a) I doubt there's any canon that really describes the best books for everyone to read. ie there's no must-reads. That said, there are definitely books to catch the references from so you don't look like a dolt at the dinner table.
b) 42nd-ing the people recommending the myths. Greek myths, Hindu myths, Mayan myths, et al.
c) The myths include a working knowledge of religious texts. Regardless of your beliefs or lack-thereof you need to know about the religions and origin myths because every other piece of art/literature/politics is either informed by the religious myths or is in direct reaction to them. I concede I'm making an outlandish claim. But start reading everything you can get your hands on and you might be surprised how disappointingly true my statement is.
P.S. You don't need to read the whole Bible. Genesis, Exodus and Luke will do you just fine for the basic gist of the tome.
d) Read Solomon's proverbs, Confucius' filial admonitions, Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi, Epictetus and all the other aphorisms you can get your hands on. They'll teach you wisdom. Whether you use it is up to you. (I generally refrain, as an experiment.)
e) At least get the basics of the political foundations for all the shit we're in/road to utopia we're on. That means Marx, Smith, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and a hell of a lot of others.
f) Read at least some of what is specifically called philosophy. By that I mean: art is philosophy, but some particular books get filed in the philosophy section of the bookstore. Plato's pivotal. You can get away with a summary of his works though. Same goes for Aristotle. I spent four years reading their stuff -- I only remember anecdotes and allusions their thoughts. To understand what's going on today, get a primer in existentialism. Read bits of Sartre, Kiekegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Du Bois, de Beauvoir, Foucault, Derrida, Husserl, William James, etc.
g) Thankfully, you can get philosophy through art, thereby preventing absolute despair (not that despair's to be avoided).
h) Here's my personal canon -- the books that've informed my way of life and general disposition. Maybe they'll inform yours.
- Deep River by Endo (one of the eight books I've read twice)
- 'Til We have Faces by Lewis (another one of them)
- Franny and Zooey by Salinger (this too.)
- From Esme, with Love and Squalor by Salinger
- This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne ("'Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?' said Piglet. 'Supposing it didn't,' said Pooh. After careful thought, Piglet was comforted by this.")
- Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham (I've read this a few times, beginning in childhood)
- All Men are Brothers (Selections from Gandhi)
- A Strategy for Peace by Sissela Bok
- Exclusion and Embrace by Miraslav Volf
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
- The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels
- Cannery Row by Steinbeck
- East of Eden by Steinbeck
- The four canonized gospels and John's letters (though I'm not a Christian, the teachings offer a vital vision for society)
- The Tipping Point by Gladwell
- Leadership by Burns
- The Palm at the End of the Mind by Stevens
- On the Road by Kerouac
- Howl by Ginsberg
- Lilith by MacDonald
- Hitchhikers Guide (why does this book apply to nearly every conversation I've ever had?)
- The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce (I didn't understand this as a literary work, but I identified with Dedalus, so it personally affirmed my way of life at the time).
- Les Miserables by Hugo (Don't you dare touch the unabridged.)
I didn't make a distinction between fiction and non-fiction, because I don't really think one exists.
Books you can skip because they'll just depress you or freak you out: (Which is to say, read them anyway, but only on sunny days)
- Lord of the Flies
- Anything by Dickens
- Anything by Thomas Hardy
- The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot
- Ayn Rand, generally
A short list of staggeringly beautiful books:
- God of Small things by Roy
- A Separate Peace by Knowles
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez
- Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (especially in the context of Finding Neverland)
- Lord of the Rings, et al.
- Roots by Haley
- Snow by Pamuk
Jahoclave wrote:It's not a matter of practicality. It's a matter of sticking it to France. We should have the fastest damn train on the planet. It doesn't matter if it goes from Utah to nowhere.