Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Library of 25 Books

What I am about to lay before you is a kind of literary Rorschach test result.

It is also a work in progress.

A few days ago I put myself on a “less is more” kick and got to thinking of the few hundred books in my personal library, 75 percent of which I will never read—at last not in their entirety.

Yes, so many books, so little time.

So as an exercise I posed the question: if I could keep only 25 books, which would they be?

As I went about the exercise, I kept a couple of guiding principles in mind. I have even acted on one.

First, I decided to get rid of books I could readily get at a convenient library. The first library that came to mind was the one in our Quaker meeting house. And that led to my first act: I promptly donated nearly all of my Quaker books to the Multnomah Monthly Meeting’s library, thereby freeing about two three feet of space on my shelves.

The second principle violated the first. Although some books on the following list are readily available at the public library, I want to keep them here for ready reference. An arm’s reach away — for an emergency.

I could go into a Rorschach (Freudian?) analysis of the list (Why, for instance, are there so few women authors?), but for now, I’ll simply share them for consideration. As I say, this is a work in progress. I could change my mind about the list in the next week, or in the next five minutes.


The Essays of George Orwell
Meditations — Marcus Aurelius
The National Trust Book of Long Walks in England, Scotland and Wales
The History of Western Philosophy—Bertrand Russell
The John McPhee Reader

The Orwell Reader (Introduction by Richard Rovere)
Small is Beautiful—E.F. Schumacher
Walden — Henry David Thoreau
On Civil Disobedience — Henry David Thoreau
Faith and Practice — the Northwest Pacific Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

A People’s History of The United States — Howard Zinn
Markings — Dag Hammarskjold
Technopoly — Neil Postman
Conscientious Objections — Neil Postman
Essays of E.B. White

Tao Te Ching — Lao Tzu (Ursula K. Le Guin version)
A Pattern Language — Christopher Alexander et. al. (A study in place-making)
The Group of Seven by Peter Mellin (remarkable Canadian artists from the early 20th Century)
The Jefferson Bible (The new testament freed of “miracle” encrustations. By the third, and most remarkable, president of these United States)

The Essential Rumi
Time and the Art of Living — Robert Grudin
Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony — Lewis Thomas
Language in Thought and Action (Fifth Edition) S.I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa
Leonardo da Vinci, Artist, Scientist, Inventor — Simona Cremante

That’s it. Notably laden with Orwell and Postman and males in general. Fiction is all but missing in action.

How to describe? Mystical, retro, analytical, artistic, contrary, liberal, defiant?

To prove how fluid and tentative the list is, note that the photo includes Non-Violent Resistance by Gandhi (Would Thoreau, who profoundly shaped Gandhi's thinking, suffice?). Gandhi is not on the above list.

And so it goes . . . .

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