One reason the Curmudgeonly Professor is Curmudgeonly and deficient in knowledge is that he always bought and saved more books he should have read but never got around to reading. Some of the most obvious candidates for this list of unread books are the following:
- The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. I bought this paperback in high school, intending to read it immediately, recognizing that positive thinking is, indeed, a more productive and sublime way to look at the world than is negative thinking, which I excel at. I hauled this little paperback around with me through three graduate schools and five universities before I chucked it, recognizing that all I needed to know was "think positive" and that should cover it. Alas.
- How to Overcome Procrastination. Are you kidding? Why would I read this polemic? Aren't procrastinators more creative and productive since they don't waste time on stuff that doesn't need to be done anyway?
- How to Win Friends and Influence People. Another paperback I bought in high school and carted around the United States for decades. By the time I tossed it, I realized I had won very few friends since most people don't want to associate with liberal economists anyway, and that I had probably influenced very few people. Most of the 20,000 plus students I had taught still hated economics for years after the class, indicating my lack of ability to influence them with the knowledge that economics is, by far and without question, the most important and significant course they will ever take.
- The manuals for a succession of cameras and computers. Computer and software manuals are expensive and take up a lot of shelf space. I just weeded out a bunch of big, fat, expensive manuals outdated with new versions of software. I have a box of vintage cameras, carefully saving all of the manuals in case I want to read them and use any of them. I remember well a sign at fall registration the first semester I attended the University of Michigan: "When all else fails, read the instructions." Amen to that.
- A dozen or more grammar and word usage manuals. My goal was to become proficient in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and the like, having been but on probation by Miss Harkins in 12th grade English for chewing gum (a cardinal sin), rigging the pencil sharpener to the window blind, and flipping the ear of Jason who sat in front of me. All I remember is that she thought all English grammar could be taught and learned with the sentence: "Earl shot the bear." I can still see the diagram on the blackboard: noun, subject, verb, predicate. Which reminds me of this little ditty which Miss Harkins would have loved: "Algy met the bear. The bear was bulgy. The bulge was Algy." Now I rely on the instinct method of grammar and punctuation: if it looks bad, fix it. If you're not sure, don't mess it up. No one expects a 77 year old retired economics professor to know how to read and write, let alone to use correct spelling and grammar.
- A half dozen speed reading books, including, I think, Evelyn Wood. I always wanted to breeze through a book in 30 seconds flat, especially when I got around to reading War and Peace 20 years after my Master's thesis chairman told me to read it so I could learn how to write. I read a few pages and tried a few tricks and went back to my more comfortable plodding methodology. Besides, can you honestly say you have read War and Peace? Mercy. A plethora of Russians et. al. all ticked at each other with lots of shooting and an occasional ball (I know there was a ball because of Audrey Hepburn in the movie), but I read the whole thing. I expected bells to ring and lights to flash when I finished the last page. But no one cared. I couldn't stand up in church or class and say, "I have finished reading War and Peace. How many of you illiterates have done the same?" To this day I don't remember anything about it except a batch of Russians and frequent wars.
The list could go on, as they say, ad infinitum, since I have thousands of books my heirs will have to cart out and find something to do with. But space has been extinguished. If you have a bunch of important books you never got around to reading, use the "think" method instigated by Professor Harold Hill in Music Man: Put the book before you, or keep it in a prominent place, and Think, I mean really Think. If you can turn a batch of tone-deaf school kids into a world-class band by this method who knows, you might, through osmosis and ESP, become a real scholar and absorb the essence of your unread books effortlessly. I still, for example, remember that I am supposed to "think positively", don't put off till tomorrow what I should do today but most likely won't, and try not to offend others with my liberal philosophies so I can win over friends and influence people. All of that, and I never read a word. Happy reading. What are your favorite unread books that might have turned your miserable life around and made you happy, wealthy, and influential, besides not being a pain in the neck? I will elaborate further on more unread masterpieces in a future post. Happy reading.