Donald Barthelme’s Syllabus
December 22, 2009 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Donald Barthelme’s Syllabus: I was given secondhand a list of eighty-one books, the recommendations of Donald Barthelme to his students. Barthelme’s only guidance ... was to attack the books “in no particular order, just read them.” Two of the books, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger and Flaubert’s Letters (numbers 15, 40), were written in the twentieth century, most in the past thirty years. And all have that dizzying sense of otherness and surprise common to great books, an affluence of vitality. There’s not a dull read in the group.

Continued, "I read Barthelme’s own 60 Stories, not included on the list (none of his books are, an indication of Barthelme’s modesty), but a collection both rowdier and more urbane, funnier and wiser, than anything I had read before."
posted by geoff. (51 comments total) 156 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is awesome, thanks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:28 AM on December 22, 2009


Oh wow. Awesome. So many of the reading lists I use are focused on pre-twentieth-century literature -- this really fills a gap for me. Thank you!
posted by ourobouros at 7:38 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


What Sticherbeast said.
posted by mediareport at 7:39 AM on December 22, 2009


Didn't know who he was, so I did a google search on his name - the first hit is interesting.

Thanks for this; I often need prodding to get out of my reading rut.
posted by Pragmatica at 7:43 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Two of the books...were written in the twentieth century

That should be "All but two of the books", right?
posted by anazgnos at 7:46 AM on December 22, 2009


I've read shamefully few of the books on that list, but the ones I have read were very good. So I'd trust that most of the others are that good, too.
posted by Forktine at 7:46 AM on December 22, 2009


Anybody who's not aware of Barthelme should definitely give his collection Sixty Stories a try. Start with The School, which is a sublime bit of dark comedy and the story that introduced me to Barthelme in high school.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:48 AM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


don b is awesome, i love love love The Piano Player
posted by neustile at 7:55 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pragmatica-- you mean this, yes?

I really need to read more American lit and a list like this is a godsend. Thank you!
posted by jokeefe at 8:02 AM on December 22, 2009


This previous post includes a link to jessamyn's collection of Barthelmes stories.

And thanks for the syllabus, geoff.
posted by Kabanos at 8:02 AM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this! I'd read it before, but reading it again post-Palin I had a hard time making it through the opening sentence of "The School" without hearing it in sing-songy neo-Alaskan:

"Well, we had all these children out planting trees, see, because we figured that ... that was part of their education, to see how, you know, the root systems ... and also the sense of responsibility, taking care of things, being individually responsible."

Sorry for the de-rail. Sixty Stories is great.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:03 AM on December 22, 2009


(The list is also here in easy to read form.)
posted by jokeefe at 8:04 AM on December 22, 2009


My favorite High School English teacher had us all read Barthelme, and in addition this was our summer suggested reading list. Definately an eye opening summer. I can now notice that there is only one woman on the list, I didn't then. I've read all of Barthelme, and also second Sixty Stories as a starting place. The man was funny and profane. Thanks for the memories, geoff.
posted by rainbaby at 8:05 AM on December 22, 2009


The best part of this is the food-stained, water-marked, crumbling list with the check marks in different color pen and marginalia. It would make a good blog subject - I have some paper ones working on for over 5 years that sort of resemble that.

The list itself? Favorite books by an eccentric professor. I don't think though there is anything here resembling a self-education or that you will a better person or more accomplished for completing. That's all bogus fairy-tales we tell ourselves. No one dies worse off for not having read a book, seen a movie, watched a play, heard a song. Many religious people achieve catharsis through sermon and ritual, many seculars see literature and art in the same way, and like the monks in the desert, they race to see who can be the most literary, reading the core fundamental books, someday to achieve..something. It's just a book, ultimately a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself while being alone.
posted by stbalbach at 8:09 AM on December 22, 2009 [9 favorites]


It's just a book, ultimately a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself while being alone.

!

Wow, that's a pretty pinched view of human culture right there.
posted by mediareport at 8:21 AM on December 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


Any list that includes Isaac Bashevis Singer gets my stamp of approval.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 8:31 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's just a book, ultimately a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself while being alone.

Well, meditation is essentially "being with oneself while being alone", and the meditation-loving folks I know also quite enjoy and value books. Maybe there's more to it than mere distraction?
posted by naju at 8:35 AM on December 22, 2009


It's just a book, ultimately a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself while being alone.

