These days I read books strictly for pleasure. As a young adult, I always had some pang of guilt if I wasn't reading a book that I thought was important or significant in some way. I also had a rather circumspect personal life, and quite frankly I enjoyed reading at home a lot more than meeting the kinds of people I mostly ended up meeting.
I've always had a love-hate relationship with my intellectual curiosity. That is because I always ended up satisfying it, and having done so removed myself from the social sphere of people I knew. I have never known anyone - or had an active social life with anyone who read the same things I did, and I always felt that every new page I turned was a step into further isolation. It was very difficult being me at the time. I was unmoderated because I was always trying to be what I knew.
That was then.
Today, my guilt twinges me ever so slightly when I think about various classic pieces of literature I have yet to read. And yet I was only recently comforted even more by a lecture by Dr. Larry Arnn who said that the most intelligent man he ever knew said it's useless to try to know much about any more than one thing. So the very idea of broadmindedness is, perhaps, a survival skill of the mediocre. Enough of that.
This is by far my absolute favorite book. I came upon it entirely by accident having given up entirely on the genre of science fiction. A friend recommended it and I could not put it down. Only Foucault's Pendulum before it had the sweep and scope of it, and I found it a great kind of secret revelation of the sort I am most fond - given my fascination with nukes. As an IT guy, I found various aspects of it perfectly riveting. Anyway great, great book. Top shelf of my bookcase.
You may be coming to see a pattern here, and I suppose there is. I have mentioned before that I truly dig big fat historical fictions. The only thing better are histories themselves. Unfortunately, most writers of history, well all I've seen, are fairly boring. DeLillo, however, tells a ripping great story with, I think, the mind of the modern American man rightly nailed. If yesterday's man was something like characters of Updike, then today's belong to DeLillo. And yet DeLillo has gone completely off my radar. I haven't had the passion to read him other than that one work. I wish, I suppose, one could combine the narrative skill of DeLillo with the flair for the factual of McPhee. That would be a hell of a stunning writer. Maybe when I'm 60.
Bracketing DeLillo's mastery of the internal is my most favorite of the external, Kolb. I think there is, perhaps, no greater adventure than that of the secret adventure on the geopolitical scene. This is what it looks like to knock about among machers.
The Neveryon Series
I basically asked one day what is the greatest science fiction book of all time. Most people conlucded that Samuel R. Delaney was number one, and so I went to his legendary work. The best thing I can do to describe it is to talk about society on the verge of formalized education. How did it come about? What was the inflection point when learning about things you didn't do every day became something of the province of the ordinary man, as opposed to royalty?
The Pentagon's New Map
This is the best big idea book I've read in a long time. I've been trying to eat up some of those, but neither Kaplan, nor Friedman, nor Gleick have done it for me. I probably will go back and read more Halberstam, but man Thomas PM Barnett is on top of things. I'm actually looking for an economic view of the same things. That search continues.
Also rans of the era:
The Company / Modern Manners / Freakonomics / Confessions of a Street Addict / My Life as a Quant / Quicksilver / The Ender Series / The Prey Series / The Hitchhiker's Guide / Basin and Range / Irons in the Fire / The Diamond Age / Great Apes
I also feel as if I have to have a special section for Martin Amis. For of all the writers I have read over the past many years, I would have to say that his has been the most poignant and touching to me. Materially, his ability to lay things plain.. I'm not even going to try and describe his writing. He has changed the way I see people. He has made it possible for me to recognize the social milieu of the West and describe it without damage.
I could and probably should go on about this. There's a seemingly insuperable context for the emergent African American. We are presented a world, through our mastery of English, which far transcends that world we have been allowed to occupy and control. And as we bogard our way upwards, there is always such a great temptation to suggest that a world not ready for our upward mobility is a world dominated by evil men. Not fools, not selfish men, not ignorant men but evil men. This is the basic currency of black race raising as a moral endeavor (as contrasted with a foolish, ignorant or selfish one) and captures so much of our energy. Yet I am always drawn away from this narrative. I find it reductive and often ridiculous, especially in literature as if politics weren't enough. And so I have my special place in hell for the 50 Page Book Man. My point is that Amis gets to the human within the very particulars of the West and strips him down to his emotional motivations. It is a moral world, our world, that Amis' works traverse and he sees it ever so clearly. It is in that clear description where a real power emerges. Amis is a seer.
At any rate, I think the most poignant story I ever read in my life is called 'The Little Puppy That Could'. Amis has brought me to tears so many times, but this was the first, and it happens every time I read it. It's from his collection of short stories, "Einstein's Monsters". I cannot recommend it highly enough.
But the story that changed my life was Koba The Dread. I could never finish it, and I cried every five pages. I didn't know and didn't quite realize that I didn't know the dimensions of the horror that Stalin visited on Russia. On the fleshing out of that fact alone I converted from my Progressivist liberalism. Suddenly I had no desire to hate the mediocrity of the middle class. Suddenly their aspirations, no matter how middling, became desperately important to protect.
Not many people, considering the topics blowing up at Cobb this week, understand my emotional involvement with Conservatism. But Amis' writing is contains that emotional dimension. He is why I am Hayekian, not so much Hayek himself. I find in Amis a stunning lucidity about the horrors of the 20th Century and the predicaments the inheritors of freedom twist among, brought on by their own diversions from mediocrity.
I would say that were I to fill out the question posed about my intellectual heroes, Amis and Hitchens would be at the top of the list for their literary contributions to my own moral edification. I am fortunate to have discovered them.