Longer, Rougher and Deeper: The 10 Books I Would Want to Read This Summer If My Thesis Were Dead (English Edition)

Dr. Johnson Joshua ReynoldsSamuel Johnson. Joshua Reynolds, 1775.

My thesis is due in six weeks and I’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’s ironic: this period that promised to be a hotbed of intellectual stimulation in the economic sense feels more like a hotbed of intellectual stimulation in the horticultural sense, i.e., a heap of warm shit.

I have trouble focusing on one thing. I also have trouble doing something when I’m required to do it. So no matter how much I like doing something, if I’m assigned to do it, and if it’s going to take a while: basta!

I’ll write a post-thesis report once the whole thing is done. Until then, I can’t with a clean conscience read anything long that isn’t already in my bibliography. So these are the ten English-language books that I would read if I had the time. (A French-language version will follow.)

You’ll notice that each book has a link to Amazon. In the interest of transparency, I should tell you that if you end up buying one of them, I’ll get a small percentage of the money you spent added to my Amazon account. (Chris has rightly called this an expedient way to ‘increase my income by 30 cents a month.’)

I’ve also included a little blurb after each item. I can’t vouch for their accuracy or intelligence; they’re just the reasons why I’m interested in reading the books in question, which I just noticed are written exclusively by and about privileged white men.

* * *

1. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Published in 1621,  it’s apparently both an extended medical study (full title: The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Historically, Opened and Cut up) and a helter-skelter meditation on the titular malady. I browsed a copy at the bookstore last week and it seems almost postmodern: interminable passages riddled with  ancient, untranslated citations, poems, and so on. Samuel Johnson and Beckett were big fans. Published by New York Review of Books, whose editions Ben likes to (blinds drawn) soil with his oily, oily fingers.

2. Ulysses S. Grant, The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. Consistently cited as the greatest American political memoir (rivaled only perhaps by No. 4 on this list). Written while Grant was dying of throat cancer. Edited by Mark Twain.

3. Richard Ford, The Bascombe Novels: Independence Day, The Sportswriter, The Lay of the Land. Modern classics, I’m told. Chosen instead of the Rabbit Angstrom novels for no good reason at all, and instead of Zuckerman Bound because I’d read Philip Roth’s grocery lists.

4. Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams. Brahmin porn. Originally just circulated samizdat-wise among his friends (which should be more common). Topped the Modern Library of America’s 20th century English-language works of non-fiction.

5. Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time. I had the chance to work with an abnormally literate young English journalist for a few weeks. (Then he got fired.) He was shocked that I had never heard of this twelve-volume epic, which I believe he called (and someone must have tipped him off here about my proclivities) The Wire (!) of 20th century English literature.

6. Michael Dummet, Origins of Analytical Philosophy. The horrible secret is that even though I’m a few weeks away (fingers crossed) from getting a Master’s degree in philosophy, I know so little about it. I confuse all the schools and concepts, I’ve avoided or merely skimmed most of the classics, and I don’t see why anyone today would want to study (excepting a handful of immortal works) anything written before Hume but out of historical curiosity. (At least Pascal was a good writer. But since no one with a brain believes in God anymore, what good is all that Cartesian chicanery? Vitriolic mail from someone who knows better in 3, 2, 1…) This book is about the origins of analytical philosophy, which I want to know more about, because I have read Wittgenstein and Ayer and a little Carnap, and they left me wanting to storm Castle Metaphysics with torches and pitchforks. Chosen instead of The Frege Reader because I’m a dilettante and I find it easier to read works about philosophy more than philosophy itself.

7. Mark Stevens & Analyn Swan, de Kooning: An American Master. Sitting on my shelf right now. I know nothing about this man. The few paintings of his I’ve seen appear to be inferior composites of all the things his contemporaries and predecessors excelled at, but I don’t even qualify as an amateur visual art enthusiast.

8. William Gaddis, The Recognitions. An epic postmodern classic on art forgery, et al… That’s all I’ve got. Chosen instead of Gravity’s Rainbow for street cred.

9. Saul Bellow, Herzog. I’ve managed to sneak in two Bellow books this summer already, Seize the Day and Henderson the Rain King, both fantastic. I hope Herzog will finally let me reconcile my academic aspirations with my hardscrabble inner-city Jewish upbringing.

10. Ted Hughes, Collected Poems. The Big British Poet of the second half of the twentieth century, along with Larkin. I haven’t read any of his poetry, but my poetic tastes are limited almost entirely to sad, intelligent men, and who could be sadder than this poor bastard? He was (famously enough) married to Sylvia Plath. Then his next wife—in an act veritably Greek in the depth of its cruelty—murdered her daughter with Hughes before emulating Plath’s suicide. I’ve never thought much of Seamus Heaney’s poetry (all jellypots, dripping wax and flaxen-haired colleens), but I respect him as a poetic figure. He deemed Hughes’ poems, ‘longer, rougher and deeper,’ than any others of their generation. Sold!

If you need me, I’ll be pulling quotes from some Danish dork’s dissertation.

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~ by ohkrapp on August 1, 2009.

3 Responses to “Longer, Rougher and Deeper: The 10 Books I Would Want to Read This Summer If My Thesis Were Dead (English Edition)”

  1. this is a completely solid list! just that little matter of free time though :) Thanks for posting this, it’s a good reminder of a few books that I’ve meant to read but just never got around to it. Have a look at something I posted on my blog too ( http://infloox.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/the-bbc-says-youve-only-read-6-of-these-books/ ), re: the BBC’s claim that most ppl have only read around 6 (yes 6!) of a list of 100 older and modern classics they’ve come up with.

  2. I was thumbing through a copy of Anatomy of Melancholy just the other day, dreaming about more time and an unlimited attention span.

  3. I have a b.a. in philosophy, a b.a. in english, and a m.a. in humanities. Definitely read more Saul Bellow. Both Herzog and Humboldt’s Gift are swarming with philosophy, and they’re also laugh outloud funny 9at least to those of us who have a philosophical bent).

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