The two sixteen-year-olds in this house have received, among their Christmas presents, a couple of books in the Penguin Great Ideas series: David Hume, On Suicide, and Schopenhauer, On the Suffering of the World. This is good, bracing stuff, like a walk in the fields after too much pudding. As is Simon Rae’s Faber Book of Christmas, whose index includes entries for adultery, atheism, disaster, drunkenness, illness, prison camps and war.
The Penguin books are perfectly sized to fit into your jacket pocket when you go out for that walk. Hume: ‘Religious principles are also a blemish in any polite composition, when they rise up to superstition, and intrude themselves into every sentiment, however remote from any connection with religion.’ The Schopenhauer includes a brief section on books and writing. ‘The art of NOT reading is a very important one. It consists of not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time . . . A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.’