I recently began rereading my copy Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty II, the third volume in Burton Watson's translation of Sima Qian's famous Shiji. I have made it something of a goal to reread at least one portion of Sima Qian's record every year. As I began this year's reading my thoughts turned to a post Mark Safranski wrote several years ago about his "Quantum Library."  In essence, "quantum library" is a term used to describe all of the books and articles that, no matter how often they are returned to, provide fresh insights and new knowledge. They are the books that can be read and reread and then reread again without exhausting their contents.
|My quantum library copy |
of Democracy in America.
Some people do not reread books: with so many other books in the world yet unread it can seem like a waste of time to return to old favorites. This attitude is both common and regrettable. In defense of rereading, I have found two arguments to be particularly convincing: 1) It is far more rewarding to master a masterwork than it is to finish four or five more lackluster titles; 2) Many of the books we read spend our time reading have a short shelf life. "Keeping up with the literature" is a task that never ends, but if a book is good enough to read two or three times then you can be sure that the knowledge or inspiration you gain from reading it will still be valuable several decades down the line.
My quantum library is below. There are books I have read whose worth merits a place on this list (Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War, The Secret History of the Mongols, Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and numerous novels by Joseph Conrad come to mind) but I cannot include them because I have only read them once. Likewise, there are works that I love and have read on multiple occasions (Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, "The Devil and Daniel Webster") that I do not include because they are reread more for entertainment than for enlightenment.
The Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, especially the New Testament and the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers .
Theodore Roosevelt, The Free Citizen: A Summons to the Service of the Democratic Ideal (ed.) by Herman Hagedorn.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.
Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian.
Various Authors, Seven Military Classics of Ancient China.
Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddihmah.
Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization.
Vaclav Smil, Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex System.
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons.
Robert W. Service, The Collected Poems of Robert W. Service.
Talks (sermons) by: Dallin H. Oakes, "The Challenge to Become,"; David Bednar, "Seek Learning by Faith"; Richard G. Scott, "The Transforming Power of Faith and Character,"; D. Todd Christopherson, "Justification and Sanctification,"; Brad Wilcox, "His Grace is Sufficient,"; A. Legrand and Cindy Richard's, "Parables and Promises: An Approach to Learning by Faith."
Seneca, "De Providentia,"and selected letters.
Hyrum W. Smith, "Self Worth."
Ashwin Paramsweran, "All Systems Need a Little Disorder."
Constitution of the United States.
Various essays and articles prepared by Clayton Christensen for the Massachusetts-Cambridge Stake 'stake missionary' program. Many of these articles (but not all of them) have been published on the website missionaryleaders.org.
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (1959-1964).
Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko's children's show Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008).
Errol Morris' Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert McNamara (2003).
I am curious what books the readers of the Stage would include in their quantum libraries. A few friends of this blog, like Lynn Rees, Michael Lotus, and Adam Elkus, posted their lists in the comment thread of the original quantum library post referenced above. However, there are plenty of people in this corner of the blogosphere who were not present for that discussion. I would be very interested in seeing what titles make it into the quantum libraries of Ashwin Parameswaran, Bryn Hammond, John Kranz, LFC, Charles Cameron, commenters Ishaan and A.E. Clark, Isegoria, Adam G. and the boys at Jr. Ganymede, Nick Nielson, Pseudoerasmus, and if they are still around, Martin Hewson and YT. If you have the time and feel like sharing, please consider doing so. Of course, other readers are welcome to post their lists as well!
EDIT (1 Aug 2014): See the response posts at JrGanymede and Isegoria.
 Mark Safranski, "My Quantum Library," Zenpundit (10 October 2008). For the origin of the term see this archived Innovationist post.
 This is not the full devotional, just a selection of it. I have in my personal belongings a copy that is 20 minutes longer or so but have not been able to find a version of this online.