Tuesday, August 30, 2016

And The List Of The World's Greatest Books Is --

-- not something I really believe in.

The Telegraph's 100 Books to Read Before You Die

People have been writing books for thousands of years. In hundreds if not thousands of languages. If I'm not mistaken, a third to a half or more of the books on the Telegraph's list were originally written in *ahem* one language. I'm not saying it's a bad list, I think it's an an interesting list (ie, I've read many of those books.) But are there any books on the list in Spanish written before Don Quixote or between Don Quixote and late-20th-century Latin America? Are there any books at all in Portugese? I believe Arabic is represented only by Naquib Maufouz' Cairo Trilogy and the Tales from 1001 Nightsi and Turkish only by Orhan Pahmuk's My Name is Red. What about Chinese? What about anything written in India in a language other than English? Okay, there's one of those, a book by Rabandrath Tagore.

What about this?

It's a novel in 2 volumes by a Lithuanian author who lived from 1940 to 1980. On the dusk jacket of my copies he's compared to Faulkner, Wolfe, Camus, Rilke, and, strangely enough, Cezanne. Will I ever have any idea how much sense those comparisons make?

Also, most the Telegraph's 100 books are novels. I'm just saying, history, philosophy, science -- poetry! Hello!

I've mentioned how Spanish (Galdos, for example, and Lope de Vega and El Cid. Just for example), Portugese (Sergio) and Lithuanian might be under-represented in this list of 100 mostly novels, but that's just because, beyond the French, Italian and Russian literature which has happened to have become famous among English readers, and that in other languages, such as the work of Tagore and Maufouz and Pahmuk, which has come to the Anglophone public's attention via the Nobel prizes, I happen to have poked around a little in the literature of those languages. I mentioned Chinese and Arabic and Indian languages only because huge numbers of people have read them, not because I know anything about their literatures. I'm also devoid of knowledge of literature in -- just for random example -- Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Romanian, Japanese, Albanian, Serbo-Croation, and hundreds if not thousands of other languages equally deserving to be considered in the compiling of such lists.... One interesting Polish writer has been urged upon me, Witkiewicz -- unfortunately in a very bad translation of his novel Insatiability. Other than Witkiewicz and Milosz I'm pretty blank about Polish.

What about ancient Greek and Latin?

Again, I'm not saying the Telegraph's list is a bad list. What I'm saying (other than mentioning that there's a reason the ancient Greeks and Romans are referred to as the "Classics") is that to compile a list of literature which would be representative of the best which ever been written in the world, would be very difficult.

Perhaps impossible.

But that's actually a good thing, because it means that the world is so big and so overflowing with worthwhile things to read.

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