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David Bowie: Top 100 formative books (* James Baldwin’s Fire Next Time tops the list)

David Bowie’s Top 100 Formative Books

Join us for class on Thursday, Jan. 21 from 7:00-8:30 as we discuss James Baldwin’s Fire Next Time and sample craft beers from NY in honor of the author’s connection to the city.

Bowie counts Baldwin as one of his favorites. Will you?

In memory of David Bowie and his prolific and eclectic reading habit:

Though one of his songs is titled “I Can’t Read“, David Bowie was actually quite the voracious reader. In 2013, he posted a list of his top 100 favorite reads on his Facebook page and we’re glad he did—Bowie’s list of favorites is diverse and eclectic, ranging from poetry to comics to the kind of trippy reads you’d expect Ziggy Stardust to dig. In memory of one of the world’s most iconic artists, put on some David Bowie tunes and crack the spine of one of the books that helped shape the legendary musician.

David Bowie’s Top 100 Reads:

  1. Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
  2. Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
  3. Room At The Top by John Braine
  4. On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
  5. Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
  6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  7. City Of Night by John Rechy
  8. The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  9. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  10. Iliad by Homer
  11. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  12. Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
  13. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
  14. Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
  15. Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
  16. Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
  17. David Bomberg by Richard Cork
  18. Blast by Wyndham Lewis
  19. Passing by Nella Larson
  20. Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto
  21. The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
  22. In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
  23. Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
  24. The Divided Self by R. D. Laing
  25. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  26. Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
  27. The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
  28. The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
  29. Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
  30. The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  31. The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  32. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  33. Herzog by Saul Bellow
  34. Puckoon by Spike Milligan
  35. Black Boy by Richard Wright
  36. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  37. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
  38. Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
  39. The Waste Land by T.S. Elliot
  40. McTeague by Frank Norris
  41. Money by Martin Amis
  42. The Outsider by Colin Wilson
  43. Strange People by Frank Edwards
  44. English Journey by J.B. Priestley
  45. A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  46. The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
  47. 1984 by George Orwell
  48. The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
  49. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
  50. Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
  51. Beano (comic, ’50s)
  52. Raw (comic, ’80s)
  53. White Noise by Don DeLillo
  54. Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick
  55. Silence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage
  56. Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
  57. The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillete
  58. Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky
  59. The Street by Ann Petry
  60. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
  61. Last Exit To Brooklyn By Hubert Selby, Jr.
  62. A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
  63. The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
  64. Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
  65. The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
  66. The Bridge by Hart Crane
  67. All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
  68. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  69. Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
  70. The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
  71. Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Saunders
  72. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
  73. Nowhere To Run The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
  74. Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
  75. Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
  76. The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
  77. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  78. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  79. Teenage by Jon Savage
  80. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
  81. The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
  82. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  83. Viz (comic, early ’80s)
  84. Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s – ’80s)
  85. Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
  86. The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
  87. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
  88. Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont
  89. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
  90. Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler
  91. Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  92. Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi
  93. The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
  94. The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa
  95. Inferno by Dante Alighieri
  96. A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
  97. The Insult by Rupert Thomson
  98. In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan
  99. A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
  100. Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

by Lauren Weiss, NYPL, January 11, 2016

Reclaiming Conversation

imgresCheck out this recent NYT article about Sherry Turkle’s new book “Reclaiming Conversation“.  Turkle makes a compelling case for face to face conversation in the digital age.

Conversation is Turkle’s organizing principle because so much of what constitutes humanity is threatened when we replace it with electronic communication. Conversation presupposes solitude, for example, because it’s in solitude that we learn to think for ourselves and develop a stable sense of self, which is essential for taking other people as they are. (If we’re unable to be separated from our smartphones, Turkle says, we consume other people “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”) Through the conversational attention of parents, children acquire a sense of enduring connectedness and a habit of talking about their feelings, rather than simply acting on them. (Turkle believes that regular family conversations help “inoculate” children against bullying.) When you speak to people in person, you’re forced to recognize their full human reality, which is where empathy begins. (A recent study shows a steep decline in empathy, as measured by standard psychological tests, among college students of the smartphone generation.) And conversation carries the risk of boredom, the condition that smartphones have taught us most to fear, which is also the condition in which patience and imagination are developed. –NYT Sept. 28, 2015

The Seattle Times summarizes Turkle’s research on the importance (and loss) of conversation in our lives:

Smartphones are ruining relationships. If you don’t agree, read Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital” Age and you’ll begin to see the corrosive impact on human communication lurking in your handheld device.

