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Completely Changing the Book Club

Hello, all.

As you know, I’ve created a sort of monster out of the book club reading list. To be frank, I haven’t known what I’ve been doing. Well, yesterday I decided to reach out to a Literature Facebook group, and posted the list. The overwhelming consensus is that this is just toooooo many books. Therefore, I’m going to completely overhaul the system.

We are changing everything.

I’ve struggled with quite a bit of disappointment at accepting the idea that this is just an impractical list, and I will say I still harbor hope that one day I will read all of these, but for now, a new framework is needed in order to make this project something more than a pipe dream.

To be clear, I am not sacking the book club. Further, I am not sacking Iliad! This is a great start to a Western journey, no matter the form it takes, and I look forward to continuing. But first, I wanted to discuss some of the more helpful suggestions by the FB group about the list…


Suggestion One: Online Courses, Reading Lists, and “Survey-Type Books”

Multiple folks have suggested I look up some online syllabi from different schools’ lit and humanities courses and see if I can base my list off of that.

Yale seems to have a decent one, here.

As you can imagine, I’m skeptical of most modern educational courses because of the state of academia. But, in this sort of study, does it matter? I don’t know. Yale’s lit list looks pretty good, but I’d add a few things…

Another list that was suggested is this one, drawn up by Harold Bloom, A Yale professor. And I thought my list was long!!

One commenter suggested something I quite like. That instead of reading all the original books and diving into a sea of content and becoming overwhelmed, find books that cover, for example “the history of philosophy” or “the history of science” for a more guided view. Afterward, perhaps, if one or another subject interests me, I can go back and read more.


Suggestion Two: Define Your Goal

It wasn’t directly suggested, but several folks did ask me what my goal is. In thinking how to respond, I came up with this answer:

Seeing the strings of the West come together all the way up into post-modernity is my main goal, as well as getting through some compelling literature…

I’m glad I was encouraged to come up with this definition.


Suggestion Three: Direct Edits to the list.

One commenter was kind enough to suggest that I cut this list down to about 30 entries. Here is the comment…

“Here's how I would pare back your list to, say, 30. I've taken a lot of good stuff out. I've taken a lot of stuff I love out. I was going for more a light smattering across everything you had, so you didn't get too bogged down. And then you could compile a list of 30, another smattering, from the deleted stuff, because it's all worthy.
1.) Homer (c. 9th century BC) Iliad Odyssey 2.) Aeschylus (c. 525-456 BC), Sophocles (c. 495-406), Euripides (c.485-406) Greek Tragedy (Penguin Classics’ edition) 3.) Herodotus (c. 484-425 BC) Histories 4.) Plato (c. 427-347 BC) The Republic 5.) Aristotle (384-Epicurus (c. 341-270 BC) Letter to Herodotus 6.) Virgil (70-19 BC) Aeneid 7.) Beowulf 8.) Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) The Divine Comedy 9.) Boccaccio (1313-1375) The Decameron 10.) Chaucer (1340-1400) Canterbury Tales 12.) Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Don Quixote 13.) Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599) The Faerie Queene 14.) William Shakespeare (1564-1626) Works (esp Midsummer Night’s Dream & Hamlet) 15.) Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) Robinson Crusoe 16.) Johnathan Swift (1667-1745) Gulliver’s Travels 17.) Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 18.) Jane Austen (1775-1817) Pride and Prejudice 19.) Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) Count of Monte Cristo 20.) Charles Darwin (1809-1882) The Origin of the Species 21.) Charles Dickens (1812-1870) David Copperfield 22.) Herman Melville (1819-1891) Moby Dick 23.) Lew Wallace (1827-1905) Ben Hur 24.) Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) A Doll’s House 25.) Mark Twain (1835-1910) Tom Sawyer 26.) Franz Kafka (1883-1924) The Trial 27.) John Steinbeck (1902-1968) Of Mice and Men 28.) George Orwell (1903-1950) Animal Farm 1984 29.) William Golding (1911-1993) Lord of the Flies 30.) Albert Camus (1913-1960) The Stranger”

I responded by pointing out that the commenter cut all the saints, but that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that perhaps I ought to focus on different subjects (lit, philosophy, Saints, etc) separately. This is the beginning of my new idea.


Suggestion Four: “Don’t try to do it Perfectly, Just Read”

One or two folks said this on the post, but I just received an email from the professor who catechized and sponsored me, he is a good friend.

I get it. I have been so concerned about a strategic approach to reading the West that I have lost sight of what’s realistic. I can either be permanently overwhelmed by three thousand years of books that I feel like I must somehow read, or I can just read, and do my best to get a broad understanding of things.

So here’s the new idea. We will read, but we will not take the list or the framework too seriously. I will increase the amount of “survey” books, and not try to read everything in order, or get every example of every thought on the list. Since we are reading Iliad, I think a few more Greek works after is a good idea. Perhaps I will come up with 2-3 more, and then we can move on. I am happy to admit, too, that studying the Greek culture seems important, but I don’t do it because I genuinely want to. I feel like it’s important to understanding society. Is that wrong? Idk.

I also find value in some suggestions I got, to read excerpts from many books, rather than the entire book every time. I will look into some resources that might provide this.

Finally, when picking future books, it does strike me as important to check these college courses for what’s important.

This is a less organized way of thinking through the process, but seems to be the better route. I have to accept that this project will not be perfect.

In closing, I want to share a personal story. I’ve been interested in, for quite a while, understanding the culture. I had tried multiple Audible courses that taught on Roman history, ancient history, philosophy, etc. The problem I kept running into was that the authors and teachers were either (seemingly) anti-Catholic, or altogether anti Christian. How can you study Western history while holding disdain for the religion that formed it? Further, I’ve even heard the claim that the Bible must not be studied as a historical document, as it is ‘unprovable’ and ‘a religious text before a historical text.’ Forgive me, but I find that to be utterly nonsensical. Christianity is the West. And so, it’s extremely problematic nowadays to simply pick up any old history or course and expect it to offer accurate information.

So for now, I will post a short list of the books I really do want to read, and then we will go from there. God bless you!

  • The Founding of Christendom, by Warren Carroll

  • Homer

  • Virgil

  • Some Roman stuff

  • Dante

  • Dracula

  • Dostoyevsky

  • Shakespeare

  • Tolkien

  • Chesterton

  • Lewis

  • Mike Aquilina (Fathers of the Church and The Mass of the Early Christians)

  • The Early Church was the Catholic Church by Joe Heschmeyer

  • Dominion by Tom Holland

  • Socrates’ Children by Kreeft (I think the bulk of our philosophical studies will come from this source. the only other philosophical works I might want to read right now is Plato’s Republic, and Marcus Aurelias)

  • Many saints

  • A Summa of the Summa by Kreeft

I’ll work to organize at least this much by chronology and go from there!


Our current book club goal is to...

1. Get a general understanding of Greek culture

2. Get a general understanding of Roman culture

3. Study the foundation and rise of Christianity

and then go from there.

Books I would like to use are

1. Iliad & Odyssey

2. Aeneid

3. Herodotus' Histories

4. Socrates' Children Volume I: Ancient Philosophers (section on Greek philosophers such as Plato)

5. Excerpts from the book "Greek Tragedies" from Penguin Classics

Now, except for 1 and 2, these may not be in this order, but I am excited to have a more refined vision. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


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