Books From the Back Room

images.jpgIt isn’t difficult to find a recommended list of authors you should read or have read. Everyone acknowledges the literary importance of authors such as Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Proust, Goethe, Flaubert, Dante, Cervantes, Eliot, Dickens. But so many of these authors have been normalized in press and education that they, even when most successful, tend to inhabit the most hackneyed regions of our collective memory.

As an aging member of the university study of literature which adhered to the precepts of the (then) new criticism with potent demiurges the likes of F. R. Leavis, William Empson, Harold Bloom, and Frank Kermode, I worshipped the works of those giants of literature. But looking back I see that my education tended to direct me down the avenue of the acceptable canon and I missed a lot of stimulating reading through the years.

Continue reading

Who Should Be Kicked Out of the Canon?

1001_Books_You_Must_Read_Before_You_Die_(cover)There is a big heavy book that professes to illuminate the 1001 books that everyone should read before they die. Well, the reality is that this is a joke for most people since they will actually read very few books of fiction after leaving school and very few of those books would qualify for any recommendation list other than a short-lived publisher’s marketing hype. But there is a subtle problem with the 1001 list: it has been revised.

It struck me as odd that I should definitely read a book that was then dropped in the next edition of 1001 Books. I can see adding books that might have been published since the previous edition and even books that might have been overlooked, but I cannot accept telling me I had to read something worthwhile and then saying never mind. Is it possible that the books themselves (which do not change) are less important than our attitude towards those books?

Continue reading