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.