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Friday, October 7, 2005

Chapter Thirty-Nine, in which is listed the most important Books in your Bibliothecary's Life

Here is your Bibliothecary's spin on (let's see if I can get this pedigree right) the twist at This Space on Book World's version of Mental Multivitamin's riff on Pages Turned's survey of books that "have shaped, or even defined, the reader." Not sure I can adhere to the prohibition against classics, but let us see what happens. In order, from past to present, as best as I recall:

The Once and Future King, T.H.White--This was the first book assigned in school that ever really caught my fancy. By the time I made it to the middle, I stayed up all night in order to finish. It spawned a long interest in the Matter of Britain.

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo--A book assigned as an optional study in the same class as above. I started this too late to finish before the end of the school year, but I continued to enjoy it into the summer. This was the first masterpiece I ever read, and it spawned an abiding interest in the masterpieces of world fiction. Though I had read often as a child, nothing I had read before had struck me with awe. I thank that school teacher for introducing me to a real passion for reading.

The World According to Garp, John Irving--After several years of light to no reading, I picked up this book because it was what a cute neighbor was reading one summer. In it I found a joy of story telling and a grand display of life well lived.

The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald--I don't recall why I first read this, but I still read it today, and never tire of it. Fitzgerald commands a wonderful ear for dialogue, and his style is exemplary. I still wince, I still laugh, I still shake my head in wonder at Nick, and I still admire Gatsby. The last sentence is one of the finest in all literature.

Love in the Western World, Denis de Rougemont--Again, how I came to this book is forgotten. What is remembered is the permanent imprint it put on my understanding of love.

On Writers and Writing, John Gardner--Many years after reading through the Matter of Britain, I decided to try my hand at fashioning the various myths and legends into one grand historical fiction. An interest in the craft of writing turned up this book, and it spurred my desire to write more and better. Though it did not see me to the completion of my epic, it did and continues to spur me to drive the quill.

Modigliani, William Fifield--A blurb in Vanity Fair magazine made me search for Modigliani, and the story of the artist made me want to write the story of Alexandre Guilbert, which was the fourth book I wrote and the first to see publication.

Against the Grain, Joris-Karl Huysmans--In research for Guilbert's book, The Last Decadent, I picked up this and immediately was drawn into the lush and artificial world of decadence. I was sent in a whole new literary direction, along the path of Maturnin, Maupassant, Zola, Natalie Barney, Baudelaire, Louys, etc.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez--I heard of the author at the publication of Love in the Time of Cholera but found this earlier title first. This masterpiece of magic realism amazed me, and turned me down another new path where lurked Borges, Carpentier, Rushdie, Grass, etc.

Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Michael Baigent--Informs my belief (or disbelief) in Jesus and, despite the highwire plot, spells out the basic truths covered up by Christianity that to my mind seem obvious.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt--I was awed by this book before I ever read it. And once I did read it, I was a bit let down. Though well crafted and well written, I was far more impressed by the pre-publication publicity, by the bidding war for rights, by the advance eventually paid to this first-time author, and by the unusual physical qualities of the book itself, which plainly set it apart from every other title on the shelf.

Parnassus on Wheels, Christopher Morley--What led me to this book I have now forgotten, but how wonderful that it happened. Though I had already admitted to a fondness for books, Morley showed me how to fall in love with them, and I did. Mad About Books is a direct descendant of that first traveling bookstore.

The Handyman, Carolyn See--From de Rougemont I had learned well the idealized forms of romantic love, but here for the first time I was introduced to the real love of a true woman. It is perhaps the most beautiful story I have ever read. I was so impressed I struck up a correspondence with the author which honored me greatly.

From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun--Days of emptiness were filled with the history of the world. I was impressed by the writing, and have since sought out more works by Barzun which have also impressed me. He has given me an appreciation of the essay. And his book gave me an interest in general history which has taken me, in the last few years, away from the once beloved novel.

This list was hard to pare down to just ten--I mean, fourteen--books. Ultimately, these are the books that truly produced some change in me, while most of the others on my initial draft list were (I hesitate to say merely) awe-inspiring, such as The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy or The Rainbow, by D.H. Lawrence or Sexual Personae, by Camille Paglia. Perhaps one day there will be a list for those.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting list!

    I'm especially curious that The Secret History made the cut. I was totally blown away the first time I read it, mainly because I went through similar experiences in college (ok, no murder, but very similar setting). Loved it so much that I went back to read it again, and the second time, there was nothing there. And that's my number one criterion for judging a book: how many times can I reread it before it gets stale? Hmmmm.