>Inspired by Bibliographing’s “Bizarre Ranks of the Most-Read,” I’ve been turning over in my own mind which authors I have most read. Excluded are writers I read in my teens and poets, with a cut-off below 5 books.
There are no major surprises, though I wish, of course, it was more erudite, more literary. It reflects the volume of science fiction I read in my twenties; also an inexplicable passion for writers I can no longer abide (Amis, Irving, Theroux). Many other writers on the list I have ceased to read.
- Iain (M.) Banks – 18
- Robert A. Heinlein – 14
- Paul Theroux – 14
- Julian Barnes – 13
- John Irving – 10
- J. P. Donleavy – 10
- Martin Amis – 10
- Alberto Manguel – 8
- William Gibson – 7
- Ian McEwan – 7
- Vladimir Nabokov – 7
- Douglas Adams – 6
- Haruki Murakami – 6
- J. G. Ballard – 6
- Glen Duncan – 6
- A. M. Homes – 6
- Jose Saramago – 6
- Michael Marshall (Smith) – 6
- Nicholson Baker – 6
- J. M. Coetzee – 5
- Geoff Dyer – 5
- Graham Greene – 5
- Friedrich Nietzsche – 5
- Arturo Perez-Reverte – 5
- Jean-Paul Sartre – 5
- Elmore Leonard – 5
- Ed McBain – 5
- Franz Kafka – 5
- Kingsley Amis – 5
- Joseph Heller – 5
Three seems to me the decisive number; after three books in a row I branch out, get distracted by a new writer. I wish there were one or two more female writers in the list. That aside I am not mortified, though obvious to me I must read more Shakespeare (as opposed to watching the plays).
Thank you for the inspiration.
>Is it me or am I seeing a lot about difficult books? Life is too short and abandoning Finnegans Wake being recurrent themes. I’ve yet to even attempt the Wake and may come to sympathise with those who leap overboard. I do however disagree with those that give up difficult books and then encourage others that these books are not worth trying to understand.
I share the view that I’d rather tackle a dense, chewy book that has entranced or confused or challenged readers for many decades or centuries, than tackle some fashionable jujube that will be forgotten within a decade. You have probably come across the fantastic series of articles running at The Millions, encouraging readers to tackle a series of “difficult” books.
What I’ve come to think of (somewhat unfairly) as the grad-school response to such allusiveness – treating each sentence like a puzzle to be solved – isn’t always the best way to approach to a tough text. With Finnegans Wake, for example, a willingness to let things wash over you can be the difference between sublimity and seasickness.
In addition to those in the article, the series continues in the sidebar, including two of my favourites: Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle and To the Lighthouse.
-What is a ghost? Stephen said with tingling energy. One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners.
Part 2, chapter 6 of Ulysses: Nabokov instructs his students thus:
The discussion in this chapter is one of those things that is more amusing for a writer to write than for a reader to read, and so its details need not be examined.
Here, I disagree with the late Professor Nabokov. Yes, it is a dense chapter of allusion and erudition. Much of it I fail to penetrate on this first reading. But to miss the wit and the satisfaction of unlocking at least some of Joyce’s allusion would be a loss, arguably acceptable for students but not for ardent readers.
During a debate about Shakespeare, Eglinton contends that Shakespeare’s marriage was a mistake:
-The world believes that Shakespeare made a mistake, he said, and got out of it as quickly and as best as he could.
-Bosh! Stephen [Dedalus] said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.
Portals of discovery opened to let in the quaker librarian, softcreakfooted, bald, eared and assiduous.
>Finger Painting on the Apple iPad from the live model David Kassan
I am pretty sure that we will continue to see immense creativity unleashed by the recently released iPad.
>Unlike Finnegans Wake, to which he was indifferent, Nabokov thought Ulysses one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. In his dissection of the novel, when teaching at Cornell, he disdained the Homeric parallels, supplying only a map of Dublin. Quizzed about this practise in Strong Opinions Nabokov answers:
Joyce himself very soon realized with dismay that the harping on those essentially easy and vulgar “Homeric parallelisms” would only distract one’s attention from the real beauty of the book. He soon dropped these pretentious chapter titles which already were “explaining” the book to non-readers. In my lectures I tried to give factual data only.
In Lectures on Literature Nabokov goes further:
I must especially warn against seeing in Leopold Bloom’s humdrum wanderings and minor adventures on a summer day in Dublin a close parody of the Odyssey, with the adman Bloom acting the part of Odysseus, otherwise Ulysses, man of many devices, and Bloom’s wife representing chaste Penelope while Stephen Dedalus is given the part of Telemachus. That there is a very vague and very general Homeric echo of the theme of wanderings in Bloom’s case is obvious, as the title of the novel suggests, and there are a number of classical allusions in the course of the book; but it would be a complete waste of time to look for close parallels in every chapter and every scene of the book. There is nothing more tedious than a protracted and sustained allegory based on a well-worn myth; and after the work had appeared in parts, Joyce promptly deleted the pseudo-Homeric titles of his chapters when he saw what scholarly and pseudoscholarly bores were up to.
Thankfully Steven Riddle was helpful, in commenting on an earlier post, to steer me away from worrying too much about the Homeric allusions and more toward a visit to Dublin. Very sound advice which I shall surely take.
Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper turning its pages over on his bared knees.
From episode 4 of Ulysses: Blooms visits his outhouse with a paper (“he liked to read at stool”), the word cuckstool found me reaching curiously for my Gifford notes.
cuckstool – Obsolete: a chair used to punish dishonest tradesmen and other offenders. The victim was fastened in the chair in front of his own door to be hooted at and pelted by the community.
Why this is an obsolete word or practise is beyond me. Let’s start a campaign. Restore the cuckstool! I have a builder that I can nominate immediately.
>An arbitrary, personal list of “The 40 Books That Changed Susan Orlean’s World.” Somehow more meaningful than a list of favourites; I also agree with several of the choices.
>A happy discovery. I searched for a text of Balzac’s Treatise on Elegant Living several years ago after reading a partial translation on the old London Lounge site. So I am delighted to find a new translation of this “keystone text of dandyism.”
Lots of serendipity: my discovery via ivebeenreadinglately
who eloquently and, it appears, elegantly found the book in St. Marks bookshop
in New York, where I happily spent an hour last week. Elegantly as this blogger was resplendent in seersucker: I admired a seersucker jacket in Bergdorf Goodman
, also last week, but was unable to convince myself I could carry it off in London. [Originally via
>The Telegraph leaps into the fray with a list: Adam Foulds, Sarah Hall, Steven Hall, China Miéville, Adam Thirlwell and Zadie Smith are all credible candidates; the others I don’t know particularly well or at all.
The Millions presents an “informal, unscientific, alternate-universe “20 Under 40″ list”: apart from Kiran Desai and Julie Orringer I know none of these writers.
Undoubtedly one or two interesting discoveries to be made from these lists.