You know what I’m talking about. These books walk around, lifting things up and putting them down. These books will get into your head and go all MMA on your brain. These books are the boxers that look at the featherweight entering the ring to fight, scoff, and walk away, noting the unworthiness of the fighter. They take your lunch money. They give you atomic wedgies, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and subjects.
These are intimidating books.
Philosophy. Theology. Linguistics. Henry James novels. There’s a whole list of books that literally scare people, unless, of course, you have at least a masters degree in the field, and are at least worked out enough to beast these buggers that try to bring us down. Perhaps you’re working toward a masters, and you’re encountering book after book that you feel is just flying over your head. Perhaps you’re taking a college course purely for self-betterment, and the professor is assigning books designed to discuss the ontological meaning of the Hindu God Krishna as understood through the Upanishads (and it’s freakin’ cooking class!). Either way, they’re out there, and they’re mean buggers.
I can think of at least ten books on my shelves, read and unread, that scare the crap out of me.
1. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant. Considered one of the cornerstones to modern philosophy, this book helped shape a lot of how we view the world today, and from what I understand, it bends your mind into Twizzlers.
2. Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. It’s dense, it’s thick, and it’s a complete REJECTION of modernism and everything that men like Kant worked for!
3. The Hauerwas Reader by Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas is a theologian from Duke University who specializes in ethics. I actually talked to him over the phone once, and basically underused him for the paper I was writing (I asked him for sources when I was talking to a spectacular source; talk about poor thinking). Anyway, he’s brilliant, and he writes brilliantly.
4. Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell. This guy is a legend amongst atheists, and extremely critical of all religions, considering them dangerous and destructive. Being the Christian that I am, you can imagine why this might leave me a little nervous in reading. It’s important to read your critics, and to hear them out, but a man as good as Russell is more than a critic, he’s practically a judge.
5. The Parallax View by Slavoj Zizek. Here’s his Wikipedia page. You tell me.
6. The Universe Next Door by James Sire. This was much easier the second time around, but the first time was really hard (I was 18 and just out of high school). Excellent survey of current philosophical traditions, but way over your head sometimes if you’ve never read a word of philosophy.
7. Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer. I don’t even know what it’s about! The tagline is “four british folkways in America.”
8. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. Merton was a 20th-Century monk and Christian mystic who really brought attention back to contemplation with this and many other, books he wrote. The language is very high, and sometimes I have no idea how to fathom what the heck he’s talking about, but suddenly my walk with God felt horribly inadequate by comparison.
9. Anything, and I mean anything, by Soren Kierkegaard. I think he deliberately tried to be confusing (and he very well might have, according to a professor I talked with at Lancaster Theological Seminary). I know there’s good stuff there; I just wish I knew what it was.
10. The Bible. Never has a book pushed me, challenged me, and confused me more. Seriously.
So, what do we do with these books? We read them anyway! The fact that they’re over our heads is precisely WHY we read them! If you’re reading books you understand all the time, you’re not really learning, are you?
That’s it for today. If you’d care to comment, what books have made YOUR head hurt?