(Source: , via tlook)
on the perils of literary profiling —
"In which case I pray that no F.B.I. agent, criminal profiler or (worst of all) news pundit ever gets a look at my bookshelves. There, alongside Swift, Plato, Lewis Carroll and Marx, you’d find the Marquis de Sade, Mickey Spillane, Hitler and Ann Coulter. Books are acquired for all kinds of reasons, including curiosity, irony, guilty pleasure and the desire to understand the enemy (not to mention free review copies), but you try telling that to a G-man. It seems perfectly obvious to me that owning a copy of “Mein Kampf” doesn’t mean you’re a Nazi, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Thanks to Timothy W. Ryback’s “Hitler’s Private Library,” we now know that Hitler read “Don Quixote,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” and considered them “among the great works of world literature,” in Ryback’s words. This is problematic enough, since a taste for great literature is supposed to make us more humane and empathetic, isn’t it? But then Ryback tells us that Hitler had “mastered” the writings of Karl May, an ultraprolific German author of cowboy novels featuring the characters Old Surehand and Old Shatterhand. Hitler’s fondness for tales of the Old West may mean something, but if you’re trying to understand Hitler there are more obvious places to start.
Reading habits would seem to be relevant enough to someone’s biography, especially if that person is a writer. In his study “Built of Books,” Thomas Wright attempts to reconstruct the contents of Oscar Wilde’s library, which was dispersed and auctioned off between his imprisonment and trial. It’s worth knowing (though hardly surprising) that Wilde read the Greek and Roman classics, Shakespeare, Hegel and some French pornography, but difficulties arise when Wright tries, in a self-described moment of “quixotic madness,” to make the book a partial autobiography, in the belief that if he read everything Wilde had read, Wilde would become a “Socratic mentor, who would help me give birth to a new self.”” [NYT]
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