Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Books that haven't influenced me the most

Now that I've taken stock of which books have most influenced me, I also want to look at what kinds of books haven't been as influential.

Most people would find the most striking omission from my list to be fiction. But I've gotten used to this. Fiction just doesn't reach me the way nonfiction does. Even when nonfiction tries to be engaging by using personal narratives, I often lose patience with the details and just want the writer to get to the abstract point.

What stands out most to me is the lack of history books, even though I own a lot of them. I've enjoyed reading these books and learning about history. In retrospect, though, I'm not sure they've fundamentally changed my views. I even wonder if anyone really "learns lessons" from history, or if we just interpret everything to fit our preconception of the world.

There's also nothing in my list about a huge interest of mine, music (except for parts of Martha Nussbaum's Upheavals of Thought and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow). I have read illuminating books about music, but the reading process is always deeply subordinate to the everyday listening process. On the other hand, I can't say that the books in my list are subordinate to the everyday thinking process -- it's often the opposite.

3 comments:

Jason (the commenter) said...

I even wonder if anyone really "learns lessons" from history, or if we just interpret everything to fit our preconception of the world.

Just read history books written during the period you are interested in.

Christy said...

I even wonder if anyone really "learns lessons" from history, or if we just interpret everything to fit our preconception of the world.

I was always bitter towards Andrew Jackson over his forced removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma, The Trail of Tears. The Cherokee had saved Jackson's ass against the Creek at Horseshoe Bend making the betrayal particularly nasty. Later, reading a Sam Houston biography, The Sword of San Jacinto I gained an entirely new perspective of the situation and began to understand Jackson's actions.

So, it can happen.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I was referring to the idea that learning history could provide lessons to be applied to future events, not the possibility of changing one's opinion of a certain event or person in the past.