That's a bit too cynical for my tastes. Some people are fine with being alone, after all — not everybody else sees silence as a reminder of the upcoming void.

I'd imagine that most people see books for what they are — an entertainment and a pleasure that's capable of teaching something in the process. Isn't that what art is, in the end? Some people appreciate it for craft, some for social purpose, some just to pass the time, but the key is some sort of enjoyment. That's not always a mask for some deeper sorrow. It's possible to have fun just to have fun.

I agree with you, though, about the ugly canonization of some lists like this. I see it as perfectly reasonable that people would ask a smart professor for a list of books to read. That's one of the best way to find new things, and sometimes to learn about people you respect. But we have a tendency to attribute a special importance to the lists we own or have made, to attempt to value our choices above others', and that frequently leads to pointless competition and a lot of hostility. Sometimes I feel the entire literary community's been involved in such irritating dogfighting for a long while.

I can understand the worldview that says some people have read far more books than me and therefore might have a better idea of what's good and what's not than I do. But when those people decide their experience somehow entirely invalidates my own, it becomes irritatingly dogmatic. (I'm thinking right now of Harold Bloom's many proclamations that readers who read books Bloom doesn't like aren't actually reading.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:41 AM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is outstanding, Barthelme is one of my favorites. One thing I'll always remember when I heard him talk in Portland, someone asked him about one of his characters and it's relationship to Barthelme. He said, "Do not confuse the monster in the story with the monster you see standing before you."

And by the way, I counted 8 women on the list, not 1 as rainbaby said. Still could be more, but 8 is better than 1.
posted by hooha at 8:49 AM on December 22, 2009


Books are fun and full of learnin', but I meditate to offset my reading, to keep me "grounded," to help me feel that the books aren't as important as they make themselves out to be, ultimately that thoughts aren't as big as they feel when they're there. I tend towards literary bulimia, and meditation helps me understand that maybe what I need right now isn't to stuff down some more text but to bathe and eat and be kind. Lists like this do sometimes conjure the feeling of "holy shit that guy's read a lot, I better get cracking sometime soon if I want to be any kind of smart, well-read guy," which isn't necessarily Don's fault, but thanks stbalbach, I think you said it pretty good.
posted by mbrock at 8:52 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read "A Shower of Gold" in an anthology of short stories in junior high. It was like a capsule from outer space delivering a message about what literature was allowed to be. Twenty years later, the echoes of his weird cool cadences are everywhere.

The list is great. Like all great experimentalists he knows and respects the masters of the traditional forms, like Peter Taylor. (In a way Taylor brings the same coolness to the often overheated project of "the Southern domestic" that Barthelme brought to fabulistic parable.) Other books on this list which are somehow not thought about as much as they should be: Little Disturbances of Man, or maybe just Paley's collected stories. No one in America wrote better dialogue, no one in America understood as well how to be comic and important except Philip Roth, and Roth forgot. Amos Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drinkard (title misspelled by either Barthelme or Moffett), a kind of hyperreal novel from Africa that created and mastered its own genre.

If Moffett's dots are ratings, his tastes are close to mine, and I'll check out Nog and Tragic Magic right away.
posted by escabeche at 8:53 AM on December 22, 2009


Anyone converted it into a text file yet?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:56 AM on December 22, 2009


Here's a text version of the list.
posted by geoff. at 8:59 AM on December 22, 2009


Thanks, geoff..
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:00 AM on December 22, 2009


So Donald is the brother of Steven and Frederick? The only thing I've read by any of them is Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss -- which was a fascinating account of their gambling problems, reviewed here.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:06 AM on December 22, 2009


There's an AskMe thread where absalom described The Believer as "the closest thing one might find to Metafilter in print". It's a fantastic publication with great stuff like this pretty consistently.
posted by oulipian at 9:13 AM on December 22, 2009


Thanks hooha, you are correct. I must have been thinking of what I had actually read from the list.
posted by rainbaby at 9:17 AM on December 22, 2009


Had he lived longer, I bet Barthelme would have put Ben Marcus on the list, especially his Notable American Women.
posted by kozad at 9:21 AM on December 22, 2009


I have read twelve books on that list. Several of the authors I have not heard of. I would be interested in hearing ideas of what people consider the one essential book from the list. Anybody read them all?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez One Hundred Years of Solitude would be the one I would categorize as such.
posted by bukvich at 9:29 AM on December 22, 2009


Favorite books by an eccentric professor... It's just a book, ultimately a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself while being alone. (stbalbach)

While I agree that reading is certainly no contest to be won, and that it is not what books one has read that determine one's goodness, to define this specific author and the idea of a book in this way ignores the actual nature of both Donald Barthelme and the reading of books.

