This time of year usually prompts many to suggest their 50/100/500? best books from what they've read in the past year or the 50/100 great books they'd like us to read for the coming year. I tend to lap up people's suggestions partly to find out what's hot and what's not, partly to see how 'in the groove' my bookshelf is (even if the particular book mentioned has not been read but sits beautifully, untouched on my shelf) and partly to see which books it'd be worth putting up on my wish list for the next round of Christmas presents. As it happens, one of the my most enjoyable Christmas (2010) presents is a book (The Quotable Lewis) which I became aware of through one of these kinds of lists. Well there was me enjoying Lewis when I came across this advice he gives when it comes to choosing the best 100 books
The sort of culture one can get from the 100 or 1000 Best Books read in isolation from the societies and literatures that begot them seems to me like the sort of knowledge of Europe I [should] get from staying at big hotels in Paris, Berlin, Rome, etc. It [would]. be far better to know intimately one little district, going from village to village, getting to know the local politics, jokes, wines, and cheeses. Or so it seems to me.
Isn't that a great image? And what a brilliant way to build one's knowledge/library? Rather than simply pandering to the pundits of the age wouldn't it be better to grow in knowledge and depth of insight as one meditates not only on a book's content but it's place in the big conversation?