My List
By Tibor Machan - February 14, 2013

Once I learned to read there was no end to it. I used my flashlight to make it possible after I was sent to sleep and my first books were quite a disorderly collection. I read a bunch of historical novels in Hungarian, several about the 160-year-long Turkish occupation of the country. This was followed with Hungarian translations of Mark Twain, Zane Gray, Max Brand and many other American and German novelists (Karl May). When I discovered these I simply devoured them all, nonstop. Earl Stanley Gardner's series of courtroom stories, starring the invincible Perry Mason, never disappointed me. Once I flew Hungary I continued with some more classical works, such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky but I kept up with the lighter fare.

I am still collecting new authors, like Philip Kerr and David Dawson and Robert B. Parker and others. But my favorite reading still consists of the stories and novels and travelogues of W. Somerset Maugham. The latter have been supplemented by Pico Iyer and Peter Mayle, two who can describe various parts of the globe most evocatively. I am especially fond of Mayle's stories of Provence, which cover history, architecture, cuisine, lodging and all.

My profession allows me to travel to interesting parts but mostly to do work, so I am not able to tour extensively the places where conferences are being held and where I am asked to present talks. So I supplement my travels with reading the travel writers and by watching some of the travel programs, especially the ones hosted by Burt Wolf and Steven Reeves (though I much prefer the former). Wolf has a real knack for mixing the several attractive features of the places he visits, architecture, history, religion, philosophy, literature and art. His humor is delightful and, fortunately, he pretty much skips all politics so one can view his programs and feel like one is taking a vacation.

I finally got a Kindle – even lost one already – which makes taking along reading material on my numerous trips around the globe quite simple now. (I used to haul around books earlier and paid for this by ruining my back so I eventually needed two operations to repair it to reasonable fitness.)

Reading novels has for me the inestimable benefit of coming to know many more human beings than I have the occasion to befriend. It amazes me how adept novelists are at entering the personalities of their character, navigating a great variety of lives so that the reader comes away from their stories with the impression of having met dozens and dozens of individuals and hundreds of situations.

Not every novelist is likely to suit every reader; different personalities will be entertained and informed in different ways. Novelists may match up with some but by no means all potential readers. It is like music and poetry. While I believe there are standards of aesthetic excellence, there is also a sort of pluralism in art. Again, it is a bit like entertainment and sport – some work for me, some for you, etc.

My list may not be everyone's but some will probably find it rewarding just as I did and still do. Friends of mine who know my taste and other values may well find dipping into the list quite satisfactory. I certainly have enriched my life immensely doing so.

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