Remember the lists of life-altering books? Way back last month – out of sight out of mind? I thought I would link to another, because it has The Uses of Literacy, by Richard Hoggart. As good a reason as any.

So once I started a book-related subject I thought I might as well continue with this article by Mark Edmundson. It says one or two things that I often say to myself (sometimes with oaths, sometimes in a kind of whining sniveling croon).

Yet for many people, the process of socialization doesn’t quite work. The values they acquire from all the well-meaning authorities don’t fit them. And it is these people who often become obsessed readers. They don’t read for information, and they don’t read for beautiful escape. No, they read to remake themselves. They read to be socialized again, not into the ways of their city or village this time but into another world with different values. Such people want to revise, or even to displace, the influence their parents have had on them. They want to adopt values they perceive to be higher or perhaps just better suited to their natures.

Yeah. We’re always hearing about the joys of community these days. But what about the joys of uncommunity, huh? What about the joys of just damn well thinking for oneself? We’re not supposed to say so, in these days when working people have morphed into ‘working families’ as if everybody walked around welded into a unit of no fewer than four at all times – but thinking for oneself has a lot to be said for it. And Edmundson says some of it.

When Walt Whitman picked up the work of his older contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was a carpenter, framing two- and three-room houses in Brooklyn. He had been a journalist; he had written some mediocre fiction — he looked to be someone who would never amount to much. After reading the great essays, Whitman purportedly said: ”I was simmering, simmering, simmering. Emerson brought me to a boil.”

I know exactly what he means. I’ve gone from simmering to a boil a few times. I suppose that’s what these lists of life-altering books are about – the ones that move us from the simmer to the boil.

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