100 top books, Books, education, liberal arts, Literature, reading
Excuse me, but my fixation continues. Don’t blame me, I can’t help what my reader continues to throw at me. It’s all the fault of Dr. James McGrath really–I swear. I had to go and follow his link to 3quarkdaily, and well, it can all be traced to that–mostly.
I say mostly, because my love affair with arts and letters is pretty well life long anyway, but I managed to submerge it to a degree in favor of politics and religion. It seems to be rearing its head again though. Along with science. I think most of the new sites I’ve added recently are a compilation of those three.
Just so you understand. My head seems a barely contained explosion of thinking. I have to list things, and I’m good at that. It’s the Martha Stewart desire in me to organize.
Once upon a time there was such a thing as a liberal arts education. I think it still exists in some form, but is rarely evoked nowadays. Everyone is in a hurry to learn something applicable–as in making a living. I know I skipped it. Like I said, the best I could do was give a passing nod to a list of 100 books “everyone should read before attending college.” I did maybe thirty.
Years later, when I looked that list up, I was shocked to find that there were tons of such lists, and they sure didn’t agree much. Oh, there were obvious choices in the realm of Shakespeare and Plato of course, but there were tons of alternatives. They all have one major flaw–they are hugely Western in orientation. Some were so European they thought America contributed nothing to the mix whatsoever.
Still, I have tried, over the years to dive into more French and English literature. I’ve read all of Plato, most of Aristotle, all of Shakespeare, a smattering of writings from at least Enlightenment philosophers. Hit and miss. I’ve read a fair amount of the fiction listed on most lists.
Since there are few liberal arts students these days, colleges and universities find themselves in somewhat of a quandary. Too many of their incoming freshmen are, shall we be delicate? less than adequately educated in the world of ideas? Big ideas that is. And so lots of schools send out reading lists to prospective freshmen, asking them to read some books before arriving.
Bard college sends out this requirement:
Syllabus Fall 2010
Required Texts (Bard Bookstore):
- Genesis (Norton; trans. Alter);
- Plato, Symposium (Oxford; trans. Waterfield);
- Virgil, The Aeneid (Penguin; trans. Fagles);
- Virgil, The Aeneid (Vintage; trans. Fitzgerald);
- St. Augustine, Confessions (Penguin; trans. Pine-Coffin);
- Dante, Inferno (Oxford; trans. Durling and Martinez);
- William Shakespeare, Othello (Norton);
- Galileo Galilei, Discoveries and Opinions (Anchor; trans. Drake).
Symposiums are scheduled to discuss ideas. Another list is set for the Spring of the year.
As I said, scholars argue even about these lists, finding them often one-sided. They tend to favor more recently published books over older ones, they tend to favor liberal interpretations over conservative. There are often intellectually unchallenging.
One of the better programs around seems to be the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read program. It focuses on fiction and poetry.
A huge list is compiled and broken into categories which seems quite thorough. It is called the College Bound Reading List. Compiled by the Arrowhead Library System in Wisconsin.
Penguin Classics lists 101 Best Written Books, but from the comments a lot of people don’t agree, and it seems limited to fiction.
Oh and if you buy Barnes and Nobles “classics” they have all their available titles at the end. I’ve read probably ten or more of them. Nice and cheap, none over $9.95 I believe.
Berkeley gathered their list from their faculty and grouped them into broad categories which you can link to. It is decidedly modern in its outlook.
Many colleges and universities use lists compiled along the lines of the Great Books system, begun in the 1920-30’s. It was developed to use as the basis of a liberal arts education in those years. Optional use of the list is offered in places like Notre Dame and Pepperdine. A sample of “a” list is included in the above link near the bottom. A complete original list of the 60 book set and 90’s additions are located here.
Want to see lots of more book lists? Go here. Actually this one is worth your time. It’s nicely broad.
And I make no endorsement of the featured book in the image. It merely had the right topic. It might be worth a look see at Amazon, but that’s up to you.