I had previously mentioned a short list of movies that I felt would give the average person a good grasp of American Cinema.
This got me thinking about the most important books that have shaped my thinking. Like the famous saying, “You are what you read!”. Wait, that’s not the saying! It’s “You are what you eat!”. Oh my gosh, I have invented a new phrase! “You are what you read!”. It really says it all. I’m immediately registering it as a quotable quote so I can get credit for it. Perhaps I’ll save it for my death bed, garnishing additional ownership.
I just hate myself having the undisciplined, bright shiny object, disease.
“You are what you read”, a twist on the common saying. First, I would like to share my history favorites. There are many more, some that remained on the shelf, while I stood reading the entire book. Many hours of standing in the stacks. The following list is what has entered my personal library, allowing for reference and multiple reading…
The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History, Trevor Dupuy
Heimskringla, Snorre Snurlson
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer
The Dream and the Tomb, Robert Payne
The War Against the Jews, Lucy Dawidowicz
The End of the Bronze Age, Robert Drews
A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman
Spandau, Albert Speer
History Begins at Sumer, Samuel Kramer
The Jewish War, Josephus
The Bible as History, Werner Keller
Across the Wide Missouri, Bernard DeVoto
Westering Man, by Bil Gibson
The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbons
Three Roads to the Alamo, William Davis
Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandberg, 8 volumes
A History of Venice, John Norwich
Thucydides, Herodotus, Tacitus, Zenophon, Aurelius, Cicero
Homer, the Bede, Vasari, Plutarch, Marco Polo
Everything by Tim Severin
Everything by Barbara Tuchman
Everything by Bill Bryson
Everything by Samuel Kramer
Everything by John Keegan
Everything by Bernard Bailyn
Of course some of these are excursions into my personal interests. If you are focused on Latin American, or the Cold War, you should augment this list with volumes in those subjects. This list is fairly basic with some Americana, some prehistory, some classic, and some medieval. It’s well rounded.
The Literary Volumes
There are so many that a linear list would be too long and too boring. From memory I will try to relate the important ones
I read a lot of mystery novels in the third grade. Couldn’t get enough from my school library, finished the shelf in about a month. We didn’t call them chapter books but I suppose they were my first.
Then I found mythology, the simple introductory I discarded. I went hardcore with a youth version of Bullfinch’s, then Edith Hamilton. And naturally that led to Homer, and Homer, led to Virgil, and finally Ovid by the fourth grade.
Classic literature sandwiched between comic books. ‘I don’t hate you Superman, I loath you!’, said Lex Luthor. That introduced me to words, and the power of words.
Rereading the myths and tales of classic war kept me busy until I found science fiction in the sixth grade. I went a little nuts. I found racks of cheap pocket books at a local used junk store. I begin reading a book a day.
Unfortunately, I had no one to guide me. I had only the selection available, which was used, tattered and mixed in quality. Eventually I discovered Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Poul Andersen, Isaac Asimov, and a few others. Then I found a list of Hugo Award winners, and Nebula Award winners. Hah, quality without the hit and miss crap. I stayed deep into science fiction with maybe a two or three hundred volume library of paperbacks.
Then I found Robert Howard and his Conan series, which led to Soloman Kane and others. I tended to find an author and then I searched until I read everything published. Robert Howard died on my birthday so I felt a special attachment.
By the time I entered high school I was fairly well read in quantity, but a very narrow field in literature. My English teacher in tenth grade was my first guide to general literature. Moby Dick, Hawthorne, Dickens. I devoured them, I responded by sharing with him “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Heinlein. Mr Bebelaar loved it.
Then he shared “On the Road” by Kerouac and Alan Watts, “The Way of Zen”. Well, that was the end of normalcy.
The Beat poets led to Henry Miller, I read everything available, which wasn’t much. Grove Press was the only reliable publisher, and they could only be purchased at Cody’s Bookstore in Berkeley.
That led to a whole new experience for a sixteen year old. The Berkeley street scene became my regular haunt, with a cup of espresso to keep me warm and awake. Pete’s ice cream, the Forum’s caffeine, Cody and Shakespeare’s books, it was a little bit of heaven. Then I remember someone saying we should go to San Francisco, there were a couple of cool places on Haight Street, near Ashbury. I declined.
After Henry Miller, I was deep into Walt Whitman, I was on the road hitching on and off for three years and I always carried a battered “Leaves of Grass”
Hmm, sometime after the Army I found Mervyn Peake, and Gormenghast. Wow, what a trilogy. And then I read his lunch mate Tolkien. Another wow! And that led to CS Lewis.
In between I read all of Tim Severin’s work and the incredible seaman, Tristan Jones. That led to sailing and every sailing resource available.
Pretty much that brings me up to about 1985. Since then it has been very eclectic. I fell for Annie Dillard in a big way. Robert Persig and a few others. “Life of Pi” was fun, and “Cold Mountain”. I don’t know, a few good ones but lots of crap. I actually couldn’t finish a book because it was so bad. First time it happened, even the worst I had hopes it would turn around, but no longer.
For the last two years, nothing has stood out. Lots of good stuff on the net, but it’s not the same. Gotta read more!