Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Saga Begins!

Welcome to Modern Librarians. This blog will record the thoughts and labors of your two humble bibliophiles as they strive with modern literature, with great books of the past, and (probably) with each other. The role of our little corner of the Internet will be that of literary soap-box, where the intrepid and occasionally vituperative K. and I can share our thoughts as we make our way through the Modern Library’s 100 Greatest Novels [1] of the 20th Century.

Along the way we’ll toss out reviews of other books as we read them, and general book-thoughts as they strike us- but the backbone of this blog, for now, is the periodic reviews of the 100 books on that list. [2]

* * *

I am M., the slightly older, dustier and (charmingly) pedantic half of your guide-team through the 100 Greatest project, the Virgil to K’s Beatrice, if you will. In literature I incline toward antiquity and the Greats; my natural appetite is for the Noble, the Mystic and the Defiant. The extent to which a work reminds me of Hector’s farewell to Andromache, of the dying Cyrano, or of Tennyson’s Ulysses enjoining his aged sailors to one more geriatric voyage is the extent to which it will appeal to my guts.

Beyond that gut-reaction, I do have other literary ‘likes’- a taste for the decidedly un-noble Ovid and the smart dry humor of Waugh and Amis (the elders, both), and a guilty fondness for well-written fantasy novels.

I’ve always had a mad fondness for books - in fact, there is telling evidence to suggest that I am genetically predisposed to bibliomania. When I was pre-natal, so my mother tells it, the one wish that she repeated to everyone who asked about her child-to-be was, simply, ‘I want a kid who likes books.’

Be careful what you wish for.

It’s something of an obsession. When I walk into a bookstore, the smell of the paper enters my nostril and makes a direct assault on the most avaricious parts of my brain. I start grabbing volumes left and right, black out and regain my senses more than an hour later in the store cafe with black coffee and a stack of books in front of me[3]. The subject doesn’t matter - legal philosophy, histories, Romantic poetry, an Introduction to Vietnamese - I want them all.

In part, the Modern Librarian project is an avenue towards satisfying that acquisitive beast inside me - it means that I have a reason to buy 50 new books. It’s also a chance to compel myself to read certain books that are influential, important and not at all to my taste.[4] Mostly, however, I’m reading in the hope of finding a pleasant surprise and sharing it with you.

See you in the stacks!

[1] Greatest Novels originally published in English - unless the Modern Library possesses the native Anglo-American distaste for fur’ners...

[2] Followers of the above link will already have discovered that our list has an Evil Twin in the form of the Reader’s Choice List, whose top entries are so atrociously bad that they cry out to the poison in my pen. You can bet that at least a couple of them will find their way into these pages. K., however, is having none of it, so I expect I’ll be battling the dragons Rand and Hubbard (who have 7 of the top 10 entries!) solo.

[3] A real-life stack from earlier this week: the Collected Letters of T.S. Eliot, a history of the Central Asian Steppe, the Metaphysics of Aristotle, the Tao Te Ching, two novels by John Barth, some stream-of-consciousness rag by Harold Bloom, and a collection of Feynman anecdotes.

[4] see: Wharton, Edith

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