Sunday, August 17, 2008

Three Medievalish Scholarly Books I Wish I had Written

Mechthild Gretsch, The Intellectual Foundations of the English Benedictine Reform.

(possibly the book of scholarship that has most inspired me in my life and the most learned, precise argument I have ever read in my field. I read it straight through twice the first time I picked it up. Never, in my opinion, has anyone done more to integrate disparate materials into a coherent and believable argument [though a lot of Lapidge's stuff comes close])

Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth.

(I had plans to write this book. I had an outline to write this book. Then I read it and discovered that Tom had written it ten years before I started the outline. And it was better than mine would have been. I was prepared to hate Tom for that. Then I met him and it was the opposite).

Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.

(Ward-Perkins manages to make a discussion of pottery shards (superficially the most boring subject in the history of earth) into a fascinating page-turner that proves a much larger points. I would give one of my various paired organs to be able to write like him).

The Three Most Inspirational Non-Medievalist Scholarly Books I Have Ever Read

Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype.
(Possibly the most beautifully constructed, long argument I have ever read).

Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

(A true synthesis of the kind I have always wanted to write, and an enormous pleasure to read. Like the other books on this list, I pick it up to find a quote and find that I am still reading it forty-five minutes later).

Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.

(Yes, I know that not all of Gould's claims have stood up. Yes, he contradicts himself within a span of eight pages at the end. Yes, he's wrong about Hallucigenia. Don't care. I remember sitting next to my aunt's pool in the summer of 1980 and feeling like the top of my head was coming off, this book was so inspiring).  

I'm curious to know what books serve the same function for my colleagues.  


John Cowan said...

"If I feel physically as if the top of my head is coming off, then I know that is poetry."

     --Emily Dickinson

theswain said...

Nice post. You're right about Ward-Perkins, overall a great writing style that makes reading about pottery shards very interesting indeed. However, I do not think he proves his point, but that's another matter.

3 Books I Wish I'd Written:

Pride and Prodigies by Andy Orchard

Charles Wright, _The Irish Tradition in Old English Literature_--great book full of solid scholarship in areas I want to know more about.

Timothy Graham and Ray Clemens _Introduction to Manuscript Studies_
Finally! A good textbook for codicology!

Scholar I wish I could write like: Paul E. Szarmach, I love his writing style as well as his scholarship.

3 Non-Medieval Books

Philip Davies _Scribes and Scholars_ I actually did start writing this book, even before the author did....but long, sad story. The book is about canonical processes in Second Temple Judaism.

Spice: A History of a Temptation by Jack Turner, great little book on the medieval and early modern spice trade.

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz....retraces Cook's voyages in the Pacific. Great book.