I especially like Elif Batuman's commentary:
"My view is that the right book has to reach you at the right time, and no person can be reached by every book. Literature is supposed to be beautiful and/or necessary—so if at a given time you don't either enjoy or need a certain book, then you should read something else, and not feel guilty about it."
I've tried four times now to read Guimarães Rosa 'chef œuvre' "The Devil to Pay in the Backlands". Didn't get past page 180. The book has 600. Perhaps some other time.
alpha0's comment touches on one of the main threads I have been considering. The Bible and Shakespeare are types of literature that impart cultural literacy. You can't help but notice after you have read a handful of Greek plays references to those plays which well educated/intelligent people make to help illustrate all manner of situations. All of a sudden you get the joke and feel richer for it intelectualy and regret the time spent in ignorant darkness. What seemed before to be intellectual snobbery is realized to be a pretty insightful way to compare one thing to another for the sake of understanding.
Cultural literacy is pretty powerful stuff, unlike so many things, you don't realize what you have till you get it, and it can't be taken away. Been making my own list (haha, after my attack on lists) of books that deliver cultural literacy.
Proposed reading list: The Bible (pretty much any holy books will deliver some pervasive cultural understanding). Major Shakespearean Tragedies Handful of Greek plays Plato's Republic The Iliad and Odyssey Atlas Shrugged Cannery Row The Jungle Some kind of summery of Wealth of Nations and the Communist Manifesto
I have some odd books that I think should be added, Stendhal's "Red and the Black" is something I would like my kid to read but probably never made it on a must read book list that wasn't written by an avowed socialist. What would you add to a cultural literacy book list?
- Milorad Pavic came across even translated. Highly recommend both the Dictionary (I read the feminine version ;P) and Landscape Painted with Tea. The former is quite intriguing to say the least, and the latter is simply beautiful and pleasure to read. (The latter also most certainly did influence my objection to NATO dispossessing the Serbs from their holy homeland.)
- The first half of Lolita. Almost perfect. Amazes me that the guy was not an Irishman and rather a Russian.
- Gabriel García Márquez and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Can't imagine how beautiful that must read in Spanish. Hugely influenced my own writing when I was younger. Love those epic paragraphs.
For Iranians, there are many candidate books, but there is the singular presence and impact of Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), written by Ferdowsi and by every account singularly responsible for rescuing Iranians from the fate of other nations steamrolled by the corrosive Arab occupation -- look at the poor Egyptians and Syrians, for example. That book is responsible for the fact that Persian is still spoken. We name our sons and daughters from the characters of that book. Then there are the poets and these days two of them (Mowlana aka Rumi and Hafiz) are rather hip in certain Western circles.
(One of our great works of literature -- kinda like the "Gulf" -- has gotten hijacked and goes by the moniker of "1001 Arabian Nights, complete with Persian characters and not an Arab character in sight. It used to be called Hezar (1000) Afsaneh (Stories).
Of the holy books, certain passages of OT -- just read in sing song Genesis and be amazed -- The Song of Solomon, certain Psalms of David, and of course portions of The Gospels are very dear. The Qur'an's ace in the sleeve is in fact its aural impact on the reader/listener; it has a remarkably powerful voice; I have not encountered anything like it in my years.
But then there is The Gita. I love the Gita.
On the other hand, there are many great authors and books which I haven't been able to engage with, but I am unwilling to contest their greatness. I am a huge reader of nautical history and fiction, but can't seem to get into most of Melville work, I don't think he is a bad writer, something about him just doesn't engage me.
Ulysses was impenetrable to me, it must be great, or the king has no clothes, I'm not certain which, it was so impenetrable to me that I don't know.
I think there is something about trying to define what is great literature that doesn't sit right with me, or at least trying to say that "these are the 100 greatest books ever written." It's like people who get in arguments about who the greatest guitar player ever was. It's fine to say "I think the greatest guitar player ever is Leo Kottke," but to assert it as fact just seems foolish. Reading the entire list of a 100 greatest books of all times is probably less edifying then following your interest and then looking on amazon and reading whatever people who like what you what you liked also enjoyed. Well that might not be true if you read trashy romance novels, but if you are a serious and open minded reader I think it might be.
I have a simple formula: Great literature shapes language, thought, and feelings. So Bible is great literature, & pretty much anything by William Shakespeare.
(We just have to wait and see if James Joyce really did write the "new Bible" (per Jung)).
(Speaking of the film: have you noted that there a just a 2 'individual' characters in that film and the rest are 'repeated patterns'?)
These cultural product provide concise pedagogical content that the larger society absorbs and then, in a "personal" way, each individual applies in (both) his or her internal reflection and external expression. There is pretty much a Persian proverb for every little thing that can happen and most come from "literature" of our greats. Of course, for the serious reader, each of these compact literary forms are gateways to the deeper (occult) content matter.
As for let's talk about the Fall it felt like and you know what I mean this.
I didn't see much in the Great Gatsby either. Don Quixote was ok.
My favorite 'Great Literature': Moby Dick and War and Peace.
I'm with you on War and Peace too. That and The The Brothers Karamazov are two of my favorites. I also love East of Eden.
It's funny how age affects our perceptions. Today, I am convinced that Fitzgerald was actually projecting the emotional underbelly of the American dream intersected with the Immutable Laws of Desire :) It is, I would think, a critique of the said dream. Something of a personal prophecy too, considering what Zelda managed to do to him.
Well, that's just trying too hard, good sirs.
I might try some Hemingway later, but only the short stories. If his novel are all like that, I'm done.
I liked Catcher in the Rye, (I agree with Ahim), but it wasn't my favorite. It might sound odd, but to me, Salinger can effectively address the idea that all we say and do are brushstrokes. There is a much more complicated narrative inside, but the brushstrokes we make are what everyone else gets. Sometimes they are all we get too.
In my last year of undergrad "studies" :) I picked up a small book by Jung; a selection of some his works. I read and re-read that first paragraph over and over again and it would not penetrate at all!
A couple of years later, and an (internal) event, I got the actual book (Aion) and started reading. That book's margins are covered with arguments with Jung. We were on the same wavelength, finally.
There is certainly something to Joyce (even though I never bothered to grant him the same attention as Jung, since Jung was a pedagogue and Joyce -- I agree -- an intellectual masturbator) and I am sure it is quite rewarding to those who penetrate it. I just like reading him for the pleasing sound of his text.
[Aion is a great book btw: http://www.amazon.com/Aion-Researches-Phenomenology-Collecte...]