
Bernhard: Alte Meister
Auster: Brooklyn Folies
Kripke: Naming and Necessity
Lewis: On the Plurality of Worlds
Williams: Truth and Truthfulness
Anything by Quine or Frege
Anything by Nicholas Mahler
Anything by David Mazuchelli
Anything by Jihiro Taniguchi
And much, much more of course!
Aunque no soy un fanático a leer muchos libros físicos por el contrario disfruto mucho de la lectura en línea, estoy totalmente de acuerdo que la lectura es como un escape de nuestra realidad muchas veces agobiada por el día día, permitiéndonos por ese lapso ser parte del mundo del autor. Además este buen hábito permite cultivar bastos conocimientos en diferentes áreas, enriqueciendo nuestro vocabulario.
Saludos desde Ecuador, y sigan leyendo!
O, this is one of my favorite questions ever! Here are some that are in, like, a whole league of their own … not just regular old ones that I really enjoyed or even loved.
Orlando (Virginia Woolf)
Little, Big (John Crowley)
YA and Kids books: The Diamond in the Window, A Wind in the Door, The Dream Watcher, Days With Frog and Toad
How To Survive in Your Native Land (James Herndon)
Roget’s Thesaurus (original format)
Gravity and Grace (Simone Weil)
Capital, Vol. 1
Lectures on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (Adorno)
Anything by P. G. Wodehouse
Time and Again (Jack Finney)
Museum Pieces (Elizabeth Tallent)
The Sovereignty of Good (Iris Murdoch)
I like the Plato (all). That’s good advice.
Next you will have to ask people for their favorite poems … then paintings. After that it’s musical genres. The arts are a slippery slope.
Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge and its companion Mr. Bridge
Tobias Smollet’s Expedition of Humphrey Clinker
The Star Rover by Jack London
My favourite poem of all time, which is so long it might as well be a book, and which I find indescribably beautiful, is John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. My favourite novel is Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Secret Agent’, with Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ running it a close second. But that’s being REALLY selective. ‘Favourite’ is just the top pickings of numerous masterpieces. Non-fictionally speaking, I always enjoy reading Stanley Fish’s work, as well as Steven Connor’s.
“[Books are] also capable also of doing the exact opposite, taking you deeper and deeper…”
Yes, I sometimes think that an alien civilisation might be a bit puzzled by our art/ents – such observers might expect the function of art to be escapism from humdrum lives. Instead, they would find most stories head deeper and deeper into misery, challenges, ambiguity and struggle. Indeed, if there were no struggle, the reader might well grow bored. Happy endings are purposefully not fleshed out, they are essentially the death of the protagonist.
What a lovely post. Anything by Tolstoy goes down well. Even Father Sergius from his moralist phase, which I read recently, I found wonderful. King of the Dark Chamber by Tagore. The Iliad. Much of Rilke.
Non-fiction: Carroll Quigely’s Evolution of Civilizations
Fiction: Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again
I love this question, so here is a list of books that changed my life –
Being and Time (Heidegger)
The Phenomenology of Spirit (Hegel)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Nietzsche)
The Claim of Reason (Stanley Cavell)
1984 (George Orwell)
The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (Hemingway)
Love is a Dog from Hell (Bukowski)
Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller)
Kreutzer Sonata (Tolstoy)
The House of the Dead (Dostoyevsky)
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Rilke)
Letter to his Father (Kafka)
La Chambre Claire (Roland Barthes)
Les Mandarins (Simone de Beauvoir)
Tous les Hommes sont Mortels (Simone de Beauvoir)
Essais (Albert Camus)
La Nausée (Jean-Paul Sartre)
Comment Je suis devenu Stupide (Martin Page)
Selected Poems and Fragments (Hölderlin)
First Stories (Jõao Guimarães Rosa)
But there are more!
There’s not a week goes by without me thinking of Orwell’s 1984. I think it’s one of the most important books of all time.
Marshall Berman’s All That’s Solid Melts into Air:The Experience of Modernity. I read it first the year it came outin 1983 and learned from it how exhilarating social science writing can be.
Brave New World- Aldous Huxley , Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford, Lucia series E.F. Benson, Come Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
COLD Comfort Farm – bloody auto correct
Books are for making mindset, and even for changing them. No matter how much this technological warfare of knowledge has evolved, one can simply not deny or overlook the deep impact made by books. They are the hard proof of one’s intellect. No matter how much stressed you are, books have the calmness to cool you down.
A beautiful blog post Stephen – I completely agree that reading is one of life’s purest pleasures. Here are a few of my favourites:-
F Scott Fitzgerald – The Crackup
Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things
Ian McEwan – The Cement Garden
Glen Duncan – I, Lucifer
J G Ballard – High Rise
Iris Murdoch The Severed Head and The Sea, The Sea
Charles Dickens – Bleak House
George Eliot – Middlemarch
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half of a Yellow Sun
Alan Garner – Red Shift
Kwame Anthony Appiah – Cosmopolitanism
Albert Camus – La Chute
Michel Butor – L’Emploi du temps
W G Sebald – The Emigrants
Helene Berr – Journal
Stephen King – The Stand
Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle
Alex Ross – The Rest is Noise
Tony Judt – Postwar
Rebecca Solnit – On Getting Lost
Proust – A la recherche du temps perdu
Wonderful post. Thank you! Nobody with love of books and reading can resist such a question! Here are some of my favorites; books that have changed the way I see the world, myself, others, and the way I read and write:
Knut Hamsun: Hunger (Sult), and Pan
All the Old Norse Sagas and Edda poems
Everything by Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf (In particular: Orlando)
Sartre: Nausea and Being and Nothingness
Kierkegaard: Either/or, Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Anxiety
Jean-Luc Nancy: Corpus, Listening, Being Singular Plural
Heidegger: Being and Time
Graham Harman: Guerrilla Metaphysics
José Ortega Y Gasset: Meditations on Quixote
Maurice Blanchot: The Space of Literature
Salman Rushdie: Satanic verses
Javier Cercas: Soldiers of Salamis
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera
Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness, and even more: Lord Jim
Philip Roth: The Human Stain
Karl Ove Knausgaard: My Struggle and A Time for Everything
And oh – there are so many others!