Confessions of an Autodidact

 When I was a nerdy youngster, I was given 25 cents for my weekly allowance. I would head to the drugstore and purchase a Classics Comic while my brothers and sister spent their quarter on popsicles or penny candy. I collected the majority of the titles considered by that comic publisher to be the masterpieces of literature. Those purchases held me in good stead as I probably earned my undergraduate degree based on my knowledge of the plots and characters sketched out on the pulpy pages of those cherished comics.

Since then, in my quest to become a better reader and a better human being, I have been attracted to lists like Clifton Fadiman’s The New Lifetime Reading Plan that outline the books that I need to read before I die. In the same spirit, Yann Martel (he of Life of Pi fame) took on the daunting task of recommending books on a biweekly basis to our current  prime minister. Martel’s choices and the letters that accompanied them are compiled in What is Stephen Harper Reading?

While some viewed his project as a tad self-righteous, having a personal bibliotherapist prescribe a book based on your ailment du jour seems to me to be a luxury. Inspired by political issues, Martel’s letters make compelling reading. For example, when pitching Julius Caesar, Martel raised concerns about funding to SCHRC, an academic grant. New funding for this grant is now to be spent exclusively on business related degrees. Martel defends funding to the arts because “the world would be a better place if, rather than having business types infiltrating universities, we had Shakespeare types infiltrating business.” Other titles range from Gilead by Marilynn Robinson, a favourite of President Obama, a “big reader,” to The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terrorism by Michael Ignatieff which seeks to reconcile the realism necessary to fight terrorism with the idealism of our democratic values. Martel’s purpose was to remind Stephen Harper of the “life-shaping marvel contained within books.” In that vein, here are other titles to assist my fellow autodidacts in living the good, well read life:

Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan – a field guide to reading and enjoying 50 of the greatest books.

 The Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer – a guide to the classical education you never had.

Book Smart : your essential reading list for becoming a literary genius in 365 days by Jane Mallison

Read This Next : 500 of the best books you’ll ever read  by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

- Jane

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