There was a time when writers and politicians assumed that educated people had been exposed to certain books and ideas. They made references to those works with the understanding that their readers would know what they were talking about. For them, the literary world was a web whose connecting threads were visible or even obvious. To a large degree, writers producing Western literature at least until World War II wrote quite consciously in that web, connecting themselves to writers who had gone before and adding their own threads to the matrix.
To learn to read this web in the modern world is an utterly ridiculous project. And I’m committing to it.
Today’s writers and thinkers know that the world is a much bigger place than we used to imagine. We are influenced by a great number of cultures and have access to an enormous body literature from around the world. No longer do our writers necessarily assume even the best educated people the United States or in the UK have a common knowledge base. There is too much to know, too much to learn, and everything is changing and growing with incredible speed.
Even if we consider the books of earlier ages, there is nothing that absolutely defines a book as a classic. Nor is there any completely defendable reason to start one's studying with the so-called “Western” classics. Although I’ll talk more in future posts about why I’ve decided to start with these particular books, I’m never going to waste my time trying to convince other people that this is the proper way to be well-read or educated.
Please keep in mind that I am not a literary scholar. I wasn’t even an English major. I hope that some of you might be intrigued by--or perhaps provoked by--some of my posts--and at least that you will be inspired to read some of the books. But it is important to point out that I do not intend these posts to be instructional in any way.
I am writing primarily as a way to organize my own reading and thinking. A secondary reason for keeping a blog is to learn from you: to learn from your questions and comments, whether they agree with my readings or not. I hope you will not feel that you must accept my interpretations. Sometimes my posts will be merely personal responses different from yours. And often I may be just completely wrong about something. Always feel free to point out my mistakes and advise me better—but please remember that this is merely the book journal of a common reader, a reader who is learning as I go.
Wish me luck as I cast my own little threads into the web of literature!