Saturday, January 7, 2012

Project: Enlightenment!

Fyodor Dostoevsky:  The Mad Russian

Project:  Enlightenment

No question about it, the old man has slipped into quite a state of arrested development.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with reading comics, and in fact, I heartily endorse them.  Even those scandalously horrible (gasp!) superhero comics.  I know.  What a positively ghastly assertion!

Comics are fine, but man can not live by comics alone - except I pretty much have been, for far too long.

It's making, not stupid, that's not it.  It's making me one-dimensional, inflexible, less fit for mental duty.

So in an effort to become more of the Renaissance Man I was meant to be, I have decided to read at least one book book (not a comic book) per month.  Incidentally, Renaissance is pronounced REN-uh-zonce.  It's not pronounced ren-AY-zonce.  If you pronounce it with the hard "A" sound, you are hereby instructed to punch yourself in the balls, because I'm not there to do it for you.  If you don't have balls, substitute your baby box.

To produce the Renaissance Man, I came up with Project: Enlightenment.  Some of you are inwardly grousing about how "those are two different eras, jackass."  You are also hereby commanded to punch yourself directly in the balls.  Pretentious pricks, all of you.

The point is to pick a number of authors, genres, and time periods.  They don't have to be texts likely to be covered in a college lit course, but it would sure help.

Here's the deal - the brain is a machine that operates on synaptic highways.  You can (and do) train your brain to run down certain tracks.  The plus side is that the brain gets very good rolling down those synaptic highways.  The bad news is that you're allowing large swaths of your gray matter to atrophy.  Part of the difficulty in kicking something like heroin is that an addict has trained their brain to define pleasure inside of some very narrow streets.  Nothing else quite translates, at least not in the beginning of the recovery process.

Same thing with learning and thinking.  I've funnelled a far too large concentration of synaptic firing into a tiny little four-color box.  There's some variety inside the medium, of course.  You flex different muscles reading 100 Bullets than you do reading Comic Book Comics.  But still.  I think you get the point.  I need to reach outside of my comfort zone before my brain box turns into a 98 pound weakling capable of only dissecting Superman stories.

To that end, Project: Enlightenment is designed to break out of Comic Book City and into a wider world.  I'm a really weird English major in that I've never read or been interested in reading any of The Canon.  Time to get to it in my old age!

I'm not prescribing myself strictly to the classics, whatever those actually are.  The idea is enjoy the process, not torture myself.  The books need not be fiction, but I like fiction quite a bit, and I'm weak there.  So I've picked out a few entries such as:

Notes From The Underground - Fyodor Dostoevsky
It seems to me that my iconoclastic and anti-authoritarian impulses should mix with the Mad Russian nicely.  I'm going to find out one way or another.

The Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
It's Black History Month, so it seemed like an appropriate and intriguing choice

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
No, I've never read it.  Yes, I'm ashamed of that.  Seems about perfect for Halloween month.

Other titles I'm considering for the Project:
Atlast Shrugged - Ayn Rand
Hell's Angels - Hunter S. Thompson
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
The Magus - John Fowles
The Man Who Was Thursday - GK Chesterton
As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
Common Sense - Thomas Paine

Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?  I'm open to suggestions.  Pitch me a classic that you've particularly enjoyed.  It works especially well if you can attach a significance to a particular month, although that's certainly not a requirement.



David Ferguson said...


I've read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (and have some others on my to read list). It was a very interest idea. A "why'd he do it" as opposed to "who done it" so I might read that too.


For Halloween, I'd have selected Bram Stoker's Dracula. One of my favourite books of any genre.

Other titles:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K. Dick (for the author's name alone). I really enjoyed this book.

Web Wreckage Stephen said...

Hey Ryan,

Sounds like a most laudable plan. I have to admit that there are times when I think that I am not reading anywhere near enough 'real' books on anything resembling a regular basis. Of course with me part of that is my failing eyesight which means there are days when reading is not at the top of my list, so...

