Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kickoff Tomorrow

Tomorrow the reading plan starts. Based on my reading ahead, I'm pretty excited!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Four Questions

Since I mentioned Adler's 'Four Questions' I should probably actually write about what they are. These are the questions that an active reader should be asking. (Adler had more questions and rules than this but I think this is a good place to start. Maybe the others should be added too. We'll see.)

First question: What is the book about as a whole? In which we try to 'discover the leading theme of the book, and how the author develops this theme in an orderly way by sudividing it into its essential subordinate themes or topics'.

Second question: What is being said in detail, ahd how? In which we try to 'discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the author's particular message'.

Third question: Is the book true in whole or part? A big meaty question in which you judge the validty of the theme and the arguments made to support it.

Fourth question: What of it? The meatiest question of them all. How significant was this? And were you informed or even enlightened?

And there they are. The other rules are a bit more technical in terms of how you 'own' the book. They have to do with understanding key words and finding the important arguments. I will note the eighth rule: 'Determine which of his problems the author has solved and which he has not; and as to the latter decide which the author knew he had failed to solve.' That seems like a useful approach as well.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monthly Plan

Spurred by Micah's suggestion, I've read Adler's 'How to Read a Book'. When I first picked it up I felt foolish because, of course, reading books is a skill that I've pretty well been on top of for more than thirty years. But of course, this is about a more in depth reading style. If you haven't read it and you really want to 'own' the books you read, I would highly recommend this.
I've had some ideas in my head as to the structure of each month. Adler has somewhat rearranged this for the better, I think. I'll put this out here for now but please know that I'm very open to feedback and change on this. I want something fairly standard but what I'm writing down now doesn't necessarily have to be the finished product. Think of this as a suggestion:


  • 1st (day of the month) - the title of the selection. Perhaps some suggestions on secondary materials. For instance, I think that Shakespeare is better watched first and then read. (Adler would recommend against reading any kind of analysis first, so keep that in mind.)

  • 3rd - A timeline of the life of the author. This will make it easier to bracket exactly when things were written in relationship to each other. Not sure if this will grow through the year or if I'll just have one big timeline and repost it each month.

  • 6th - a bio sketch, almost certainly heavily cribbed from Wikipedia. I'll highlight anything that I read there that seems to shed light on the background of the piece. And I'd encourage anyone else to do so as well.

  • Midmonth - Start of the general discussion. This will move around a bit depending on the number of works for that month. May start as early as the 10th but not later than the 15th. (This will probably have some fairly organic growth, depending on how much participation there is. Will it start with just general observations? Or should I follow Adler's 'Four Questions'? And if so, does each one deserve a different post? Not sure yet.)

  • 18th - Modern focus. In which we try to figure out how much impact the piece still has on modern life.

  • 20th - A reminder of the selections of the next month.

  • 21st - Cultural reflection. Did it remind us of any modern movies, books, music? (For some reason, I want to know if various authors would have fit into the cultures of various sports teams too. But that may be meaningless. Anyway, this is where that info would go.)

  • 24th - Meta discussion or perhaps 'syntopical discussion'. How does this piece fit in with the other works that we've already read?

  • 27th - Related readings. What else fits in with this piece. Especially what else that isn't on the list. This might also be a good spot to talk about who else would benefit from reading this (for example teachers, city planners, cousin John).

And then the new month comes along and we start over. Anyway, that's the plan. Feel free to offer suggestions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Great Books, More Info

I meant to link to a full list of the authors. Wikipedia has a good one here. The first edition is the one that I'm working through.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Finding the Books

Haven't even started the project yet and already I've found out something that I didn't know. Back when I started this I thought that the e-book arrangement would give virtually free classics to anyone that wanted it. Not quite. Most of them were free on the Kindle but very few were on the Nook. Barnes and Noble are selling most of these for a dollar or less. Google books had all of them but the formats can be a bit wonky. I might go back and set up links to Project Gutenberg at some point too.
It's something of a modern cliche to note that we have tremendous amounts of knowledge at our fingertips. Setting this up really drove that home for me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Year One

I'm going to try and set links to the Kindle, Nook and Google books copies of all of these. I expect that these links will break at some point due to common internet drift. Please notify me and I'll fix them at least during the year that we're working through these pieces.

