Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday reading

In the comments on my last post, Lesley made the following suggestion: "I think at some point, you should do a post about books you recommend for people like me. Namely, people who don't read much, are only looking to be entertained but still need that little bit of 'enlightenment' by reading something that is actually 'worthy'."

Hmm. Tough call, because reading is such a personal endeavour, and what I love might be boring or annoying to someone else ... as is, in fact, often the case.

Also, "enlightenment," or "worthy" literature for that matter, are tricky notions. In the pre-WWII years there was a group of literary critics in Britain (including TS Eliot) who advanced the idea that a cultivated appreciation of art, literature and all forms of "high" culture would improve people morally. Of course, as literary theorist Terry Eagleton wryly observed, that idea kind of got blown out of the water when people realized that Nazi death camp commandants whiled away their leirsure hours reading Goethe and listening to Mozart. So I tend to reject the idea of "worthy" literature or reading.

But at the same time, I do know what you mean Lesley ... because some things are quite definitively brain candy and others not, and there is an intangible but deeply felt satisfaction in finding a novel that is at once challenging, disturbing and enjoyable that one does not find in, say, formulaic and predictable fiction.

So I have some reservations about making such a list, not least because it's entirely likely that people might pick up one of the books on my recommendation and end up throwing it into a wall half-way through with the curse "&%$#% Lockett! Last time I listen to him. English professor, my ass ..."

Or something like that.

Still, I cannot resist making lists or recommending books. So as long as we all understand that these are books I found enjoyable and engaging, and that I don't necessarily expect others to like them, we're all good.

Isabelle Allende, The House of the Spirits
Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
Pat Barker, Regeneration
Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot
Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong
Timothy Findley, Famous Last Words
Ursula Hegi, Stones From the River
Milan Kundera, Immortality
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love In the Time of Cholera
Haruki Murakame, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Gloria Naylor, Mama Day
Jeannette Winterson, Written on the Body


Lesley said...

Thank you! That's what I was looking for. But I should note, after I posted that the other day, my aunt and I ended up in a discussion about books. She is looking for a gift for my cousin's new wife, who is a bit...picky. And we ended up discussing how books are like clothing for some people. Either they like to read a certain kind, or they're open to anything. I happen to be one of those people, I have certain books that I like to read and will only venture out of the box for something that has to be a really good "Hail Mary" if you will. Right now, I'm a few pages in Memoirs of a Geisha. I tried to read The Time Traveller's Wife but felt like I was stepping into the middle of the book. But I'll take a stab at a few of the books on your list. I loved Timothy Findlay's Not Wanted on the Voyage. I'll keep you posted though. I knew you couldn't resist making a list of books for the "lower castes" like me! I just get so geeked out when you talk about books and all the cool classes you want to pitch, but then remember I'm not an English geek and would probably end up being pointed and laughed at...

Chris in NF said...

Nonsense. I hardly ever point at my students and laugh at them. ;-)

amy said...

Nice list. I really really want more time to read novels. Seems like Iain Pears might fit well on that list - Dream of Scipio or Instance of the Fingerposts.

amy said...

keep working on The Time Traveller's Wife Lesley - it'll grow on you I think. And STOP calling yourself dumb.

Chris in NF said...

Re: what Amy just said about dumb-calling ... ditto.

jo said...

Lesley, I don't even know you, but you sound smart to me! And I agree with you about people's taste in reading being like their taste in clothing. So, from someone who wears pretty much the same sort of thing all the time, here is a very idiosyncratic list of a dozen authors (mostly old or dead, almost all British) who may or may not be worthy, but whose style I love:
(in alphabetical order)
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Angela Carter
Clive James
Nancy Mitford
Iris Murdoch
R.K. Narayan
Barbara Pym
Dorothy Sayers
Muriel Spark
Anthony Trollope
Evelyn Waugh
Fay Weldon

Lesley said...

So you won't laugh at me because I read Patricia Cornwell? Or that I count Anne of Green Gables and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as my favourite books? Or that I liked to read the books on Oprah's list when they weren't ancient manuscripts from the time of old? I think I manage to get my enlightenment just from hearing you English types talk. And I'll go back and take another stab at The Time Traveller's Wife. It sounds so beautiful on the jacket. I'm sure once I get to the heart of the book it will get better. Anyone read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? I'm struggling with that one too.

AuntJo said...

stumbled on your blog while looking up information on Findley's
'Famous Last Words'. It's my turn for the book club and I chose this book. Fascinating....couldn't put it down! Also loved the "Time Traveller's Wife.
Thanks for the list...now I know what to pick up next. Aunt Jo