Monday, June 20, 2011

Books Never To Read in the Summer

by Andy Ross

It is that time of the year again, when "summer reading" lists abound. For a refreshing change, I have prepared a very personal and idiosyncratic list of books that are best left to seasons other than summer, if at all.

Jokes Cracked by Lord Aberdeen. This book is perhaps the greatest oddity in the history of the printed page. It was originally published in 1925 and has been long out of print. The author of the book is either the 4th or 5th Earl of Aberdeen. It is not entirely clear. From the appearance of the dour visage on the cover, one questions whether His Lordship made any significant contribution to the world of Tomfoolery of the late Victorian Period. Indeed, one must ask whether the concept of "crack a joke" would even enter the same universe of discourse occupied by Lord Aberdeen.

Foundations of a Complete Science of Knowledge. (Grundlage der Gesammten Wissenschaftslehre.) Johan Gottlieb Fichte. Once a towering figure in German Idealist philosophy ,is now happily forgotten. Unfortunately for me, when I was 25 and a graduate student in German history, I picked Herr Fichte's thought as the subject for my master's thesis. This was an error in judgment on my part. I was required to read the entire 660 page work in its original German. The number of expressions in German that I knew at the time was limited. I believe I could give a pretty good rendition in Hochdeutsch of: "Wanna go back to my place?" and also "Shut up, you Nazi".

I will never forget the impact of the first majestic words from the Grundlage on my emotional and intellectual development. (Roughly translated): "X is in the Ego, and posited through the Ego, for it is the Ego which asserts the above proposition, and so asserts it by virtue of X as a law, and must therefore, be given to the Ego;..."

At the time I was doing a considerable amount of experimentation with certain (how shall we say?) mind altering drugs and attempting at the same time to win my girlfriend back from a free love commune. Fichte's immortal words restored my hope and gave a new sense of purpose to my life.

The Collected Works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Several years ago, I had a quintessential Berkeley experience. I was having dinner at my local hamburger place and was informing my companion that I was to introduce Salman Rushdie who was giving a reading later that evening at Cody's. A stranger at the next table turned around and said "Salman Rushdie will be remembered as the Edward Bulwer- Lytton of the twentieth century."

This audacious and entirely uninvited judgment peaked my interest in this great, but forgotten Victorian novelist. He is most remembered now for the first sentence of his novel Paul Clifford, "It was a dark and stormy night". There is a general consensus amongst critics that this is the worst first sentence penned in all of English literature. He is also remembered for the hackneyed and ponderous expression: "The Pen is Mightier than the sword." I would not begin reading these collected works this summer or any other season for that matter. For those who will not read Bulwer-Lytton's works, I also recommend that you not read: The Letters of the Late Edward Bulwer-Lytton to his Wife.

Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer. I recommend not reading this masterpiece. Unlike the first sentence penned by Bulwer-Lytton above, Chaucer has written one of the most memorable first sentences in all of literature:

"Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, /The droughte, perced to the roote, /And bathed every vein in swich licour / Of which vertu engendred is the flour,…"

It is doubly remarkable in that it appears to be utterly meaningless and with numerous misspelled words to wit (or should I say to witte?). Not unlike my daughter's first grade homework assignment: "My Daddy and I go to the Zoo".

The Book of Numbers. There have been periods of my life when I have felt doubt and despair come over me as the darkness upon the face of the waters. And in these times, I have turned to scripture for consolation and spiritual renewal. In particular, I continue to return to the unforgettable words of Numbers 25:1:

" And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab."

Gentle Reader, I humbly present for your consideration – The Book of Numbers.

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