Monday, May 25, 2009

Books I Like

At first I thought about giving this post the title "Books I Heartily Recommend," but "Books I Like" is more accurate. If you know me a little, you'll have some idea whether and to what extent the fact that I like a book means you'll like it too. Checking out some of these books would not be a bad way to get to know me and get a feel for my interests.

The Recognitions and JR, William Gaddis' first two novels, long and delightfully difficult and tremendously good. Gaddis' next two novels are excellent as well, but I like these ones the most. The fifth one, published posthumously, is still unfinished, in my opinion, and is of interest only to hard-core fans. The posthumous collection of essays is also a bit of a letdown.

On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry and The Tunnel a novel, by William H. Gass. Gass is in some ways even more difficult than Gaddis. The term "unflinching" perhaps never was more entirely fitting to any other writer. The term "catharsis" applies as well. On Being Blue is about the color blue and about being depressed and melancholy and about writing about sex and about many other things. The Tunnel is about an American historian specializing in the Third Reich who is thoroughly unlikeable. The tunnel of the title is one he's digging under his house, and a symbol for the abysses into which the human soul can sink.

The History Of The Reformation Of The Church Of England V4 is a collection of some of the sources for Gilbert Burnett's history of the Reformation: letters to and from the English monarchs from Henry VII through Elizabeth I and from related personages, and other documents of the time. Untranslated. Elizabeth wrote very good Latin. (But I don't think she wrote any of the plays attributed to Shakespeare.)

Der Antichrist (ISBN 3-458-32647-2) von Friedrich Nietzsche ist nicht umsonst noch heute ein Renner. Hier findet man knapp und klar resumiert die Schaden, die das Christentum dem Denken eines Drittel der Menschheit zugefuegt hat, and die Gruende, warum man Schluss damit machen muss. (Dass es von einem Maerchen handelt ist laengst nicht der einzige Grund, ist nicht mal der Hauptgrund.)

The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century (Canto) or just about any other book by Steven Runciman, except that if you're interested in the bibliographies, you will want to avoid his abridged version of The First Crusade. (The unabridged version is A History of the Crusades Vol. I: The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem) And if you are anything at all like me, you will absolutely delight in Runciman's bibliographies.

I could go on and on and on and on and on. I will definitely rattle off a lot of other book titles in future posts. For the moment let me just say that Gaddis, Gass, Nietzsche and Runciman are the best teachers I have ever had so far. None of them is perfect: Nietzsche was afflicted with a bad crazy case of misogyny, and Runciman seems to have been infected with a bit of anti-semitism fashionable in Cambridge in the early 20th-century. (Although his case was far from the most severe -- he was far from being the bigot that, for example, T.S. Eliot was -- and he may have partly cured himself of it over the course of his long life.) Those are serious shortcomings, but then again, as far as I know, no-one is perfect. These four writers share vast scholarship, huge ambition, keen judgement and beautiful prose style.

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