Our new car was named Herodotus. It’s pretty cute to hear Thane ask, “Can we ride in Her-od-o-tus??” Now, the inspiration came because Herodotus is theoretically “Tuscan Olive”. Back when I was a kid, we used to call that color “Green”.
So I think I whine here sufficiently about how I have no time for anything, ever. But somehow, I sneak a few things in. One of my sneaky additions is a humanities book club run by some friends of mine. I first argued I didn’t have time. But I thought about the reading list. And I thought about my intellectual starvation. And I decided that I would aspire. I would try.
I recently read a very interesting blog post about intellectual obesity, talking about how the same cultural influences that lead us to eat too much of the wrong food also lead us to the easiest forms of entertainment. As the author says, “Given infinite choice and no fabricated pressures, you will consume the least effort, most enjoyable information.” This resonated with me. After college (actually, after reading the entire Canterbury Tales) I decided I had nothing to prove. I knew I could read the hardest literature and derive pleasure and knowledge from it. So I piled up the fantasy novels and YA literature. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with those. Nothing at all. But after Grey was born, I began to feel the effects of intellectual malnutrition. I subscribed to the Economist, but was still hungry. At the same time, I have so little leisure and reading heavy literature is, well, hard. It really is. I have the skills, but they’re rusty.
So. I have tried. I missed the first book. I read the Odyssey (for the first time!) on my own, and became enraptured with Homer. He’s good! Who knew!!! I read significant parts of Plato’s Republic, and was completely underwhelmed by it. But by golly, I got through all 800 pages of Herodotus’ Persian Wars. I even read many of the appendices. (Note: if you’re reading hard literature in your precious precious slivers of free time… go for the very best version you can find, not the cheapest.)
I must confess that this gives me, in addition to more intellectual grist for my poor starved mental-mill, a tremendous sense of satisfaction. I did a hard thing, not because I had to, but because I chose to. I did something challenging with no external validation or reason. It was a lot like running a race after being a couch potato for years. It felt excellent.
And I’m doing it again. I’m well into Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars, which has rather more good speeches and rather fewer digressive stories.
So, for those of you who are curious, here’s our reading list. We’ve been at it for about a year. At this pace, we should get through our curriculum by, oh, 2020 or so. But that’s ok with me.
Humanities Book Club Reading List
Homer, Odyssey & Iliad (Homer is good and quick!)
Plato, Republic (Ugh. Historically important. Needs a teacher. And an editor. You begin to understand why they killed Socrates for being annoying.)
Aesop, Fables (We skipped this one)
Herodotus, Persian Wars (Hard, but I did it!)
Thucydides, Peloponnesian War (Next up)
Virgil, Aenid; Caesar; Conquest of Gaul
Plutarch, Makers of Rome
Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe; Cicero on Duty
Old Testament, Selections*
St. Augustine, Confessions
Two Lives of Charlemagne; Song of Roland*
Memoirs of the Crusades
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight*
Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy (this is the guy I tried to name Thane after, but that was for his De institutione musica)
St Francis, Little Flowers
Chaucer, Canterbury Tales*
Cervantes, Don Quixote
Shakespeare, Henry IV*; Hamlet*
Gibbon, Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire
Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Burke, Reflections on the French Revolution
Parkman, The Oregon Trail
Newman & Huxley, Selection on Education
Dostoyevsky, Crime & Punishment
*I have already read