Turkle offers example after example of how digital communication has altered not just the way we convey information, but the emotional context as well. – Seattle Times, Oct. 11, 2015

Sherry Turkle’s advice on how to cultivate conversation in our overly digital world can be found in her interview with the Atlantic Magazine:

Turkle’s prescriptions: Carve out “sacred spaces” for conversation in day-to-day life—no devices at the dinner table, study and lounge spaces that are wi-fi free. Abandon the myth of multitasking for good—it is neither efficient nor conducive to empathy, she says—and instead embrace “unitasking,” one thing at a time. Resist the urge to see the smartphone as the universal tool that should replace everything. -The Atlantic, Oct. 2015

Do you want to find way for more conversation in your life?

Consider joining a Polis class to increase your opportunities for in-person conversation.

How Long Have I Got Left?

What does it mean to contemplate death? Does thinking about death help us to live more fully? Can we ever really be prepared for the eventuality of death? What does it mean to live a good life knowing that our days are numbered?

Polis students asked these (and other) questions in our fall courses on Joyce’sThe Dead”, Montaigne’s essays, and Tolstoy’s, “The Death Of Ivan Ilych”.

Unintentionally, each of the  texts in our fall Polis courses has death as a theme.  Who would have thought that it could actually be enjoyable to sit at a seminar table with a group of strangers and dig deeply into questions about mortality? The craft beer selections certainly helped to make the atmosphere a little bit more festive in the midst of these otherwise weighty themes!

Discussing literature and philosophy can serve an important role in our lives. Dialogue about big ideas can be a catalyst for reflection about living  in the face of an acknowledgment of mortality.

Living a Full Life. How Should We Spend Our Time?

This Sunday’s New York Times included a thought-provoking Opinion piece about what it means to live with an acceptance of death. The author, a 36-year-old neurosurgeon at Stanford was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. He contemplates what it means to live his life with the certainty that he is going to die but the continuing uncertainty of when.

The author’s first and most persistent question upon learning his diagnosis is rooted in a deep desire to know, “How long do I have left?”. Somehow, he thought, knowing an answer to this question would give him a rudder about how to live well.

The author considers his choices for how to spend his time:

In a way, though, the certainty of death was easier than this uncertain life. Didn’t those in purgatory prefer to go to hell, and just be done with it? Was I supposed to be making funeral arrangements? Devoting myself to my wife, my parents, my brothers, my friends, my adorable niece? Writing the book I had always wanted to write? Or was I supposed to go back to negotiating my multiyear job offers?

He struggles with and works to elucidate his sense of “acuteness” in knowing that he is going to die.

I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.

The author’s courage to publicly grapple with his feelings about his own mortality is commendable. The piece brings readers into contact with so many of the themes about living and dying that arose in our Polis classes last semester.

How Can Literature and Philosophy Guide Us?

In Montaigne’s essay, “To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die”  the author challenges his reader:

Wherever your life ends, it is all there. The utility of living consists not in the length of days, but in the use of time; a man may have lived long, and yet lived but a little. Make use of time while it is present with you. It depends upon your will, and not upon the number of days, to have a sufficient length of life. Is it possible you can imagine never to arrive at the place towards which you are continually going? and yet there is no journey but hath its end. And, if company will make it more pleasant or more easy to you, does not all the world go the self-same way? Does not all the world dance the same brawl that you do? Is there anything that does not grow old, as well as you? A thousand men, a thousand animals, a thousand other creatures, die at the same moment that you die.

The group discussion in our Montaigne class was focused primarily on what Montaigne meant by “living long, and yet lived but a little”.

How can we live a full and meaningful life despite it’s length?

In the short story, “The Dead”, James Joyce’s characters present a variety of ways to live in the shadow of the knowledge that we are going to die.

Joyce describes the protagonist, Gabriel Conroy’s, inner battle to accept the realities of his past:

He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. A gentle melancholy took possession of him. He felt how useless it was to struggle against fortune, this being the burden of wisdom which the ages had bequeathed him.

Polis students askedCan we have a meaningful life even if we are “struggling against fortune”?  How much of life is ours to control and how much is beyond our reach?

In the “Death of Ivan Ilych”, Ivan is forced to reckon with his imminent mortality with a recognition that he has not lived the type of life he could have because he was too focused on the “ought’s” and “should’s” of other people’s expectations. Tolstoy writes:

Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,’ it suddenly occurred to him. ‘But how could that be, when I did everything properly?’ he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible.”

During the discussion of  Tolstoy’s work, a Polis student asked,I get it–he lived a life according to other’s expectations–but what is it that he would have done differently? What could have made Ivan feel that he had lived a full and good life as he lay on his death bed?”

