Wednesday, November 4, 2015


I suppose this is where I should make one of my semi-regular apologies for the lack of new posts.  (I am sorry about that.  It turns out that I didn't have much to say about Moby Dick.)  An apology of that sort, though, gives hope that new posts will be appearing at a greater rate.  And I don't know if that's true.
To be completely honest, it feels like this blog, and the project that fuels it, is at a crossroads.  I don't think this is uncommon.  When I started this, four years ago, there were three other bloggers that I quickly found that were either working through a Great Books plan or had done so recently.  One of those blogs is now shuttered and the other two have been more miss than hit over the past year.
This may be a consequence of the pieces selected for year four.  They've made it harder for me to really enjoy this.  I doubt that's it, though.
The truth is, this is a very long project.  When I started this, I was a stay at home dad who was working part time while watching an infant.  That infant is now in Kindergarten.  He has a younger brother who is three.  I'm working full time in an office.  Needless to say, the demands on my time have changed quite a bit.  I can only imagine what those demands will look like six years from now.  Somehow I doubt that I'll be less busy.
We're told not to regret things, or live in the past, but I wish I'd tackled this project in my twenties.  I had absolutely gobs of time then.  Live and learn, I guess.  (I'll pass this bit of wisdom on to my kids and see if any of them take the bait.)
Two other bits of reading have set me to wondering.  This summer when I read 'A Great Idea At the Time', I learned that there was quite a bit of disagreement about what authors should be included in the Great Books and how the reading plan should be laid out.  For the first time, I looked at what was offered with a critical eye.  I haven't stopped doing so since.
The second piece was a wonderful essay from Joseph Epstein regarding reading plans.  (I can't find it anywhere online, which is a damn shame.  I may need to just type the whole thing out and post it here.)  The essay convinced me that there are inherent flaws in a structured list.  I've come to agree with that too.
Where does that leave me?  I'm trying to decide what to do going forward.  My main options are:

  • Continue for the next six years and do the original ten year plan as described.
  • Trim that plan into something like three or four years.
  • Drop the plan entirely and move to something that I'm (currently) more excited about.
Right this minute, I'm leaning towards the middle option.  That would mean jettisoning a bunch of the science.  Skipping the German school of modern philosophy.  And not reading anything else regarding psychology or epistemology.  This would leave some large holes in my understanding of Western thought.  Frankly, those are the areas that I'm not absorbing much anyway.  (There are serious drawbacks to doing this as a solo project.  I'm absolutely awestruck by anyone that can  understand German philosophers like Kant and Hegel without some kind of group effort.)
This option would leave the Greeks and the Romans.  It would leave all of the literature and epic poems.  It would leave all of the theater (which is almost entirely Shakespeare).  I would cut out some of the remaining religious works, but not all.  And it would leave me with some feeling of control over the rest of the project.

But I'm not sure what to do.  Any comments or advice is welcome.


  1. Yikes, I really don't know what to suggest. I can only offer that sometimes we can find ourselves doing something that seems very tedious at the moment we're doing it, but we only realize the value of it when it is long past. :-)

    I really sympathize with your frustration of doing the project on your own. I have two projects which I'm finishing, probably only because I've done them with someone else, and two solo projects which are sitting there untouched this year.

    I'm not certain that I would cut the religious work, ONLY because it may prevent you from appreciating other works. I've been so frustrated by my lack of knowledge of Catholicism, because I feel it prevents me from understanding so many works of literature in which I'm interested.

    If you have some blog connections, or other connections from places such as Goodreads, perhaps you could convince others to read some of the works with you, if you plan it ahead of time. I really enjoy reading along with others, whether it invokes in-depth discussion or it is simply knowing that you have someone reading with you and there's a deadline.

    In any case, best of luck with whatever you decide! A Great Books reading plan really appeals to me, but I'm not sure if I'd have the stamina to stick it out. Perhaps if I just keep reading, I'll cover most of it one day!

  2. I think it is important for you to finish what you begin, however that doers not mean that you can not take a break and do something of interest now. Problem is that you have a deadline and a fixed list. Why did you begin the list in the first place?