The OF Blog: What do you read when you want to become wiser?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

What do you read when you want to become wiser?

I've had two nights off this week, one due to icy weather, the other due to a long-planned day/night off to observe Ash Wednesday.  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of reading Twitter for more than 5 minutes every 4-6 hours, so I see certain topics keep being discussed, almost to the point of ad nauseam, without there seeming to be any real furthering of the discussions in enlightening ways.  It's like reading a series of competing monologues, people presenting their points as if the vague "others" out there who may be (or are) in disagreement with them have not "gotten it," "are not getting it," and likely "never will get it."  After a while, it feels repetitive, like I am a (mostly) mute witness to shadow bashing of differing view points.

I'm not going to comment further on the specifics of what I was reading (it was more than a single issue and it really seems to be more complex than what many are allowing for in their 140 character comments), but instead, thinking in part on the religious season that began today for me and in part on what I seem to be wanting to read more lately, I'm going to pause for a minute from presenting my own views on matters and instead inquire about something more universal:  works that inspire a sense of developing wisdom.

What works out there should one read in order to broaden one's horizons or to think deeper about life and the greater humanity in which we live and operate?  I know there are some who will say the obvious ones, like the Bible or Confucius's Analects or the Tao te Ching or perhaps the writings of Thomas Merton or Sor Juana, just to name a few that come to mind.  What works are out there that you've read and felt as though you grew in your understanding of self and others?  Curious to know what I've overlooked so far in life and what might benefit people to have considered while reading.


Ingrid Wolf said...

Hi Larry,

I think I have a couple of ideas, though I'm afraid you might well have read these books too :)

When I want to become wiser, I read intellectual speculative fiction: Stanislaw Lem (Solaris, Cyberiad, Memoirs of Ijon Tichy), Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (my favorites are Roadside Picnic, Ugly Swans, Hard to Be a God), Yury Nikitin (his best works, like Transhuman and 2024, only available in Russian so far, unfortunately). In each of these books, I've discovered some stunning concepts that were a real earthquake for my worldview. And each subsequent re-reading was marked by new discoveries.

I hope this would be a bit of help.

Larry Nolen said...

It is. I've read the first two Lem and the first Strugatsky bros. that you mention, but not the rest, so perhaps soon I'll look into the others. And eventually I'll get around to learning to read Russian. Only a couple other languages to finish mastering first... Thanks!

jane said...

Recently, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies (Hilary Mantel)really made me think more about evil actions vs evil person and how people do things because it seems the right thing to do . . . A go-to is the Alice books. There really is a wealth of wisdom in them both, along wiht wit.

Anonymous said...

I read the Analects of Confucius but I didn't find it broadening or enlightening. It was just this little book of short anecdotes. I thought, well, Chinese is supposed to be really hard to translate to start with, and furthermore this book is separated from me by a gulf of many centuries, and for a short book to have such impact the readers must have implicitly added a vast amount of material from their knowledge of the culture the book rose from, and part of what makes an important book interesting is the conversation and reactions that grow around it over a long period of time. This book was just too foreign for me to understand.

So I wanted to find some books about Confucius, and people's interpretation of him, and his culture, but if couldn't even figure out where to start. The bookstore sold the Analects but nothing ABOUT the Analects. I hope to find such a book someday.

The most fun book I've read recently is Karl Popper's The Open Society And Its Enemies. That was easy to understand because it's less than a century old, and Western philosophy, and talked about things (Plato, The Republic, totalitarianism, Hegel) that I know something about because it is part of my culture.

Do you think you can just jump into reading great books or do you need bridge texts for the ones that are more foreign to you?

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