Joseph Brodsky’s Reading List for Essential Conversations

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Nobel Prize-winning poet, essayist, and professor Joseph Brodsky

In 1972, poet Joseph Brodsky angered government officials in his native Russia and was expelled from the country.  With the help of fellow poet W.H. Auden, Brodsky settled in the United States, found a position at Yale and taught classes at Mount Holyoke as well.  Later, he accepted professorships at both Cambridge and the University of Michigan.  (Not bad for an autodidact!)

Of the many opinions Brodsky espoused to his students was that they could not carry on intelligent conversations unless they had done fundamental reading in what he considered influential texts. He passed out a list of these works to everyone in his classes.

Monica Partridge, a former student at Mount Holyoke recalls an early class meeting with Brodsky.  On the Brodsky Reading Group blog, Partridge wrote that

“Shortly after the class began, he passed out a handwritten list of books that he said every person should have read in order to have a basic conversation.  At the time I was thinking, ‘Conversation about what?’ I knew I’d never be able to have a conversation with him, because I never thought I’d ever get through the list. Now that I’ve had a little living, I understand what he was talking about. Intelligent conversation is good. In fact, maybe we all need a little more.”

Here are the books or works on that list. I’m proud to say that unless the conversation turns to “Icelandic Sagas” I could pretty well hold my own at a Brodsky cocktail party…

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Top Ten Summer Readings for 2013

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Ahhhh, summer! Finally, some time for a bit of pleasure reading. Got a gift certificate you’ve been hanging on to? (Ha. Mine are gone minutes after they hit my hands.) Or maybe you are just overwhelmed with choices and don’t want to waste precious free time on something that isn’t so great. Well, we at eNotes want to help you get the most out of your summer reading

Here are ten suggestions offered by my very well-read friends who occasionally hang up their tweed jackets and loosen their professorial buns (no, not hair).  Here you will find a combination of new and older works, both fiction and non-fiction, serious and comedic.  So pick a few and let us know what YOU think!

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1.  Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue by Jane Maas

Are you a fan of AMC’s Mad Men and Peggy and Joan in particular? Curious about what life was really like on Madison Avenue in the ’60s? Then you will enjoy Maas’s exploration of life in the ad game in the 1960s and beyond .

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2.  Confessions of an Ex-Girlfriend by Lynda Curnyn

A good beach read by a first time novelist. A friend says it is “the only romance novel I’ve ever finished.”

“Suddenly single when her aspiring screenwriter boyfriend takes off for a hot job in L.A., bridal magazine editor Emma Carter is forced to reassess her appearance, her job, and her prospects-and take action. A diverse cast of engaging, occasionally offbeat characters, the hilarious sayings attributed to them, and a fast-paced style facilitated by Emma’s pithy sound-bite “confessions” add to the fun in a lively Manhattan-set story that, while not a true romance, leaves the heroine happily pursuing her dreams and involved in a satisfying romantic relationship. This work may appeal to those who enjoy Bridget Jones-type books and like their stories urban, trendy, and slightly ambiguous. Curnyn is a fiction editor and lives in New York. This is her first novel. ” – Library Journal

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