Diving deeply into literature and philosophy won’t help us to find THE answer to questions about the good life and  an acceptance of death but discussions like those at Polis can help us to stop, briefly, on the treadmill of our daily routine and ask, “Am I living as I want to? Am I living as fully as I could? Am I adding meaning to my life and the lives of others?”

The philosopher Anaïs Nin writes: “There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” – The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

Our life as an individual novel, a book for each person.

Join us for a Polis class in February. Meet interesting new people, read something you’ve always meant to, and chew on the big questions of life.

 

Interested in Reading More?

I Do Not Fear Death“, Roger EbertSalon,Sept. 15, 2011

Living Well, According to Some of  the Wisest People Who Ever Lived“,Carolyn Gregoire, Huffington Post,Aug. 28, 2013

Anais Nin on the Elusive Nature of Joy“,Maria Popova, Brainpickings, Nov. 12, 2013

New Year 2014: Metamorphosis and Preservation

New Year Resolutions: Community and Learning

The new year can be a time for us to reflect on our lives: what do we want to change and what would we like to preserve?

New year’s resolutions can be cliched and fleeting (just look at the spike in new gym memberships that tends to happen each January!) but they don’t have to be. We can take the opportunity that the new year affords us to start something fresh and commit to small and sustainable changes.

If you have been hoping to have a stronger sense of community in your life or if you would like to add a dose of learning for pure enjoyment and challenge, then check out our upcoming classes at Polis.

We thought it would be appropriate to kick of the new year with a classic work on change and renewal: Kafka’s, “Metamorphosis” paired with Czech beers curated by Healthy Spirits (all part of our Drinkers and Great Thinkers monthly series) on January 21st.  Sign up with the promo code “new year” and receive a 20% class discount.

Our 2014 Polis classes are as short as one session (some even include beer samplings!) and as long as four sessions with topics ranging from the question, “What Makes Us Human?” (Dawkins) to “What Is Our Responsibility to Others in This Sometimes Absurd World?” (Camus).  If you have always wanted to read (or you are dying to re-read) works by Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, and Herman Melville then why not dive into a Polis class in the new year? We will be adding even more classes in the months ahead so be sure to check back regularly.

New Year’s Lists, Lists, and More Lists…

With the new year comes the annual onslaught of “best of” lists from best travel spots around the world to best films of the year.

Of course it is important to take these “best of lists” with a grain of salt (after all, we don’t have to agree with the critics). That said, we thought we would close out the year at Polis with a few of the “best books of the year” lists. And with no further ado…

Best Books of 2013 (A List of Lists)

And, finally while it is not a year in review book list, here is the book list that became the basis for the NYT best seller, The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.

We hope that these lists will serve as inspiration for future reading. We welcome you to make a resolution to try something new this year and join us in community and discussion at Polis.

Top Five Reasons Reading Books Still Matters

open a book this weekend.Happy Friday!

What are you going to do this weekend to feel fulfilled and recharged?

Do you have that book that you’ve been staring at for months and haven’t found the time to dive into it (*check out this new way of dealing with that problem  from Japan)?

When was the last time you browsed your local bookstore or library and serendipitously fell into a new topic or author? Book browsing is much more difficult online. Why not make some time this weekend for some browsing?

Why not, unplug for an hour if you can and dive into that book you’ve been meaning to get to.

We hope this top five list of reasons that books still can matter in our lives will be a motivation for you as you head into the weekend!

Top Five Reasons Reading Books Still Matters*

1. Reading books helps us to become more interesting people to be around. Tired of having the same conversation over and over again with your spouse or friends? Read a book and have something new to talk about.

2. Books are a gateway drug to increasing our curiosity. When we read we want to know more. We want to know how it ends. We want to know what else this author wrote. We start to ask “why” again.  Neil Gaiman writes: 

 

 Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable.

3. Books can be beautiful. Check out some of these images of books on display.

4. Reading books provides us with “souvenir of ideas“. Author Seth Godin writes:

A book is a physical souvenir, a concrete instantiation of your ideas in a physical object, something that gives your ideas substance and allows them to travel.

5. Reading Can Make Your Dating Life Better. Single? Reading books may help to improve your dating life. A new dating website in London is focused just on book lovers. Speed dating for readers is becoming a hot new trend in Canada.

* Okay, so these aren’t THE top five reasons for reading. But, they are a start. We want to hear from you. What are your reasons for reading?

Let Polis Help You Get Your Reading Groove Back!

Join us for our brand new December Polis course. This class will help you to find your reading groove, make time for reading, and meet new friends. We’d love to see you in class. Sign up today.

Only 2 spots left in our Drinkers and Great Thinkers class for next Wednesday (Nov. 13th). We are reading two essays by Montaigne and pairing the experience with Farmhouse Ales. Sign up today.