The Goodness of Man – As Judged by an Ego and the Books He Reads

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

When it comes to choosing the next book to read, I’m plagued by something P. J. O’Rourke said. His words? “Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”

Before I saw this, choosing a book was fairly easy. I either leaned towards writers who I’d heard of, or books that were on a topic I was interested in. But as a man with an ego that sometimes gets the better of him, when I read his words, they got etched somewhere within my rationale.

“Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”

Maybe if anyone else said these words then they wouldn’t carry as much weight. Because I’ve always been a sucker for a bit of P. J., even as a Brit who doesn’t have an affiliation to American politics. His writing makes me laugh. His opinions interest me. Even when I don’t agree with them.

I look through my bookshelves and wonder how many of these books were bought because I wanted to read them, and how many were chosen because I was fearful that I might just drop dead at any moment.

If the latter, then is this the right thing? Does that make this man a shallow one?

Maybe so, but picking books on this premise has led to some books that are well worth reading — if not just by pure dumb luck. So, maybe there’s substance to it. Maybe it’s something worth following if you’re a man and you’re stuck or find yourself at the mercy of an ego.

On that note, if I was to walk into a dead man’s library and browse his bookshelves in hope of some level of insight, here are a few books that may have me think of this man as somebody who thought for himself, had shades of goodness in him, or had at least experienced a thing or two in life:

Arguably — Christopher Hitchens
Love is a Dog From Hell — Charles Bukowski
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — Hunter S. Thompson
Any Human Heart — William Boyd
Essays in Love — Alain de Botton

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