About a year ago I decided to start my own reading challenge. Calling it The Old Books Reading Challenge, I thought it might inspire me to finally start reading a few of the older books in my personal library. In addition to owning many books that are only a few years old, I also own a ton of older books, with some being well over 50 years old. Fired up with this new-found sense of purpose, I pasted the appropriate button on my blog, announced my intentions to the world and eagerly looked forward to reading my way through my collection of vintage volumes.
And then over the course of the year I didn’t touch a single one of them. So one day I told myself “enough”! In a moment of frustration or inspiration, (I’m not sure which, probably both ), I grabbed from the corner bookshelf a battered and faded paperback copy of the 1949 classic anthology The God That Failed: Six Studies in Communism. Musty, dog-eared with “$.35” scrawled on a front cover, my particular edition from 1956 I probably grabbed off the cheapo rack at a local used bookstore. After puttering through it at a glacial pace, I finally finished it while on the bus the other night after work. While I found reading it to be a challenge at times, overall I thought the six essays were quite illuminating when it came to shedding light on the struggles of many Western intellectuals to reconcile their progressive idealism to the dehumanizing practices of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Of the six essays featured in the collection, three are from authors I happened to the familiar with. Years ago I read Richard Wright’s Native Son as well as Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, (by the way, the current issue of Wilson Quarterly has a in-depth interview with Koestler’s biographer Michael Scammell) and Ignazio Silone’s classic pre-WWII novel Bread and Wine has been sitting unread in my library for far too long. The remaining three essays are from authors I’m wasn’t familiar with prior to reading The God That Failed, but I found them to be worthy essays nonetheless.
Perhaps because they were novelists, I thought Wright, Koestler and Silone produced the best pieces for this collection. I thought the writers’ autobiographical approach in describing the events and experiences that made them leave the Communist Party helped put a human face on their existential struggles and therefore easier for readers to understand and empathize with their painful experiences. On one hand, it’s not an easy book to read, but it does have a lot to say. Plus, I finally read one of my old books !