kate and pansy
think about taking over the world
but instead decide to take another drink
Thursday, July 17, 2008

Me and the Canon.

More confessions of a reader, I am afraid.

I don’t know when I fell in love with books. I do remember as a child learning to read and needing to sound the words out loud. I was fascinated and jealous that adults could silently read the paper and I thought this was a wonderful, wonderful thing.

I also remember being six and forgetting to bring my library book to school on Monday (it was about the Easter Bunny and how Easter Eggs ended up different colours). Because I didn’t return the book, I wasn’t allowed to check out a new one. I cried. I told the teacher and the librarian that I knew where the book was (I did!) but to no avail. No new book for me that week. Strangely, though I remember the trauma, I still manage to keep out my library books for too long. Which could be a question(or two) for fellow readers. Do you have a library car? Do you return your books on time? Do you have a favourite library?

Some other time maybe I’ll blog about my childhood reading, lifelong love of Enid Blyton, how my brother denied me books, and my occasional interaction with comic books. The only important result of it was, I spent a lot of time at school having to read a lot of the western canon, though not necessarily the books that most other people my age did (not my choice, I think we had a renegade English teacher for four years). What do I mean? That for American Lit, instead of doing The Scarlet Letter, like other fifteen year olds, we did Thorton Wilder’s Our Town and Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience. We did do Hemingway. I was underwhelmed.

We did Marlowe’s Faustus as a warm-up for a whole six months of Shakespeare. I did The Epic of Gilgamesh for the mythology six months and lots and lots of poetry. Final year we did bits of The Cantebury Tales (and got tested on our ability to translate middle English), Ibsen (I loved The Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler), Crime and Punishment(which as far as I was concerned was the Tell-tale Heart only much, much longer), some Becket, Dante’s Inferno, Heart of Darkness and who knows what else. Somehow, I successfully argued that Kurt Vonnegut was a serious Author and got to do an in-depth study of him (as my brief infatuation with DH Lawrence was wearing off). [this is also where I like to point out that a) I went an american comprehensive high school in a small rural town and b)I’d match my American education with any here in the British Isles, not that I am sensitive or anything, mind you].

But it meant I arrived at university not needing to do any more English Lit, unlike most American students. I spent several years living with English majors and reading some of their books before seriously keeping company with and English major and well we ended up very close to getting married, arguing over books and playing that great game of trying to think up authors in the canon that no one else at the party has read (I swear this is an honest to goodness post-grad English student party game. I swear).

Despite this, or because of this, there are all sorts of ‘great books’ I haven’t read. Or authors I have read one book of and sworn never again (are you paying attention Misters Dostoyesky, Hemingway, and Dickens?). Me and the canon aren’t as well acquainted as if I had been male, raised in the 30’s and educated in St. John’s. Or face it, just educated at St. John’s (and my familiarity with plays by Machiavelli are entirely down to those political theory classes—again that substandard American public education system). So several years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I resolved to read one ‘classic’ a year. Some I like. That new translation of The Illiad (in verse form). Edith Wharton (starting with House of Mirth), Henry James. Less, not as successful (Mr. White Whale I am talking about you and you madwoman, Madame Bovary).
And its that time again, time to read a ‘classic’. I keep losing Conrad’s Nostromo (I had a similar problem with both 100 years of Solitude and Midnight’s Children—neither wowed me. Rather read Morrison’s Song of Solomn). Think I might try Middlemarch despite almost universally hating all 19th century literature. So, I will end with another question for my fellow readers, what is your favourite ‘classic’?

oh and if my library ever stops taking industrial action, I will be ordering in those Cormac McCarthy books and mr. Ishiguro.

posted at 8:13 AM

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Just like the state of nature, nasty, brutish and short...I was always fond of the nickname 'Craxi'...Sometimes I cook, sometimes I tend bar, sometimes I even knit. Mostly I try not to read the plethora of government publications that cross my desk and write one page summaries.
favorite food: lobster. ben and jerry's ice cream
favorite show: CSI
favorite drink: grey goose vodka (with ice, it doesn't need anything else)
age: far older than I like to admit/contemplate

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