Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wednesday Conundrum: your top 3 books

This question is going out to lots of humanities colleagues in a few days. I'd value your opinion.

What 3 books should all humanities students be asked to read in the summer before they start at university? The idea is that the chosen texts should orient them in the humanities project - to produce intellectual curiosity, independent learning and critical judgement.

Rules: they can't be anything so specialised that only students of one particular discipline would ever manage to finish them.

My suggestions are going to change hourly, I suspect. It's like asking me for my favourite record.

Current thoughts:

Alan Moore, From Hell - because it covers the psychological, political and cultural obsessions of the late Victorian period in a compelling visual and literary narrative.
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science - because everybody needs to become a critical reader of public culture.
Henry Thoreau, Walden - because it's his account of retreating into the woods (though close enough for his mother to deliver food and clean laundry) simply to think about things. Everybody should have this chance, and university is the closest most of us will ever get. It's a text which entirely changed my philosophy.

Use the comments facility. Go mad!


Anonymous said...

1) Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. A bit mean on the poor things, perhaps, but I think the ability to question the role of education should be a pre-requisite for HE.
2) Ben Okri, Mental Fight. Poetry, politics and positive thinking.
3) Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy. The older he gets, the less like a fuddy-duddy he sounds. For any study of the arts, this text is vital to understand how the arts has been traditionally valued in education, and provides some still-relevant reasons why.

The Plashing Vole said...

Brilliant suggestions. For universities, I'd be tempted by Newman's The Idea of a University, a history of France 1968, or Collini's new one. I haven't read the Ben Okri but will have a look because it sounds great.
On the Arnold, I do read and teach his work, but would worry about the paternalism and canonisation.

Benjamin Judge said...

My picks would be:

Bad Thoughts, James Whyte - for very similar reasons to your Bad Science pick, but Whyte deals more with the 'how' people make bad arguments and less with the 'why', and thus has less of an agenda. (not that I have anything against Bad Science, I just think Whyte's book is more universal)

Kathleen Jamie, Findings - because it is about noticing your surroundings and how the world shapes us as we shape the world.

It is also a perfect example of how to write clear prose that is alive and beautiful.

Jenny Baker, Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool - because if you are leaving home you are going to need to learn how to cook.

I picked Baker's book because it is a guide to English food which a) is full of stuff that will get students past missing mum's roast dinners and help them make new friends (more Yorkshire pudding anyone?) b) is interesting as a cultural study in itself. [I think if you were studying outside of England, a different cook book would be more appropriate. The idea is that you learn a culture through its food.]

Oh and c) the book is full of recipes that actually work.

It also has homemade booze recipes in it (more damson gin anyone?)

Imagine if all your students could spot bullshit, noticed the world, and could cook pan haggery before they started the first year.

The Plashing Vole said...

Great suggestions Ben. I shall get the Whyte - not come across it before. I thought the Jamie was stunning, and I've got one of Jenny Baker's other books and use it a lot.

Benjamin Judge said...

Oh, it's Jamie White, not James Whyte. Apologies.

unluckydip said...

The first book to come to my mind would be Naomi Klein's No Logo. I've introduced it to many a person just about to undertake undergraduate study and everyone has always taken something away from it.

Tired Sam said...

Tough call. All of the suggestions so far sound great. In terms of literature, any of the following would be useful:

For narrative richness, cultural appreciation and sheer eloquence, Toni Morrison's Beloved.

To move away from the dense, verbose writings of the average critic, Eagleton's An Introduction to Critical Theory provides a solid overview but would have to be paired with After Theory, purely for the acerbic wit.

Finally - in spite of prescriptive agency - it has to be Paradise Lost; Milton really isn't that scary and, you never know, they may finish reading it by the time they graduate.