I’ve been at this classic reading program now for about twenty years. Sometime in the early nineties, I was reading something by C. S. Lewis in which he mentioned Orlando Furioso, and I suddenly went under the wave of all my frustration about my high school and college and the poor education in letters that they offered me. Then just a moment later, I realized that I could either stay frustrated or start reading, and decided to educate myself. Soon after, I read the Iliad and Odyssey, The Canterbury Tales, and some other classics. Sometime in 1994, I purchased my used set of Britannica Great Books, and in January of 1996, I started the ten-year plan outlined in volume I of that set. It took me eleven years to get through that plan (I got stuck on City of God one year, and I don’t know why), and in 2007, I started the Second Decade, the plan that drives this blog. Now I’m in the sixth year of that plan and looking forward to year 7.
I look back on the last twenty years, and I have to say that it’s worked. I’ve certainly read all the things I thought in the early nineties that I should have read, and a lot of it has stuck. I don’t usually get lost when I read or hear about classic literature, I can compare historical philosophies, I pray and read the Bible with more depth knowing some traditional theology, and I have a much better understanding of ethics – even if I very humanly fail on a regular basis to put my understanding to good use.
But I started thinking this summer: what do I do when I finish this plan? I love The Plan; can I go back to reading without a schedule? I have a sense of accomplishment now; do I keep reading thorny philosophy and continue to try to learn new things or rest satisfied that the hard reading is past? I’ll be retiring from my current job in a couple of years; what will my next job be like, and will I have more time to read or less? I’ll be fifty-seven years old when I finish this current plan; will I live longer than my dad and his dad and have enough time to get through another ten years?
I don’t know all the answers to those questions. But they kept rolling through my mind, and I had to come up with something. So this summer I drew up a plan for a Third Decade. I have four years and three months to change my mind, but for now I’ve made some decisions. (1): I think a plan for retirement should probably have an air of reward about it; no more Nietzsche or Hegel or Peirce. Almost everything on the new list is something I think I’ll have fun reading. Not that my idea of fun is like most people’s; Aquinas will still be there, for instance. And that leads me to (2): I need to keep reading some of my favorite prolific authors and try to get a sense of completion on some of their works. So I’ve included a plan for continuing with William James, Aquinas, and Augustine. Also I decided to try to finish Durant’s eleven-volume History of Civilization; I counted up the pages just a couple of weeks ago and found that I needed to read 380 pages a year instead of 250 in order to get to the end (yikes!), so I revised that part of the current plan. And that leaves (3): After fifty years, I finally learned the joys of rereading, and I want to return to some of my favorite books and authors from an earlier time. That means lots of Asimov, Dumas, Verne, Stevenson, Kenneth Roberts, Dickens of course, and – a guilty pleasure nowhere near “great literature” – Edgar Rice Burroughs.
There’s a lot more to this third reading plan, some serious and some silly. But I very recently finished up the new schedule for the next fifteen years of Durant, so it’s been on my mind, and I wanted to leave a brief preview here on the blog. Is it wrong to bring back the past? “There is no frigate like a book,” and I’m ready for adventure.