Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blown away by the Western Can(n)on?

Lately, I've been thinking about how much I haven't read in terms of the classics of Western literature and how I should dive into them. I thought a nice introduction would be Harold Bloom's Western Canon: the Books and Schools of the Ages in which he devotes whole chapters on Shakespeare (read some), Milton (on my shelf), Cervantes (terrified to attempt) etc. down on the line through to Jane Austen (Ah! got that) and James Joyce. It's a serious tome: I have to take it to work to make any headway at all, to force myself to read it. It's good, but Dense.

At the back of the book is a list of what Harold Bloom believes constitutes the Western Canon - it goes on for 39 pages. The first night I opened the book, I tried to tick off the books I've read and made the smallest dent, maybe 1/365th of the list. Then I started to run around the room, grasping books off the shelf and determined to plunge into them right NOW starting with Dracula (which is on the list). I mean, even if I read every second for the rest of my life I don't think I could finish the Canon, and that's without reading magazines and newspaper articules and books for guilty pleasure etc. There's just too much! I tried to read Dracula but fell asleep three minutes later. (It occurs to me that if I was a vampire, I wouldn't need to sleep and then none of this would be a problem...)

The next morning I tried to tell Kristin about my midnight crisis, and she shook her head at me and tut-tutted and said, "Christy, it's not a required reading list, it's just the canon!" That made me feel much better, in the sheepish I-know-you-think-I'm-a-total-wally way.

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