As I start this blog (early August, 2010), I'm in the fourth year of a ten-year reading plan. I know mostly what I'm going to read and when I'm going to read it for the rest of this year and for all of the next six years. It's a plan I designed and imposed on myself. And I'm having a great time.
Why would I do such a thing? The main reason, I tell myself, is to give myself the education that I wish I had had when I was younger. I went to high school in the seventies. I didn't understand exactly what was going on at the time, but I had the idea that dismantling the old English curriculum and offering a choice of "attractive" electives (for example, "Sports and Cars in Literature") was a colossally bad idea. My counselors and administrators talked with me about college preparation, so I thought they were being serious and responsible, but it just didn't occur to me at the time that for them "college prep" always meant Trigonometry and Chemistry. Now I understand that they felt some overpowering motivation to train me as a Cold Warrior, and Heaven knows -- or at least the school boards in the seventies knew -- that history, philosophy, and literature have nothing to do with war.
My college education went much better. It took eleven years from freshmen matriculation to graduation with a Ph.D. in Music Theory (some would say it takes intelligence to succeed in a field that requires eleven years of job training, while others would say it takes foolishness to go into such a field: you decide), and I took many courses in history, philosophy, and literature along the way -- many of them among my favorite courses. Finally out of school and in a job, I continued to include some tough reads in my diet of books: a little Aristotle, the Iliad, The Canterbury Tales (in the original, late-middle English), and so on. But I felt the need for some discipline, for a plan.
After looking around at various published plans and ready-made sets, I decided on the Britannica Great Books. In 1995, at Adrian's Used Books (I have no idea where Adrian and his used books are now), I found a nice set -- complete with wooden case! -- for $250. With some judicious hinting to my mom, that set soon ended up in my living room. For a few months I dipped my toes in here and there, mostly in Boswell's Life of Johnson. But the first volume of the set offers a ten-year reading plan that includes at least a sample of each of the authors in the set, and in January of 1996, I launched out with great determination to make every stop on the itinerary.
It took me only eleven years to finish that ten-year reading plan: hardly any time at all, certainly no longer than than it takes to train to be a music professor. I read every word recommended in most cases, read beyond the assignment in some cases, and cut the assigned pages only once (Origin of Species). But in the last couple of years of that plan, as a future of separation anxiety loomed, I realized that I needed more: a bigger and more comprehensive continuation, a Second Decade.
I drew up the second ten-year plan myself in 2006, during the last year of the first ten-year plan. (I know. I sound like a Soviet setting the course for the economy, which is especially ironic considering what my high school was trying to do with me.) The plan includes many works that are thought of by most old-fashioned, politically-incorrect people as Great Books, many that could be considered great in particular circles, and a few that are quite suspect. It includes some things that I've read before in whole or in part and many that I've never read before. It includes all the extant ancient Greek plays, all of Plato, almost all of Aristotle, all of Plutarch, and some of several other ancient histories. It includes many Christian works: Church Fathers (a lot of Augustine), Aquinas, Calvin, Boethius, Chesterton, Lewis, and more. It includes scriptures from other religions, epic poetry, Shakespeare, philosophy, and various novels of the last three hundred years.
You can find the full list under the tab marked "The List" and my running comments on the journey under "Home." I hope my reading makes your reading more enjoyable!