- from Susan
Since it’s impossible for anyone over the age of six to pick three lifetime favorites, I’m guessing we’ll all add adjectives to narrow the field. Mine is “challenging” and my choices leap to mind: Moby Dick, War and Peace, and Ulysses.
I skew toward fiction because, next to chocolate, fiction is my favorite addiction. I chose three books I have come to relish after working hard to understand even part of what their brilliant authors achieved. And, not inconsequentially, they’re all long books, which adds a level of challenge. If a difficult book is also short, sticking with it isn’t heroic; there’s light at the end of the tunnel. An epic, with a long, dark journey through forests of ideas, requires courage, humility, and perseverance.
Moby Dick. Read it in high school, or at least enough to answer questions on the test. Fell asleep over it many a school night. Read it again in my senior year of college in a seminar with one of its greatest and most colorful interpreters, Leslie Fiedler, a stunningly good teacher and a wild man, a standout in American literary criticism. (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/obit/2003/02/fear_and_loathing.html) Fiedler demanded that I read deeper than I ever had, think and feel, push back against Melville until Melville and I were seemingly in an intimate dialogue, and turn that into a paper he could share with the scholarly community.
War and Peace was merely annoying the first two times I attempted it. I could not for the life of me figure out who was who. People had multiple names, some for formal usage, some their mothers and fathers used, some their husbands used, others their neighbors or their sisters used. I’d get 100 pages in and have no frigging idea who just left the palace or who got engaged to whom, or even who died in battle. Then, blessedly, in the 1970s, there came a many-episode “War and Peace” to Masterpiece Theater and I got it. Yay! Went back, read the whole book and could now pay attention to what was happening and what Tolstoi was showing the reader about…well, war, and peace.
I loved Ulysses from the minute I opened the book. For one thing, I was in college and had excellent guides, an Irish intellectual of note and his brilliant Irish wife, a renowned poet, who were in the U.S. because he – Conor Cruise O’Brien (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/20/world/europe/20obrien-conor-cruise.html) – was on diplomatic assignment to the United Nations. He led an extraordinary junior year seminar in Irish culture that I was accepted into, and we were bathed in the glorious literary, artistic, and musical heritage of the island from which my ancestors came. I love the sweetly bitter flavor of Irish poetry and prose and the musical language and rich vocabulary, so why wouldn’t I love James Joyce’s evocative, dreamy, fiery epic story of a Dublin Jew? I’ve re-read it and will do so again, some dark winter month with a good fire burning and mugs of tea to keep me going.
Can’t wait to read what my fellow LadyKillers choose – this is a fun assignment!