Which is why I’m grateful to know a few folks, at least, who whisper to me in private from time to time. They ask nagging questions, and I get to see what the other guy is not seeing in what I’m saying. With luck, he learns something – but I always do.
Likewise for contact-form email, except that I almost never get any of that. I’m proud to say that yesterday I did, and I’m even prouder to declaim that I can’t answer it.
Dessert first, which is sweet:
> Just wanted to say I’m loving your writing, and am in the process of reading a lot of your old stuff.
Bless you. Thank you. The way to a writer’s heart is through his vanity.
But then: The meat:
> Question – are there any books you recommend that have influenced your thought, or that you have read and can just generally suggest?
There’s so much in that answer that’s funny to me, but the funniest part of all is this: There is a good chance that I will end up writing a curriculum before I die – but books should never have been all of education in the first place.
First, I would much rather write than read, if I have that kind of time.
Second, I read all the time, but since I learned to write C, I tend to read programmer style (index to the gist), which is now internet style (Google to the page, search to the gist). I reread “Stranger in a Strange Land” for fun a couple of years ago. I can’t remember the last whole book I read before that.
Third, I don’t have any use for anyone, so far as I know. My orientation is opposite everyone else’s, so almost everything I read seems ass-backwards to me. Everyone lives and dies to point a finger at the problem, but all of them are pointing away from the source, the sink, the solution and the salvation for everything human. To the extent that I’m willing to read more than an op-ed from a public intellectual, I’ll read internet style, getting to what I’m interested in and not wasting time on remasticated errors.
Fourth, I may not be the best person to ask!
I’m a very odd duck, to begin with, and I’ve been at this a long time. “What might I read?” is a young man’s question, and the young man I once was answered this way: Everything!
But: That’s just exuberance. What you should read is everything that matters. I can’t tell you what matters to you, but I can tell you how to identify it:
A book is only worth reading if you would read it three times in succession – which is the only way to get everything a book can give you at that time. If you realize while you are reading that you would not read that particular book three times in a row – once to see your questions, once to clarify them, once to answer them – dump it and move up the food chain. You’re wasting finite time.
When you keep seeing the same name in the books you’re reading, that’s your hint to branch out and see what you are missing. I favor original sources over interpretations and antiquity, by far, over modernity. A deep familiarity with Greek and Latin roots will help a lot. Learning Latin will help immensely.
Meanwhile: To my gracious interlocutor – and to you – I say this: Live life, don’t just read about it. Humanity emerges from the inside out. The value of a book is not what it puts in to you but what it brings out. That’s why only the best books matter: Only they can make you better – and that’s your purpose in being alive, to be you better.
Which of my books matters – to anyone but me? I don’t get to answer that question. But the book that matters most to me is the one I’m writing with my life. Everything else is just maps…