Barthelme, as a writer and a professor, exerted a huge amount of influence on the writing of fiction in English and the ideas expressed thereby. I'll let others who know his work more intimately describe that influence.

But books are something I know quite a bit about. They are both my passion and my business. I have a feeling what I'm about to say is going to grow quite long, so pardon me if by the time I finish the conversation has gone elsewhere.

When I am alone, I don't read books to keep myself from introspection. I enjoy introspection; the pondering of large ideas (and small ones), the continual asking of questions about my purpose and existence which are answered through the living of my life. I am taken to walking around my city (usually from my office in the Flatiron Building up Broadway, through Herald Square, Times Square and on uptown, but sometimes from my home atop Central Park in Harlem southward), and when I walk, despite being surrounded by people, I revel in my solitude. This is when, in many ways, I am most myself. There is a Latin phrase, solvitas perambulum, which means, roughly "solve it while walking," which gets at the nature of this time I spend with myself: through walking, and through the thoughts that walking engenders, I solve (and resolve) myself.

The time I spend reading books is a different kind of time: it is productive (and not just in the sense that I am paid to do some of it). When I read, I am introducing myself to new ideas and new experiences, or new expressions of ideas and experiences I'm already familiar with. Rather than being alone with my thoughts, I am alone with the thoughts of others. But this does not mean that books and reading are, at their core, a distraction from myself. In fact, the time I spend reading is very intimately connected to the time I spend wandering the city in introspection.

The books I read stay with me far beyond the time I spend in their pages. Yesterday, as I walked up Eighth Avenue from the Farley Post Office (the huge McKim, Mead and White building which used to be the mirror of the old Penn Station and is now only its echo) I was thinking about two subjects which tend to occupy my mind when I walk around the city: growing older and religious faith. I have fluctuating positions on both, but those fluctuations have lately been directed by two books that I've read: the first, Diana Athill's Somewhere Towards the End is one of the most honest books I've ever read, the author's forthright appraisal of her life as an old woman. The second, Madeleine L'Engle's The Irrational Season is many things, but the idea from it that has stayed with me, and that I keep coming to in my perambulations, is her description of her own faith as imperfect, and her assertion that imperfect faith is faith enough. Athill I read nearly three years ago, in galley proofs, and L'Engle I read perhaps a little more recently. But each has occupied my mind for far more time than I spent with it on the page, and has had far greater life, for me, in the context of being alone with myself and sussing out my own nature.

Of course, not all books are like this. (I doubt I have spent any significant part of my walking thinking about the Temeraire novels, much as I enjoyed them.) But to describe books' essential nature as "a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself" ignores what a fuel for thought books can be, both in the moment of reading and far beyond it.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:51 AM on December 22, 2009 [20 favorites]


I didn't read Barthelme until I was well out of college (but then, I was an engineer and they sadly didn't think literature was important for engineers), but he should be on the list as well. Amazing writer, one who dared to experiment, not afraid to fail, and as a consquence very provoking (mostly in a good way).
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:04 AM on December 22, 2009


I feel sad that going to grad school where Barthleme was pretty much worshiped (on account of one of his students, Padgett Powell, teaching here), my first instinct is to look at this list and scowl. I am happy about the inclusion of Anthony Burgess and Toni Morrison, two writers that were pretty much sneered at by my grad school cohorts, for writing sci-fi and "black women's" fiction.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:15 AM on December 22, 2009


growing older and religious faith. I have fluctuating positions on both

You have a flux capacitor what? Kidding, those were some lovely ruminations on ruminating and readinating.

geoff. thanks for the link/list, saved me from ransacking AskMe again today.
posted by carsonb at 10:47 AM on December 22, 2009


Fantastic.

So great John Hawkes The Blood Oranges is on there.
posted by Skygazer at 11:02 AM on December 22, 2009


I vow to read this entire list in 2010 and perhaps blog about it.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:18 AM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I've got the jump, as I've already read seven titles on this list.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:21 AM on December 22, 2009


ultimately a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself while being alone.

