Sunday, August 23, 2009

What to read next?

You, dear reader, are treated, see above, to a generous sample of my handwriting. And now you know why, as I read the second Mrs. de Winter's description of Rebecca's neat slanty handwriting, I sympathized more with Rebecca than with the narrator. Why this dubious treat? That question will be answered at the very end of this post.

What to read next? That is the question. It comes upon me frequently in many a midnight dreary and often sets me on the kind of restless mood that set Ishmael off to sea. What to read next?

I'm not an expert in literature; I don't study literary analysis nor do I, strictly speaking, analyze the books that I read. Nope, I'm a simple bookworm who always want to read more. However, not all books were created equal and, like any other reader, I enjoy some books more than I do others. I'm sure that when I was very young, I didn't have literary taste and eagerly pounced on every book that was handed to me or recommended to me, but such a time has long passed. Though I used to be naive and a great believer in the ability of young people to change, I now think that people may take some time to develop into who they become, but that process must eventually end, after which we just "know" who we are and spend some time adjusting to being comfortable in our own skins and living in this world, and then we must face a whole new younger generation, which we will see as worse than ourselves in all possible ways, whose ways we will not be able to adapt to - the wiring of our brains having been set in stone - and spend the rest of our old age reeling against a world which we no longer feel ourselves to be apart of, which we then scoff at with scorn or, if we are very nice, treat with indulgence, affable but distant and removed. But still, however far I am from being crotchety and set in my own ways, I still have preferences.

... but what are these fabled literary preferences of mine?
I don't know.

I generally like classics but I really loathe Jane Eyre. A lot. One of my very intellectual acquaintances commented that he didn't like Harry Potter because of its simplistic philosophy. I love the Harry Potter series for the rich imagination therein and very adorable writing. One doesn't read Harry Potter to understand its philosophy; no, one had better stick to Fear and Loathing or Thus Spake Zarathustra for that. But I really didn't like People of the Book for precisely that reason - it was too simplistic in everything. I usually avoid overly popular books and bestsellers because their prominence somehow makes me associate them with other prominent books that I have disliked. But Suite Francaise was on many "must-read" lists and it is now one of my favourite books.

I like reading books that have been seasoned by knowledge of many centuries of previous books; I'm reading Moby Dick now and I like the passage when Ishmael is comparing the counterbalancing of a sperm whale's head with that of a right whale with the counterbalancing the head of Locke with the head of Kant. So, perhaps it stands to reason that, conversely, I probably wouldn't like early literature. This is, however, very wrong because I love early literature - I think the Iliad is perfect! (It begins with the wrath of Achilles and ends with the funeral of Hector. Such a feeling of an odd kind of symmetry! And just so perfect! And it reads well! I could just read it again and again and never get tired of it! I remember one line which Paris says to Hector when scolded for lying about with Helen and polishing armour that he never uses while other men die for him: "Never to be cast away are the gifts of the gods, magnificent, which they give of their own will, no man could have them for wanting them." And the similes are so poignant - "As when some Maionian woman or Karian with purple \\ colours ivory, to make it a cheek piece for horses \\ [...] \\ so, Menelaos, your shapely thighs were stained with the colour \\ of blood, and your legs also and the ankles beneath them." when Menelaos was shot by Laodokos. And isn't it odd that the Iliad is written entirely in third-person narrative, except for this one line, where the blind bard Homer is clearly addressing Menelaos ("your shapely thighs"), the wronged man coming to fight for his and his honour? And correspondingly, in the Odyssey, there is just one or two spots where some character is addressed directly by the third-person omniscient narrator, the bard himself. In that book it is Eumaeus, the swineherd who remained loyal to his absent master Odysseus through the long passage of time and much injustice/heartbreak, to find his master come home again. I think it is no accident and those two characters, Menelaos and Eumaeus, embody something of the spirit of their respective works. But, okay, enough babbling about Homer.)

Anyways, there doesn't seem to be a general rule as to why I do or do not like books, or if there is, I haven't read enough books to be able to state exactly what it is. Which is why the hunt for the next book that will blow my mind is slow, drudging work. Having watched a very uplifting movie, Julie & Julia, and hence am inspired to make some short term goals ... here goes!

When: now until end of October (approx. 2 months in duration)
Who: me!
What: will read one representative book from as many Nobel literature laureates as will make the piece of paper in the picture at top of this post, on which I've copied the names and year of each laureate and highlighted in purple the ones of whose work I've read at least one book, mostly purple. At least more purple than white.

Frequent (well, hopefully frequent anyway) updates of the little piece of paper will be posted.

By the way, I welcome recommendations of particular books as long as you tell me why.

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