Autodidacts among us

There has been a flood of reading memoirs being published. There was Rachel Mead's My Life in Middlemarch. There's Andy Miller's The Year of Reading Dangerously. Phyllis Rose just published The Shelf. The list goes on and on. Even though I am a devoted reader, and I love books set in bookstores (I loved Tom Rachman's The Rise and Fall of Great Powers and Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry), but I can't think of anything more dull than reading about other people reading.

As I've read all of the reviews for these books, I got to thinking about autodidacts I've met. You don't meet many of them anymore, but I always end up having the same mental debate. What should one read? Should one even think there's a canonical list of books for everyone? When someone asks me which books they need to read, the books they've "missed out on," I have to point them to Harold Bloom's list or something similar—because I am a good librarian.

Aside from that whole philosophical argument, I find that I admire their dedication to reading a full canon. Reading Bloom's list will take years. And at the end of it, you can call yourself an educated person the way few people these days are. Lately, I can hardly manage to read my one classic a month, since I got stuck on Villette. (I really should just move on to something else so that I can keep my New Year's resolution.)

I'm fairly sure, however, that I won't be able to read anyone's memoir about reading. That's one level of abstraction too many.


  1. Bloom's list is too historical. Frankenstein and stuff by Wells but no Heinlein or Asimov.

  2. Hi Annie,
    While I see your point, I have to share some that completely changed my life. After reading the novel Among Others by Jo Walton, I learned about everything I was missing by avoiding the science fiction and fantasy genre. Her passion for reading rivals ours, and her new book What Makes This Book So Great is just that, a book that feels like she is sitting at the table with you, drinking coffee, and discussing what she just read. I'm reading it in small chunks over time, otherwise my TBR list would reach heights that would overwhelm me. Also, I fell in love with Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick because it took me back to the reading I did as a young bookworm and it was fun to find titles I missed. And my favorite novel set in a bookstore is Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Sloan. Hugs! Kristie

  3. Psikey, I completely agree. Genre fiction has always played second fiddle, even though it's the home of incredibly inventive and important writing.

    Kristie, I love novels about readers. It's nonfiction about readers that bores the life out of me. I'm a big fan of Mr. Penumbra, as well.


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