I'm not sure I believe this (though I wrote it). It's actually a paraphrase of a quote I read last night from West with the Night. It sort of stuck with me today, and got me thinking about why we read. Which seemed like a logical supposition to trail this thread. Thus, had I not been reading a book last night, I would not be on MeFi today wondering why we read. Post-modernism or Umberto Eco probably have something to say about this, but I don't want to know. ocherdraco thanks for the defense of reading.
posted by stbalbach at 11:51 AM on December 22, 2009


That's good to know, stbalbach. Was this the line you were thinking of? "There are minutes of peace and minutes of anguish, which we all feel together, but smother, for ourselves with words."
posted by ocherdraco at 12:22 PM on December 22, 2009


I can now notice that there is only one woman on the list, I didn't then.

Are we looking at the same list? I too wish there were more women authors on the list (even as I maintain all the names on the list deserve to be - it's not a zero-sum game), but I saw eleven women writers: Isak Dinesen, Grace Paley, Susan Sontag, Tillie Olson, Joy Williams, Anne Tyler, Jayne Anne Phillips, Colette, Eudora Welty, Toni Morrison, and Flannery O'Connor.
posted by aught at 12:31 PM on December 22, 2009


stalbach: It's just a book, ultimately a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself while being alone.

naju: Well, meditation is essentially "being with oneself while being alone", and the meditation-loving folks I know also quite enjoy and value books. Maybe there's more to it than mere distraction?

In Buddhism, I certainly have been exposed to those who think literature is a form of "time-wasting" entertainment that distracts one from the more karmically useful activities such as working toward the happiness and eventual enlightenment of all beings. I'll be honest, as a lifelong lover of literature and music, it's been a difficult point for me in studying Buddhism, the idea that (at some point of seriousness) secular entertainments are simply unworthy of one's time.

All that said (the far-from-enlightened guy says ;-) there are a couple of writers on here I have not been exposed to before who I am looking forward to tracking down, such as Joy Williams.
posted by aught at 12:46 PM on December 22, 2009


as a lifelong lover of literature and music, it's been a difficult point for me in studying Buddhism...

* WADR to Buddhism, I'm not seeing the happiness and enlightenment of all beings anywhere.

* Much of the 'happiness and enlightenment' I've enjoyed in life are a direct result of music. Consequently, when I considered spending time at a Zen school that didn't allow me to bring an instrument along, I decided I'd experienced enough puritanism as a child.

* I notice that Barthelme's list has NO essential books about techne aboard. Considering how essential it is IN the world, and TO the world, I'm disinclined to be enchanted by a list that rigorously ignores it. It's one thing to read about humanity, but without practical craft there'd BE no humanity (doubtful? check your archeology) ... nor would you and I enjoy the leisure to contemplate a world without it. The art of making toilet paper did more to privilege humanity than any of those works.
posted by Twang at 1:47 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting list. Bit too American for my tastes, but then it would be, wouldn't it?

I dunno, though, I find the whole notion of 'canon' useful more as a currency for literary and/or cultural exchange than necessarily educational in itself- a means rather than an ends, I suppose.

Also, I love how on any canon list, people always put most of what they feel they should put in, and then try to sneak in what they want to put in. It's like, this book ain't deep, it's not about all of humanity, or a towering example of prose, but that's okay, dude. If it means a lot to you, that's fine.

Expecting it to mean a lot to anyone, though, is a big ask. And its an expectation that comes prepackaged with disappoint in most cases. Expecting it to mean a lot to literature, pfft. Literature doesn't need help from any one writer.
posted by smoke at 4:44 PM on December 22, 2009


That's good to know, stbalbach. Was this the line you were thinking of? "There are minutes of peace and minutes of anguish, which we all feel together, but smother, for ourselves with words."

This:
You can live a lifetime and at the end of it know more about other people than yourself. You learn to watch other people but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. If you read a book or shuffle a deck of cards, or care for a dog, you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would have never bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds, nor to have cross continents..etc.
posted by stbalbach at 4:56 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Great list - hooray for Invisible Cities! Still missing Ann Carson's Autobiography of Red, though.

