Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sage Advice on Daunting Reading Lists

In their classic How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren provide (in Appendix A) their recommended reading list of great books.

Though it would doubtless be helpful to some to reproduce that list here, instead I simply want to record some of Adler and Van Doren's sage advice about approaching such a list (and send you off to purchasing and reading the book and list for yourselves):
The list is long, and it may seem a little overwhelming. We urge you not to allow yourself to be abashed by it. In the first place, you are likely to recognize the names of most of the authors. There is nothing here that is so recondite as to be esoteric. More important, we want to remind you that it is wise to begin with those books that interest you most, for whatever reason. As we have pointed out several times, the primary aim is to read well, not widely. You should not be disappointed if you read no more than a handful of books in a year. The list is not something to be gotten through in any amount of time. It is not a challenge that you can meet only by finishing every item on it. Instead, it is an invitation that you can accept graciously by beginning wherever you feel at home.
—Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 348.

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