Michael Dirda’s TBR list is the most quirky selection you will find anywhere on the internet. – The Washington Post | Bowluk


Each week I review books that I’d like to tell people about, or feel I owe it to myself to read for one reason or another, but they’re not necessarily the same as the ones i just want to sit back with and enjoy. What I call my “secret bookshelf” contains fiction and non-fiction books that I intend to someday read just for pleasure, with no purpose or deadline in mind.

Let me admit that I have a thing for weird things.

Over the years I’ve gradually picked up all sorts of undeservedly forgotten novels—which I might write about some other time—as well as numerous works of intellectual history, a surprising number of which deal with outdated belief systems, pseudoscience, and the occult. Admittedly, I’m fascinated by the arcane, the magical, and the weird, by all the oddly romantic ways humans have tried to make sense of themselves and the universe. Anything reasonably scholarly about Atlantis, Hermes Trismegistus, the Philosopher’s Stone, the Holy Grail, Paracelsus, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, stone circles or UFOs makes me daydream.

How to choose a book Book lists by other authors are a good place to start

For example, I’d happily spend more time with the works of Frances Yates, the pioneering scholar of the Renaissance occult, and James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, his often belittled but irresistibly entertaining exploration of myth, magic, and religion (miss not “Adonis, Attis, Osiris”). While shocking to admit, my copies of two anthropological touchstones, Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of ​​the Holy and Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane, still sit essentially untouched in my basement. There I also devoured a great deal of scholarship on the Arthurian romances, the Arabian Nights, and the folk tales and fairy tales of the world. I’ve read some of it – all by Marina Warner – but you can never know enough about these archetypal stories.

In fact, many of my favorite books, such as Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, combine the scholarly and the imaginative, which is why I expect to enjoy Margaret Murray’s feminist fantasy The Witch Cult in Western Europe. As it is, I’ve skimmed, but hope to eventually read all of Montague Summers’ pathologically intense studies of witches, vampires, and werewolves, followed by noted occultist AE Waite’s Devil-Worship in France. Co-creator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck. Years ago I wisely reviewed Michael Dummett’s Rationalist History of the Tarot, A Wicked Deck.

One day, when the world has enough and time, I will happily read the pages of ER Chamberlin’s The Bad Popes, Bernard J. Bamberger’s Fallen Angels, Sax Rohmer’s The Romance of Sorcery, The Druids of the Celtic scholar Peter Berresford Ellis’, Christina Hole’s ‘Witchcraft in England’ (illustrated by Mervyn Peake!) and WB Seabrook’s ‘The Magic Island’, the latter a flamboyant sensationalist account of Haitian culture and folklore, with an infamous chapter on zombies entitled ‘ Dead Men Working in the Sugar Cane Fields.” Other works that appeal to my quirky tastes are more academically conventional: ER Dodd’s The Greeks and the Irrational, PG Maxwell-Stuart’s The Chemical Choir: A History of Alchemy, Robert Darnton’s Mesmerism, an overview of hypnosis during the 18th century, Richard M. Dorson’s The British Folklorists, and Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, which explores the obsession of the 1st 9th century intelligence tests and racial profiles.

You are done with everything. you go to the hills What books are you bringing with you?

By now you will have guessed my affection for history’s more brazen prophets and deceivers. One of my bookshelves contains biographies of the Elizabethan magician John Dee, as well as James Randi’s The Mask of Nostradamus, WRH Trowbridge’s Cagliostro, a life of the 18th century magician and alchemist, Marjorie Bowen’s The Courtly Charlatan, a very colorful account on the supposedly immortal Comte de Saint-Germain, Sylvia Cranston’s HPB: The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky, the charismatic founder of Theosophy, and Lawrence Sutin’s Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley. ” Your time will come.

I’ve noticed that certain researchers choose topics that excite me. For example, Phil Baker has written The Book of Absinthe, a biography of Dennis Wheatley (author of the supernatural thriller The Devil Rides Out), and a study of the Symbolist artist Austin Osman Spare. Christopher Frayling’s publications range from the life of Spaghetti Western director Sergio Leone (“Something to Do With Death”) to a book about horror classics to “The Yellow Peril: Dr. Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia”. In truth, I devoured all of Frayling’s books. I could not wait for it.

For half a lifetime, however, I have longed for just the right opportunity, Basil Davidson’s The Lost Cities of Africa, Clark B. Firestone’s The Coasts of Illusion: A Study of Travel Tales, and Charles Allen’s The Search for the Buddha : The Men Who Discovered India’s Lost Religion.” I hope these prove as compelling as The World of the Shining Prince, Ivan Morris’ compelling account of the cultural background of Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji.

At least four titles in my inventory demonstrate the eccentric and unusual focus on sight rather than visionaries: Patrick Trevor-Roper’s The World Through Blunted Sight, by the ophthalmologist brother of historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (whose Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse’, which I will return to), Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations, Frederick Thomas Elworthy’s The Evil Eye and Lawrence di Stasis’ Mal Occhio. The most famous modern owner of the Evil Eye is arguably Mario Praz, author of “The Romantic Agony,” a quote-heavy dive into the erotic dark side of 19th-century literature (one chapter is titled “The Shadow of the Divine Marquis”—of course de Sade). I’d love to read this again, but only when I finally get to The House of Life, Praz’s kind autobiography centered on the furniture and antiques in his apartment.

Aside from his annotated editions of Lewis Carroll, which are justly sacrosanct, Martin Gardner’s masterpiece may well be his polymathic survey of symmetry and asymmetry, The New Ambidextrous Universe. Another off-trail book I’ve kept is Room Two More Guns, Stephen Winkworth’s history of personals—the so-called Agony Column—of the Times of London. And how could I resist putting down Milton Rokeach’s The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, the case study of three insane individuals each believing they were Jesus Christ?

Sigh. Will I ever get to these books and dozens of others and all this enticing fiction? Who knows? Still, I suspect any reader could share an equally idiosyncratic “secret” list. What’s on yours?

Michael Dirda reviews books for Style every Thursday.

Michael Dirda’s secret hiding place for books

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