Twang, I'd have to say there's plenty of room for techne in Pynchon, Gass, Cheever, Barth, and Borges, if you're willing to look for it.
posted by rudster at 4:57 PM on December 22, 2009


It's just a book, ultimately a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself while being alone.

Storytelling is a defining characteristic of humankind: the stories we tell ourselves tell us who we are.
posted by and for no one at 5:34 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


All book lists of this kind suffer from a kind of Godelism. If they are useful, they are not complete. If they are complete, they are not really useful. However a "y'oughta read" list which omits, inter alia, D.H.Lawrence, Thomas Mann, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and E.M. Forster ....
(He cried, ducking swiftly below the parapet)
posted by Crustybob at 2:26 AM on December 23, 2009


But to describe books' essential nature as "a distraction to keep oneself from being with oneself" ignores what a fuel for thought books can be, both in the moment of reading and far beyond it.

Amen and well said!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 AM on December 23, 2009


Here is the complete list (except for "Beckett - Entire"), sorted by number of pages (Why not?):
63 John Ashbery Rivers and Mountains
80 Barthes The Pleasure of the Text
88 Kenneth Koch Thank You
96 Amos Tutola The Palm-Wine Drunkard
96 Peter Handke A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
100 Wesley Brown Tragic Magic
128 Mamet Sexual Perversity in Chicago
128 Max Frisch Man in the Holocene
128 Tillie Olsen Tell Me a Riddle
152 Max Apple The Oranging of America
152 Peter Handke Kaspar and Other Plays
159 Roland Barthes Mythologies
160 André Breton Nadja
164 Rudy Wurlitzer Nog
165 Italo Calvino Invisible Cities
175 John Hawkes The Lime Twig
175 Robbe-Grillet For a New Novel
178 Kobo Abe The Box Man
183 Tommaso Landolfi Gogol’s Wife
192 Paley Little Disturbances
200 Flann O’Brien The Third Policeman
200 Leonard Michaels I Would Have Saved Them if I Could
200 Paley Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
206 William Gass In the Heart of the Heart of the Country
207 Susan Sontag I Etc.
208 Colette The Pure and the Impure
208 Isaac B Singer Gimpel the Fool
223 Borges Other Inquisitions
224 Ishmael Reed Mumbo Jumbo
232 Bernard Malamud The Magic Barrel
240 Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange
240 Knut Hamsun Hunger
241 Walker Percy The Moviegoer
256 Hugh Kenner A Homemade World
256 Joy Williams The Changeling
256 Thomas Bernhard Correction
260 Borges Labyrinths
264 Bernard Malamud The Assistant
272 Carver Will You Please be Quiet Please
272 John Updike Rabbit Run
284 John Hawkes Blood Oranges
288 Frank O’Hara Collected Poems
288 Jayne Anne Phillips Black Tickets
288 Sternburg (ed.) The Writer on Her Work
293 Joe David Bellamy (ed.) Superfiction
304 Gass Fiction and the Figures of Life
316 André Breton Manifestos of Surrealism
320 John Barth Chimera
320 John Updike The Coup
320 Milan Kundera The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
336 Ann Tyler Searching for Caleb
336 Carlos Fuentes The Death of Artemio Cruz
336 Flann O’Brien At Swim Two-Birds
336 Susan Sontag Against Interpretation
352 Ann Beattie Falling in Place
352 Bellow Henderson the Rain King
352 Gass The World Within the Word
352 Tim O’Brien Going After Cacciato
352 Toni Morrison Song of Solomon
377 Max Frisch I’m Not Stiller
397 Motherwell (ed.) Documents of Modern Art
400 Isaac Babel Collected Short Stories
408 Joe David Bellamy (ed.) The New Fiction
432 Malcolm Lowry Under the Volcano
446 Celine Journey to the End of the Night
448 Dinesen Seven Gothic Tales
464 Campbell Hero with a Thousand Faces
464 Garcia Marquez One Hundred Years of Solitude
475 Wayne C Booth The Rhetoric of Fiction
528 The Paris Review interviews
532 Mailer Advertisements for Myself
544 Peter Taylor Collected Stories
555 Flannery O’Connor Collected Stories
560 Thomas Pynchon V
578 Flaubert Letters
596 Puschart Prize Anthologies
608 Ralph Ellison Invisible Man
648 Eudora Welty Collected Stories
672 Rust Hills (ed.) How We Live
704 John Cheever Collected Stories
posted by mike_bling at 9:48 PM on December 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


It's one thing to read about humanity, but without practical craft there'd BE no humanity (doubtful? check your archeology) ... nor would you and I enjoy the leisure to contemplate a world without it. The art of making toilet paper did more to privilege humanity than any of those works.

