the reading project going forward

As a child, my eyes were always bigger than my stomach, both literally and figuratively. I was, and still am, the sort who will never get their money’s worth at an all you can eat buffet, and my list of projects is always longer than the available time will allow, regardless of the time scale I set for them. And, as I have been experiencing over the past few weeks, regardless of the severity of the pruning of those lists.

On this last day of 2019, I thought I would take the traditional approach and reflect on the current reading project, my third over the past three years. In 2017, I read the Sir Richard Burton translation of the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights, and in 2018 (and into the early part of 2019) I read the complete fiction of Kurt Vonnegut. (I will admit that I still have one or two collections of essays on the bedside table.)

For 2019, I set myself the project of starting at the beginning of human literature and working my way through chronologically, just to see how far I could get. In retrospect, I can only describe this as a project defined by the sheer spectacular scale of its foolishness and naïveté.

This is not to say that I’ve given up, as I haven’t, but I have realized that I need to take a step back and be a bit more cautious and prudent in my planning.

I’ve talked about a few of the issues impacting this project in previous posts, but in the end of calendar spirit of reprising and reflection, the main issue was my ignorance at the volume of what the Sumerians had written.

They were prolific scribes and writing as they did on clay tablets, we have a goodly amount of what they had written, though sometimes only in fragments. Not all of what we have has been translated, and despite my first paragraph above, I don’t have the time to learn how to read cuneiform and ancient Sumerian.

I am becoming intrigued by the Sumerians, a people whose language is unrelated to any other language. I have come to the realization that to understand what the Sumerians are writing, I need to have a deeper appreciation of who the Sumerians were, and so part of the project will be reading what we currently know of the history and culture of ancient Sumer.

And so, as was inevitable in retrospect, the project has expanded beyond merely reading, but to developing the wider context of the people whose stories and proverbs I am reading. Their myths and the stories of their gods. The day to day life in their great cities, to the extent to which we have developed a picture of this. The facts and theories of their origin and how this might have impacted the stories they told, gathered around their hearths at night.

And looking forward, I can see how this will impact this project going forward. Because after Sumer and Akkad and their successors, the Assyrians and the Babylonians, I will make my way to Egypt, in all of its extensive glory.

In a deeper sense, I’m happy to have been so wrong about the extent of this project. I have always held the belief that our distant ancestors were capable of, and accomplished, much more than we sometimes give them credit for, and the widening and overwhelming scale of this project is just one more demonstration of this.

~ by Jim Anderson on 31 December 2019.

2 Responses to “the reading project going forward”

  1. If you have kept a booklist (or website list) of your Sumerian-related reading, I would be interested to see a copy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: