Recently Tom McIntyre asked several of his friends to recommend books for a young woman who had not encountered them in college. My list follows.
I once said that in my school the curriculum would be Classics, poetry, history, evolutionary biology, and how to run a chainsaw…
Politics and philosophy. Sorta…..
John Gray: Straw Dogs, John is a calm erudite calm nihilist and perhaps the most original mind in England today. He wrote a book on atheism in which he held that faith is dumb, then proved atheism is at least as…
Michael Oakeshott: Rationalism in Politics (he’s agin it)
An immense detailed scholarly book that in the end shows that the best society was in the Englsh counryside before WWI, and that all delberate change however inevitable is bad, by an old English small l ljbertarian who lives in such a village and likes to swim naked.
Prince Peter Kropotkin: Mutual Aid . Mutual aid! As far as I am concerned all political wisdom resides in these books.
Art etc: Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae. Her later ones are pretty good but she gets caught up in her schtick
A couple of uncharitable (but funny) Catholic novelists; my favories among their books
A Handful of Dust
Scoop (The Daily Beast!)
Redemption? Brideshead Revisited
A far Cry from Kensington
Loitering with Intent — woops, an autobiography but still , “I went on my way rejoicing.”
A charitable Catholic (redneck academic): Mary Karr. The Liars Club, Lit: the one about writing biographies. I have it lent out to a cowboy right now — I can’t remember the name .It covers everyody from Nabokov to Frank Conroy ‘s Stop Time.
A little natural history — Ed Wilson’s Biophilia; Berndt Heinrich’s Mind of the Raven.
Ted Hughes: The Collected Poetry — accessible, memorable, mostly nature poetry that stays in your head.
Possibly, the LOA edition(s ) of Nabokov. One contains Lolita (the ultimate motel road novel), Pale Fire and Pnin . Another contains Speak Memor and the good butterfly stuff ((see my next book).
Imperialism: nothing better than Heaven’s Command, Jan (James) Morris’ trilogy about the British Empire, also containing Pax Britannica, and Farewell the Trumpets
Two great books of American History: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne and Blood and Thunder by Hampden Sides. The first is more or less about the Comanche Empire, which actually was one. The second is about Kit Carson. Both are full of blood and guts and heroism; neither have easy villains.
Can you bring yourself to read someone as unpopular as Kipling? Every sentence in every one of his books, especially when he gets on his feet and gets going (which happens remarkably early –HENRY JAMES was calling him a genius at 20 I think) contains its opposite, as only happens in the greatest art. The Jungle Books are kids’ books. Sure. I read them when I was four and have read them every year since. They contain the world. Kim is the best adventure story ever told with its utterly ambiguous boy hero, and Tom; Libby sat on the great guns Zim Zimmah!
If you enjoy these kind of things — I do very much — you will doubtless enjoy Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. But there are twelve frickin’ volumes and I doubt there’s enough time in a lifetime to read them twice. So why not read instead his autobiography? The four titles tell it all: Messengers of Day; Infants of the Spring; The Strangers are all Gone; and Faces in My Time (“I have seen better faces in my time/Than stands on any shoulder that I see/Before me at this instance”– Lear). They are short enough that you can read all of them every year. And they contain everybody that was anybody in British literature for fifty years.