I appreciate where this comment is coming from, but I think it's useful to think about works of literature/fiction, not how perhaps it's discussed in schools as like sacred marble statues you have to stuff down your throat whole, but more as like collections of tools and ideas for how to think and deal with your life, arranged in a fun little illustrative story.

Books are great.

Having said that, here are a few quotes which I like to think about re having too much to read:
"The difference between the effect produced on the mind by thinking for yourself and that produced by reading is incredibly great . . . For reading forcibly imposes on the mind thoughts that are as foreign to its mood as the signet is to the wax upon which it impresses its seal. The mind is totally subjected to an external compulsion to think this or that for which it has no inclination and is not in the mood. On the other hand, when it is thinking for itself it is following its own inclination, as this has been more closely determined either by its immediate surroundings or by some recollection or other: for its visible surroundings do not impose some single thought on the mind, as reading does; they merely provide it with occasion and matter for thinking the thoughts appropriate to its nature and present mood. The result is that much reading robs the mind of all elasticity, as the continual pressure of a weight does a spring, and that the surest way of never having any thoughts of your own is to pick up a book every time you have a free moment. The practice of doing this is the reason erudition makes most men duller and sillier than they are by nature and robs their writings of all effectiveness; they are in Pope's words:
For ever reading, never to be read.
-- Schopenhauer, "On Thinking For Yourself"
and, from a scientist:
Question: How much effort should go into library work?

Hamming: It depends upon the field. I will say this about it. There was a fellow at Bell Labs, a very, very, smart guy. He was always in the library; he read everything. If you wanted references, you went to him and he gave you all kinds of references. But in the middle of forming these theories, I formed a proposition: there would be no effect named after him in the long run. He is now retired from Bell Labs and is an Adjunct Professor. He was very valuable; I'm not questioning that. He wrote some very good Physical Review articles; but there's no effect named after him because he read too much. If you read all the time what other people have done you will think the way they thought. If you want to think new thoughts that are different, then do what a lot of creative people do - get the problem reasonably clear and then refuse to look at any answers until you've thought the problem through carefully how you would do it, how you could slightly change the problem to be the correct one. So yes, you need to keep up. You need to keep up more to find out what the problems are than to read to find the solutions. The reading is necessary to know what is going on and what is possible. But reading to get the solutions does not seem to be the way to do great research. So I'll give you two answers. You read; but it is not the amount, it is the way you read that counts.

-- Richard Hamming, "You and Your Research"
...and one last one I could've swore was from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations but which I can't find, to the effect of: "Don't go reading every damn book under the sun. They all basically say the same thing, and you're wasting your time reading five hundred iterations of the Kunstlerroman. Choose a few great works by acknowledged masters, take them to your cottage, and just read the hell out of them, pay them really close attention. The wisdom found in even the seemingly throwaway bits will be better than the all-caps chapter conclusions of the dilettantes."

-- me, I guess
posted by skwt at 12:43 AM on December 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


The Nigerian writer noted in no.44 on the list is
AMOS TUTUOLA (not Tutola)
and the title shoud be
THE PALM-WINE DRINKARD (not Drunkard)

Haven't looked for any further typos.

Apologies for nit-picking pedantry.
posted by Crustybob at 1:48 AM on December 24, 2009


WADR to Buddhism, I'm not seeing the happiness and enlightenment of all beings anywhere.

Well, yeah. That's kind of the point, right? There's a huge amount of work to do.

I notice that Barthelme's list has NO essential books about techne aboard. Considering how essential it is IN the world, and TO the world, I'm disinclined to be enchanted by a list that rigorously ignores it. It's one thing to read about humanity, but without practical craft there'd BE no humanity (doubtful? check your archeology) ...

Heh. This kind of makes me chuckle since it's nearly as puritanical a sentiment as those seen in ascetic strains of Buddhism that avoid frivolous entertainment. Art for art's sake, anyone? (Particularly when speaking in connection with Donald Bartleme, who is pretty much the definition of "writers' writer".)
posted by aught at 8:38 AM on December 24, 2009


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