Starting Gödel, Escher, Bach

Godel Escher Bach

On Sunday I finally started reading a book I’ve been meaning to get to for years: Gödel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter.

I’ve read other work by Hofstadter, so I know he’s a good author. And GEB itself has been heaped with praise, not the least of which was the Pulitzer Prize. I have no doubt I’ll enjoy it immensely.

So why have I waited so long to get started?

Well, GEB is…intimidating.

Books basically fall into two categories: they either will, or won’t, kill a small dog if they fall from a shelf. GEB belongs to the former camp. It’s big.

Moreover, it’s a dense, intellectual book, an intense and incredibly involved analysis of the idea of “strange loops” – hierarchies that turn back on themselves – wherever they appear, be it music, art, philosophy, or mathematics. The ultimate goal of the book, in fact, is to use this “strange loop” concept to explain consciousness itself.

So, yeah. It’s right up my alley. But I’ve been putting it off for a while.

But then I read The Myth of Sisyphus, and all that talk about seizing control of your life got me thinking: why not start GEB now? Who cares if it’s long and a bit scary? Do it!

So I did it. I started.

We’ll see how far I get.

Have you ever been intimidated by a book’s reputation? Did you ever get around to reading it?

4 responses to “Starting Gödel, Escher, Bach

  1. I started reading GEB about 15 years ago. It’s one of my favourite books, but I’ve never finished it. I estimate I’ve read the first third about six times, and the middle third about three times. I may have ventured into the final third once.
    Every time I read it, it’s a different book. Over these 15 years, I’ve studied number theory, logic, cosmology, quantum physics, computation, information theory. GEB seems to deepen as my own knowledge deepens, and sends me off to study more about the various topics it touches on, so that I might understand it better.
    It is a most effective Director of Studies.

  2. I was pretty intimidated by Ulysses, but I studied it in college, which helped a lot.

    With Pynchon, it took a few tries to get a good momentum going in Gravity’s Rainbow, but then I couldn’t stop. Same with Mason & Dixon. Against the Day has defeated me every time I’ve attempted it, though. Over a thousand pages, and not enough rewards along the way (IMHO 🙂 ).

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