I’m not the sort of person who goes in for lists like the Top 100 Novels or 100 Best GLBT Books mainly because they remind me of the sort of crap that Charles Murray likes to write about in Human Accomplishment. Many universities have a class on Great Works, against which I have railed, for I find the point misguided. How are you ever going to cover all of the great novels? How can you suppose to make ranked lists of authors and say he and she are in, but that guy just doesn’t make the cut?

On the other hand, I do believe that in order to be a good theater artist, you should know many plays, and also that you should know the greats, even if they aren’t your favorites. I don’t think you have to have read every play Mamet’s written, but you should read at least one, so that you know vaguely what Mamet is like. There are holes in my dramatic knowledge and I want to plug them up — I still haven’t read anything by Hellman, Odets, Fornes, or Wasserstein, but I’m going to correct that in time. I feel the same way about film now — I like movies, and there are some directors whose work I’ve never seen, much to my shame. In the last year I saw my first Buñuel (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise) and Godard (A Woman is a Woman). I just rented Cassavetes’ Faces, and will be getting my first Fassbinder soon (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant).

But when I read this article where Martin Amis talks about Saul Bellow, I realized I’ve never read anything by Bellow, only one story by Singer, and half of Portnoy’s Complaint. I’ve never read a novel by Updike, D.H. Lawrence, or Hardy. On the other hand, I’ve read almost everything by Lethem, Borges, and Calvino. I lack a sort of literary literacy, and perhaps it would behoove me to do a survey of those authors who have shaped literature through the ages. For every new book, an old one perhaps. And at the top of the list, Saul Bellow. I’m open to suggestions.


0 thoughts on “authors

  1. I’d like to think of those lists as being a conscious limited list of the possible ‘great’ novels/films/plays. I think it’s just meant as some smattering of what is out there. At least it serves me well as a guide.

    I can’t recommend any Bellow, but you should probably read ‘Gertrude and Claudius’ and something from the Rabbit series (all Updike).

    I can’t resist recommending films so: La Jette (the basis of 12 Monkeys) or Sans Soleil by Chris Marker and Tokyo Story by Japanese director Ozu.

  2. very re-markable. I feel like I’ve been mentioning Tokyo Story a lot to people these days, but they’ve already heard of it/seen it. I guess I was out of the loop previously.

    It WAS depressing, but in a way, I think it def. helped the viewer come to terms with what happens in the movie, and just the eternal mutability of it all (without being too heavy-handed about it).

  3. Hi Anand, I’m Ari and Darcy’s friend. I found your website and thus your blog through Orkut.

    As a child/adolescent I collected recommended reading lists, starting with Newberry Award winners and going through “books likely to appear on the AP English Literature exam.” Also, each time I received a list of acceptable books for a report, I kept it. I read a lot of books off these lists. I picked up works that I probably never would have touched otherwise, and I absolutely loved some of them. At the same time, I read many books not on any of the lists and enjoyed them too.

    In college I combined all the lists into one Word file. In doing this combination, I was surprised by the lack of overlap. I think that when a reading list is created by committee, the members sit around and bargain: “Okay, we’ll include your favorite Dickens and my favorite Hardy.” If someone was to read from only one list, he could figure that since he had read X book by Y author, he never needed to pick upanything by Y again. In reality, he might be missing out on books he would enjoy much more than X. Combining the lists also made me realize just how old most of the books on the majority of those lists are. If you only read “great books,” then you miss out on a lot of wonderful recent fiction.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the lists are both a blessing and a curse.

    On a slightly different note, as a writer, I feel the same way about books as you do about plays and films. Writers must read widely to learn how that author sets a scene and how this one creates realistic dialogue, to discover what you want to steal and what you should try to avoid. But even with all my reading, I feel I have horrible omissions in my “Books I Have Read” list (Saul Bellow being one). I know I will never have enough time to read everything. Sometimes, however, I’d really like to try.

    Phillip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus (short and hilarious–I enjoyed it more than Portnoy’s Complaint)
    John Updike, Coupling
    Thomas Hardy, Return of the Native

    I’d be happy to send you my “To Read” and “Have Read” lists–they’re in the same Word doc, and they offer a very interesting mix of “great books,” recommendations from friends, and my own unique taste.

  4. Scarily enough, I think of you as someone who’s more well-read than I am. That’s terrifying 😉

    Kidding aside, given how much random crap I was forced to read by the British educational system while I was growing up, I tend to avoid “classics”, and went through college without taking a single class on Shakespeare or Milton.

    Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t read them on my own.

    As far as GLBT books go, if nothing else, most tend to be complete shite. However, I’m a huge fan of William Corlett (Now and Then, Two Gentlemen Sharing), William J. Mann (The Men from the Boys, Where the Boys Are), Joe Keenan (Putting on the Ritz, Blue Heaven), and Patricia Duncker (sp?) (Hallucinating Foucault). I never really liked any of the “canonical” gay/lesbian writers, personally.

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