I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Deserted Island Books

Before I get into the whole book list, I would like to say "thank you" to the congregation members who stepped in and helped out my son this morning. For those of you who were not there and know my 6-year-old, he threw up in church today during the first reading. My wife (his mom) wasn't there... Anyway, thanks a bunch! It is nice to know that we are a part of such a caring community.

Ok, here are the five “desert island” books. First, however, I am making some assumptions. I am envisioning a long stay and also that there is food, etc. I always suspected that, really, the geographical metaphor we are discussing isn’t a desert island so much as a deserted island (with food, water, etc.). Otherwise, obviously, I would take books with some nutritional value.

As I said before, I am assuming the Bible and the works of Shakespeare are already supplied on the island. The Bible, in particular, would be something of a necessity for me. My choices also reflect the belief that Perkins' Christian Simplicities has been committed to memory as per the first question in the last "meme" post.

Book # 1 Fragments, Heraclitus (Penguin Classics, 2003)

I discovered Heraclitus in Greek Philosophy class at the University of Maine. He was a writer of “Wisdom Poetry” at a time when the Buddha, Lao-Tzu and Confucius were all beginning to make their long mark on the world (6th century BCE). Obviously they didn’t have little meetings of smart people to discuss their ideas, but much of what Heraclitus has to say is similar to the work of these others. We do not have a lot to go on, so he remains shrouded in mystery.

What we do have, while sparse, leaves a great deal of room for meditation and interpretation. There is fragment #37, for example, “If everything were turned to smoke, the nose would be the seat of judgment.” Something to ponder while building a bamboo shelter.

Book # 2 The Persian Wars, Herodotus (Modern College Library Editions)

The Persian Wars is a book I read once as an undergraduate (Bates College this time). I would like to read it again. It is long and it is multi-layered. A good read if there aren’t any other distractions. Of course, you cannot have Herodotus (5th Century BCE) if you don’t have…

Book #3 The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides (Penguin Classics)

Here is another classic of history. I read it quite recently (and discussed it in a February post) but, still, I would be lost without it. Naturally, in order to get the best out of Thucydides (5th Century BCE) one needs…

Book #4 The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives, Plutarch (Penguin Classics)

No island study of ancient Greek history would be complete without this baby written by Plutarch (1st Century CE). Composed of short biographies of folks like Solon, Theseus and Alcibiades, it is, remarkably, something of a page-turner...

Book #5 Selected Poetry, Robert Browning (Penguin Poetry Library…such variety!)

Poetry in general is something that continues to give well after the first reading. Browning would help where Greek history cannot. Also, it would take a desert island to truly do Browning justice as he requires (at least for me) a certain amount of effort and concentration.

Postscript: I am a little surprised by the results of this exercise. Most of these books come from two undergraduate courses, both of which I remember fondly. A big “thank you” should go out to the two professors who gave me a lifelong interest in ancient philosophy. They are Michael Howard, my adviser at the University of Maine and John Cole, Professor of History at Bates College. I graduated from UMaine in 1994. That is a long time to be interested in something and not get paid for it! They must have done their work well...