Compiling lists – of things to do, places to visit, books to read, etc. – is pleasing, particularly when one is young – since there is the possibility of completion. The older one becomes, the more these lists are pleasing in the realms of fantasy rather than in the likelihood of achieving them. But even partial fulfillment is better than having no plan at all. So here is a new list of books I hope (emphasis on “hope”) to read in the years to come.In fiction, I want to reread – and in a couple cases read for the first time – the following ten masterpieces:• Cervantes, Don Quixote (comparing the three newest translations by Grossman, Rutherford and Raffel)• Dickens, Bleak House• Dostoevsky, The Idiot (the new Pevear and Volkhonsky translation)• Tolstoy, War and Peace• Eliot, Middlemarch• Smollett, Humphry Clinker• Dante, The Inferno (comparing translations by Carson, Zappulla, and Pinsky)• Kafka, The Castle (the new Mark Harman translation)• Mann, Magic Mountain• Melville, The Confidence Man.In the realm of political biography, I have purchased five new and rather massive bios that I am eager to find time to read:• Dimitri Volkogonov, Trotsky• Jung Chang, The Unknown Mao• William J. Duiker, Ho Chi Minh• Robert Caro, Lyndon Johnson• Francis Wheen, Karl Marx.I believe that by reading these five biographies, the 20th century, in all its possibilities and madness, will come into clearer focus.Also, I wish to read several literary bios that have emerged in the past decade. Four in particular are:• Joseph Blotner, Robert Penn Warren• Paul Mariani, The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane• Jay Parini, William Faulkner• A. Norman Jeffares, W.E. YeatsRelated to these are five extraordinary works of literary criticism that have been re-issued or remain in print and are, I believe, timeless and profound. They are definitely books I want to re-read:• Erich Auerbach, Mimesis – an extraordinary study of the nature of reality from Homer to Virginia Woolf;• Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn – a wonderful close analysis of classic poems;• John Ciardi, How Does a Poem Mean – an insightful analysis of the ingredients of poetry;• William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity – a landmark in modern literary history.Back to politics, the 20th century and the future of mankind. Two essential books are by the same author, Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel and, most recently, Collapse. Both are astonishing in their sweep and penetrating analysis. Another treasure is the recent English edition of E.H. Grombrich’s A Little History of the World. In addition, I am looking forward to reading Eduardo Galeano’s remarkable trilogy Faces and Masks, a literary and chronological history of Latin America. This is truly an epic and utterly original work.For diversion, good mysteries are often just what the doctor ordered. I find just about any Ross McDonald novel worth a re-read – my most recent, The Zebra-Striped Hearse – and lately I have developed new addictions for Lee Child, John Sanford, Michael Connelley, and Walter Mosley. In addition to such pleasure reading, I’ve become enamored with books-on-tape and have been listening primarily to mysteries while sitting in freeway parking lots and inching my way from here to there.Another wonderful source of pleasure reading is the genre of cosmology and studies of the universe. For lay readers, Timothy Ferris is one of the best. For example, see either The Whole Shebang and The Mind’s Sky.Finally, anyone looking for suggestions of contemporary fiction to read has only to listen to “Bookworm,” hosted by Michael Silverblatt every Thursday at 2:30 p.m. on KCRW-Radio. Michael’s interviews are extraordinary and often lead one to reading new treasures.So there you have it – a few lists, a few suggestions, and a reminder of how many wonderful avenues to learning lie before us all.
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