Read This 6: The Pyramid of Books

I'll be honest and say that it's difficult after a week like this to know what books to recommend. Recommending three books from one of the normal categories I pick from seems silly. And I feel very unqualified to recommend books that might help us make sense of everything that's going on right now.

So I'd like to deviate from my normal pattern of recommending three books and recommend just one. Sort of. Maybe you'll see this as a cop out, and maybe it is.

The Pyramid of Books

The book How to Read a Book ends by introducing a concept the authors call the Pyramid of Books, which goes like this:

Of all the books that have been published or ever will be published, 99% of them can, at best, be used for entertainment or information and nothing more. This is the first class of books and it forms the base of the pyramid.

The second class of books are what you would call "good books" and there are probably only a few thousand of these. You recognize them as those books that make you wiser by reading them. Once.

The third and final class of books, at the top of the pyramid, are those that you can read and reread throughout your life and feel like you've never exhausted the wisdom these books stand to impart. There are maybe only a handful of books that can fit this category. Every reading yields more wisdom, yet no amount of rereading could exhuast that wisdom.

Some examples of books that are commonly found at the top of the pyramid are East of Eden, Beloved, On the Road. But the top of the pyramid is different for each of us.

If you have such a book, then my recommendation this week is that you spend time reading it.

One book that sits at the top of the pyramid for me is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Everytime my understanding of the world is disrupted, I turn back to it and find something I didn't see before.

If you haven't read it, I do highly recommend it. But I also recognize that this book is not for everyone, no book is.

Here are some quotes that stood out to me this round through:

“But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government.”

“You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

"I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outwards from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value."

One of the insights I'm taking away from Pirsig this week is: on some level every book is about people and their humanity. Every author tried to understand something about people and share that insight with everyone. I think that's why I love books so much and why I'm trying to share them with people. I hope that it has lasting value.

Happy reading,


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