January

Plato: 'Apology' and 'Crito' Kindle/Nook/Google
Aristophanes: 'Clouds' and 'Lysistrata' Kindle/Nook/Google,Google

February

Plato: 'Republic' books 1 and 2 Kindle/Nook/Google
Aristotle: 'Ethics' book 1 Kindle/Nook/Google
Aristotle: 'Politics' Book 1 Kindle/Nook/Google

March

Plutarch: 'Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans' (only Lycurgus, Numa Pompilius, Lycurgus and Numa compared, Alexander, Caesar) Kindle/Nook/Google

April

From the New Testament: Gospel of St Matthew and Acts of the Apostles Kindle/Nook/Google, Google
St Augustine: 'Confessions' books 1-8 Kindle/Nook/Google

May

Machiavelli: 'The Prince' Kindle/Nook/Google

June

Rabelais: 'Gargantua and Pantagruel' books 1 and 2 Kindle/Nook/Google

July

Montaigne: 'Essays' (Of Custom; Of Pedantry; Of the Education of Children; That it is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity; Of Cannibals; That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them; Upon some Verses of Virgil) Kindle/Nook/Google

August

Shakespeare: 'Hamlet' Kindle/Nook/Google

September

Locke: 'Concerning Civil Gov't', second essay Kindle/Nook/Google
Rousseau: The Social Contract books 1 and 2 Kindle/Nook/Google

October

Gibbon: 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapters 15 and 16 Kindle/Nook/Google

November

Declaration of Independence Kindle/Nook/Google
Constitution of the United States Kindle/Nook/Google
The Federalist Nos 1-10, 15, 31, 47, 51, 68-71 Kindle/Nook/Google

December

Smith: 'The Wealth of Nations' Introduction - Book 1, Chapter 9 Kindle/Nook/Google
Marx-Engles: 'Manifest of the Communist Party Kindle/Nook/Google

Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Invitation

As I mentioned, in a few months I'm going to start a long reading program. I'd love some company and I'm hoping that some people reading this will come along. The plan is ten years long, each year having 18 different pieces of reading.
Ten Years?
Yeah, it's a long one but I don't want anyone to be intimidated by the length. I'm hoping to do the whole thing in order but that doesn't mean everyone else needs to. Anyone that wants to hop in and out is welcome to do so. That includes anyone that simply stumbles across this through Google. Come on in!
Eighteen Pieces a Year?
It would have been easier if they'd gone with twelve or twenty four so we could just follow the monthly pattern. We'll simply have to improvise. Some months will have two or even three pieces. I've tried to figure this out for fairly balanced lengths of work.
Just How Long are we Talking Here?
The designers felt that an average person could do this with about fifteen minutes of reading per day. Each month will have something like 100 pages or so. Sometimes more, sometimes a lot more. But the really lengthy ones are written in novel form. For instance, one month will be Melville's 'Moby Dick' which is pretty doable in a month.
Any Thoughts on Format?
Yes. I have some ideas on how to do this. There will be some regularly scheduled questions and themes. Some will be stodgy and traditional but I'll try for some that mix things up.
What About the Series Itself? Any Good?
I think so. It certainly hits all of the high points that I can think of. Not that it's without flaws. My set ends before the 20th century so there is quite a bit of modern thought missing. And it concentrates very heavily on European thought. And no women.
No Women?
Yep. In fairness to the editors, for most of the period of time covered women simply couldn't break through and write like men could. The set could have included some poetry and a few 19th century novelists and it probably should have. I'll be open to suggestions from commenters on filling in the gaps.
What Else?
One of the interesting things about this is that it includes quite a bit of natural science, history and religion. The editors think that the 'average reader' would be able to handle more of this than is ordinarily thought. I'll be interested in testing this out.
Religion?
There is a fairly large religious content to all of this. This makes sense as there was a period of pre-Enlightenment time when the big thinkers were almost all part of the church. Plus, the Judeo-Christian foundation is a huge piece of our civilizational framework. We just don't think about it today. (And I'm curious what we can still learn from St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.)

So there is the reading plan. Feel free to dip your toe in and try it out. You might learn and grow. I hope to.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Lesser Conversation

A few weeks back I was talking with my dad about our various e-readers. I mentioned to him that one of the overlooked positive things about them is that they bring classic works to the reader for free. Virtually everything written before the 20th century, certainly all of the important works, have been converted into free text by Project Gutenberg and others. One of the first things that a new Kindle user finds is that there is a multitude of free stuff out there and most of it falls into this category.
I happened to mention the book series 'The Great Books of the Western World'. This is a set of books published way back in 1952. It includes all the major works that make up the foundation of Western civilization. The early heavies like Homer and Plato all the way up to Dostoevsky and Freud. Everything up through the 19th century. All of this is now free, I said. Everything except the introductory book called 'The Great Conversation' and a two volume indexy type thing called the 'Syntopicon' (which my dad calls a thesis generator).
We had this set in our house while I was growing up and some time after I moved out I asked to have them. I've pecked at them a bit but never really attacked them. After I talked with my dad I picked up the introduction, maybe for the first time, and started to look through it. Much to my surprise I came across a ten year reading plan.
Well, it's tough for me to resist a well put together reading list. And I don't intend to resist this one either. This plan is designed to lead one through the great works of history, touching on each of the listed authors. It consists of 18 pieces per year. They say that it has a steadily increasing difficulty level.

At the beginning of the next year, Jan 1st, 2012, I intend to start the plan. Frankly I'm excited.