A List for Our Times

Well, since I did promise Dave Humphrey that I would provide him a list of the fifty books that I think are most relevant to our time, and since I have already dodged this request on one occasion, and since he has reminded me of this situation more than once, here, at last, with many reservations, is my list.

Reservation the First: Though I have become more aware of the art of the list since I read Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces, this list will have no art whatsoever.  It will be alphabetical by author’s surname, without specific commentary of any kind.

Reservation the Second: I have not yet read very much in my life, and I can obviously draw my list only from those books that I have read, so this list will be hopelessly deficient.

Reservation the Third: I cannot possibly compare literary works with philosophical works, so I have divided the one list of fifty books into two lists of twenty-five, one for literature and one for philosophy.  I know this is arbitrary, but will do it anyway.

Reservation the Forth and Most Serious: I am still completely uncertain of the criteria that one would use to determine which books are relevant to our times or any other times, so I am not sure how useful any list of mine will actually be.

However, for Dave’s sake and for the sake of anyone else who might conceivably care, these are the fifty books that I would say are relevant to our times.

Julian Barnes Flaubert’s Parrot
Jorge Luis Borges Ficciones
Albert Camus The Fall
Albert Camus The Plague
J. M. Coetzee Foe
Leonard Cohen Beautiful Losers
Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness
Simone de Beavoir The Blood of Others
Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe
Fydor Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment
Fydor Dostoevsky The Idiot
Alaxandre Dumas The Count of Monte Christo
William Faulkner As I Lay Dying
William Golding Pincher Martin
William Golding The Spire
Franz Kafka Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka The Trial
Ken Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Malcolm Lowry Under the Volcano
Dow Mossman The Stones of Summer
Gabriel Garcia Marquez A Hundred Years of Solitude
George Orwell Homage to Catalonia
Thomas Pynchon The Crying of Lot 49
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein

Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space
Roland Barthes A Lover’s Discourse
Roland Barthes Mythologies
Jean Baudrillard Simulacra and Simulation
Walter Benjamin The Arcades Project
Maurice Blanchot The Instant of my Death
Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship
Martin Buber I and Thou
Michel de Certeau The Practise of Everyday Life
Guy Debord The Society of the Spectacle
Jacques Derrida The Gift of Death
Jacques Derrida The Politics of Friendship
Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish
Michel Foucault The Archaeology of Knowledge
Rene Girard Violence and the Sacred
George Grant Philosophy in the Mass Age
Martin Heidegger On the Way to Language
Martin Heidegger Poetry, Language, Thought
Ivan Illich Deschooling Society
Ivan Illich Tools for Conviviality
Soren Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling
Emmanuel Levinas Totality and Infinity
Jean-Luc Marion God Without Being
Georges Perec The Species of Spaces
Desmond Tutu No Future Without Forgiveness

  1. Curtis said:

    And now, I know from you list almost every text you’ve had me learn in my classes has been lacking. [just kidding… mostly kidding].

  2. I have noted the absence of “Moby Dick,” and shall not forget it. I am, otherwise, pleased to see this.


  3. Lauren said:

    I think it speaks volumes about “our times” that only two titles out of fifty were by women (and both of those in the fiction section, and both of them written some time ago).

  4. Curtis, I am much more restricted when I choose texts for classes, though I am aiming to change this, a topic I will post about soon.

    Dave, I know, no Moby Dick, but that would be on your list rather than on mine. So maybe you need to post a supplement.

    Lauren, It probably speaks less about our times than it speaks about me. Here are some of the women I should have included:

    Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
    Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway
    Anais Nin Cities of the Interior

    Helen Cixous Coming to Writing
    Julian of Norwich Revelations of Divine Love
    Simone Weil Waiting on God

  5. looks like I better get reading… and maybe I’ll do something similar on my site with albums as larry keeps asking for for a list of 50

  6. Andrew,

    Yes, do two lists: one of your personal favourite albums, and another of the albums that you think are most important, whether you like them or not.

  7. Lauren,

    Another to put under the Philosophy heading would be Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing.

  8. Lauren said:

    Thanks for humouring me. 🙂

  9. Curtis said:

    In being critical rather than slack jawed now, I was surprised that no Tolstoy or Teilherd [sp] appeared on your list, and no Chomsky either.

  10. Curtis said:

    Secondly, perhaps this list should be supplemented with another twenty-five entries of the history books and another twenty five entries of dramatics, that should most be read in relevance to our contemporary time.

  11. Lauren, I was not humouring you. I was correcting an error in judgement. We will have to chat about this further the next time we meet.

    Curtis, I have never been able to read more than a few pages of Tolstoy, and I have only read a single collection of essays from Chomsky. I did enjoy what I read of de Chardin, and I considered him for the list, but decided that there were other things that I preferred to him.

  12. Curtis said:

    Really, only a few pages? Is this of his theology, fiction, both? Is it purely an accessibility thing, or you just don’t find him compelling?

  13. Curtis, I read the first few pages War and Peace and the first few pages of Anna Karenina, but I was not able to enjoy either of them. Perhaps I should try again when I get a moment.

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