The BBC has just printed yet another list of the 100 stories (not books, but stories) that have shaped our world. Well maybe so, but they’re certainly not doing it anymore. Whatever shaping they may have done in the past is no more.
Well I looked over the list (see below, at least for the first 15 or 20 or so on the list). There were a good number that I didn’t know, and of course hadn’t even tried to read. There were some that I would not have put on a list of my own, such as the Harry Potter Series, and the three, yes that’s right, three twenties novels of Virginia Woolf. But overall the list was proper, correct, in the same class as the Great Books of the Western World, a series that I’ve never been without on my own book shelves.
But I most of all wondered how might books, even one hundred of them “shape the world”? I suppose you could say that the Bible, not on the list (why? because there are many stories and many authors within the one) has shaped our world, or did shape our world, certainly the Western world. Also I would say that in order to shape the world the books have to be read (the Bible being a good example of this), and these books, for the most part are no longer read by most people.
And furthermore I might add, give me a list of the books that people are reading, in millions and millions of copies first in paper back, and now digitalized, and that are being read not only in our country but world wide, the detective and adventure stories, the romances, and the how to books and on and on, and yes, so many of these books, yes, these books are probably shaping the world and mostly not in the way we would like. Although it could happen, say in some school humanities classes, that the book first on the list, and on my list, the Odyssey, could shape the lives of those in that class. What if the Odyssey were to be required reading for all of humanity?!
Well here I am again. Here it comes up again. The power and the necessity of a liberal arts education, as symbolized here by the BBC book list, necessary in respect to instilling in our young people the proper and yes, liberal and progressive values that these books for the most part contain. But shaping our world?? Clearly the values contained in these books are no longer within our people, whose lives are no longer being shaped by reading them.
Instead today we have a Donald Trump, falling into the presidency of the most powerful nation on the earth with the tragic (or comic) result that the people are no longer being “shaped,” rather being unshaped, loosened from a more liberal and progressive past, one that many of them were at least familiar with if not a part of. Now people, people everywhere not just in our country, are being led away by their leaders from the values of the Enlightenment. And instead are adopting Trumpian “values.” Although values is probably not the right word. What is Trump doing to his base? Because he is shaping them.
In the words of Philip Roth (March 19, 1933 – May 22, 2018) “Trump himself is humanly terribly impoverished, ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance and destitute of all decency.”
Alas! Cry the Beloved Country.
1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)
2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)
6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries)
7. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes, 1605-1615)
8. Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 1603)
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, 1967)
10. The Iliad (Homer, 8th Century BC)
11. Beloved (Toni Morrison, 1987)
12. The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri, 1308-1320)
13. Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare, 1597)
14. The Epic of Gilgamesh (author unknown, circa 22nd-10th Centuries BC)
15. Harry Potter Series (JK Rowling, 1997-2007)
16. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985)
17. Ulysses (James Joyce, 1922)
18. Animal Farm (George Orwell, 1945)
19. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)
20. Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert, 1856)