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One Hundred Best Books   By: (1872-1963)

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With Commentary and an Essay on Books and Reading





This selection of "One hundred best books" is made after a different method and with a different purpose from the selections already in existence. Those apparently are designed to stuff the minds of young persons with an accumulation of "standard learning" calculated to alarm and discourage the boldest. The following list is frankly subjective in its choice; being indeed the selection of one individual, wandering at large and in freedom through these "realms of gold."

The compiler holds the view that in expressing his own predilection, he is also supplying the need of kindred minds; minds that read purely for the pleasure of reading, and have no sinister wish to transform themselves by that process into what are called "cultivated persons." The compiler feels that any one who succeeds in reading, with reasonable receptivity, the books in this list, must become, at the end, a person with whom it would be a delight to share that most classic of all pleasurable arts the art of intelligent conversation.


There is scarcely any question, the sudden explosion of which out of a clear sky, excites more charming perturbation in the mind of a man professionally, as they say, "of letters" than the question, so often tossed disdainfully off from young and ardent lips, as to "what one should read," if one has quite strangely and accidentally read hitherto absolutely nothing at all.

To secure the privilege of being the purveyor of spiritual germination to such provocatively virgin soil, is for the moment so entirely exciting that all the great stiff images from the dusty museum of "standard authors," seem to swim in a sort of blurred mist before our eyes, and even, some of them at least, to nod and beckon and put out their tongues. After a while, however, the shock of first excitement diminishing, that solemn goblin Responsibility lifts up its head, and though we bang at it and shoo it away, and perhaps lock it up, the pure sweet pleasure of our seductive enterprise, the "native hue," as the poet says, of our "resolution" is henceforth "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," and the fine design robbed of its freshest dew.

As a matter of fact, much deeper contemplations and maturer ponderings, only tend, in the long run, to bring us back to our original starting point. It is just this very bugbear of Responsibility which in the consciences and mouths of grown up persons sends the bravest of our youth post haste to confusion so impinging and inexorable are the thing's portentous horns. It is indeed after these maturer considerations that we manage to hit upon the right key really capable of impounding the obtrusive animal; the idea, namely, of indicating to our youthful questioner the importance of aesthetic austerity in these regions an austerity not only no less exclusive, but far more exclusive than any mandate drawn from the Decalogue.

The necessary matter, in other words, at the beginning of such a tremendous adventure as this blowing wind into the sails of a newly built little schooner, or sometimes even of a poor rain soaked harbor rotten brig, bound for the Fortunate Islands, is the inspiration of the right mood, the right tone, the right temper, for the splendid voyage. It is not enough simply to say "acquire aesthetic severity." With spoils so inexhaustible offered to us on every side, some more definite orientation is desirable. Such an orientation, limiting the enormous scope of the enterprise, within the sphere of the possible, can only be wisely found in a person's own individual taste; but since such a taste is, obviously, in a measure "acquired," the compiler of any list of books must endeavor, by a frank and almost shameless assertion of his taste, to rouse to a divergent reciprocity the latent taste, still embryotic, perhaps, and quite inchoate, of the young person anxious to make some sort of a start... Continue reading book >>

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