Anyway, it was funny to see Stranger in a Strange Land on your list, because back in high school I pretty much tore through any of the Heinlein books I could lay my hands on ... except for some strange reason that one seminal Heinlein work. Now after reading your announcement here, I am starting to get an itch to go and acquire that book and finally give it a very, very, very much overdo read.

Good Luck with this!

Nick said...

I just read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It's about life in a Russian Gulag. I also liked Heinlein's Starship Troopers. It was much better then the movie.

Anonymous said...

Lord of the Flies is one of my probably had to read it in high school

Have you ever read the short novella "We've Always Lived in the Castle"? KILLER book that no one seems to ever mention.

A Tale of Two Cities is a great one for someone who seems so concerned with issues of justice/law enforcement vs. morality.

I also recommend Brave New World by Huxley. For more contemporary authors, I can't recommend Philip Roth enough (specifically Sabbath's Theater and American Pastoral).

If you do want to dip your toes into non-fiction (or at least roman a clef), the novel In Cold Blood by Capote is a terrifying, excellent book.


Jersey Keith said...

I would go straight for anything by Hunter S. Thompson. Try the Rum Diary. I read it around 10 years ago. Haven't seen the movie yet but I think you would love the book. Also literary classic Silas Marner by George Eliot might be an interesting choice.......but down to something that is bugging me...Ok so first official Podcast ad I applaud the new step..but I saw the Kevin Smith commercial on TV this weekend and was shocked and annoyed. You should revisit this discussion on the cast. It's killin me on many levels. Since I live in Jersey and heard about the open call for cast members a few months ago at Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash I have eagerly anticipated the new show. I even thought about trying out but thought I might to "normal" for what they were looking for. I was guessing they were looking for 30-50 somethings living in their parents basements with speech impediments and a size xxxs FF t-shirt on a 400lbs frame. I had the hope though that Kevin would take the high road and try to bring outside interest and respectability to the patrons. As if to customers are realllllyyy into this but look at how normal and mainstream comics could be. What are we getting though???? A reason for Kevin to do his podcast on cable tv just as the Nerdist has made the transition to BBC America. Literally the promo looks like Kevin is sitting at a table talking comics with possible "cliche comic nerds" and possibly snarking all over the way they might be "cliche comic nerds". I feel as though the days of the Jersey boy makes good and force feeds Hollywood his comic influence because he is passionate about it is gone. The store in Redbank is cool--has the blunt mobile--has a lot of movie props--good selection of coffee table hardcovers for some miles. I mean who am I to kid anyone, I will be pausing the DVR to geek out at whatever they have behind who is talking on the show. Like "ooo shit, spllooooggeee, is that a Frazetta HC on the shelf behind nerd #1 ?" Sploooggeee. Can't judge the show till it's shown but pleassssee more nerd angst on the podcast about the fuuccckiiinn next portrayal of comic nerds as basement virgins. I have a dream...I have a dream...MLK day on Monday...we need a fuckin nerd reckoning. Stop makin us look bad Kevin, for fucks sake. Ryan was about to vent but was swatted down by Mikes comparison to the guy on the promo fuckin wackin to Wonder Woman. But I have a theory...this is only due to his surroundings. Do girls even live in the city that God forgot?? Does MN have quality tail?? Take him into NJ, the most populated state, and watch they cooz fly. He would be a fuckin puller in this state. Jersey shore and the soon to be Secret Stash show might give us a bad name, but the facts are straight...Jersey would make Ryan, you and anyone a puller. Skanks are delicious and yes..yes here they do grow on trees...

Funcrusher said...

I think this is a fantastic project, I just bought Dracula and the H.P. Lovecraft collection at Barnes and Noble. Their new hardback collection books are beautiful and not overly expensive. And they have many of the classics.

Robert said...

Pride and Prejudice might balance your reading nicely.