I’m not sure I am remembering this quite right, but “Literary anomalies” was a list I started on when I was thinking about how fictional works could be true or false. When we ask “What would such and such a character do?” does it have meaning? The question is made more urgent when an author dies without finishing a work or a work is lost, but I think this particular list was intended to cover works where some perplexing problem was more internal to the work. Did Conan Doyle intend to resurrect Holmes? How much time goes by in the first two Aubrey and Maturin novels compared with the last twenty or so? Does the change in tone across the Harry Potter series make sense?
“Humiliation” is a mean game described in Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read, where you get a point for every person who has read a book you haven’t read. Obviously it’s best played among certain kinds of book snobs. My list still has Ulysses and Moby Dick; I get a point if you’ve read them, but I have to admit that I haven’t.
“Not a complete waste of time” is actually pretty exclusive, I think there are 60 some books there, and I filled it in pretty thoroughly, while I haven’t bothered much with the “mildly curious” list.
Finally, the dossiers are lists I’ve been making from what other people have told me they’ve read. It sounds kind of secret police, which is not really how I intend it! I really like discussing books with my friends, and I want to try to remember what they’ve told me and not waste their time.
I’ve put some effort into keeping track of what I read. The system is constantly evolving; I like to think that it’s getting better. I was just looking at one of the documents I use and realized that one thing that was missing was a list of the lists.
Do you keep lists of books read or to be read? Here at random are 25/100
I had an odd moment recently when Courtland Gamboge, the cynical and murderous antagonist of Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey, got mixed up in my mind’s eye with Tom Sawyer. Shades of Grey is a unique dystopian fantasy by the author of The Eyre Affair. You should read it. In the book, natural color perception is rare and society is obsessed with artificial pigments. This conceit was carried through with such thoroughness that it warped my imagination and my reading life, triggering a craving for color words and leading to my rediscovery of the poetry of Andrew Marvell and George Herbert. I can only hope, most fervently, that Fforde musters the strength to see his bizarre project through.
The resonance of Gamboge, menacing scion of a powerful and corrupt yellow-perceiving caste, and the mischievous archetype Sawyer only appears strange. Gamboge is seen through the first person narration of the naive hero Eddie Russett. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn we see Tom Sawyer from a similar first person perspective, most importantly at the end, when Tom shows a really diabolical side to his love of fun and games, such that he not only torments Jim and Huck, but hijacks the novel.
I’ve been thinking about first person narration. I mentioned that the best of Umberto Eco’s novels are written this way: The Name of the Rose, Foucault, Loana. In fact I’ll take a wild stab and say that the best novels generally are narrated in the first person. Maybe other narratives stop short of the ultimate reason for reading novels, not only to be somewhere else, but to become someone else? Consider Jane Eyre vs. Wuthering Heights. Jane Eyre is first person and W.H. is a farrago. Tom Sawyer is not first person; it’s a children’s book and a didactic one at that. Then Twain switched and wrote the incomparable Huck Finn. Neal Stephenson’s Anathem is the best science fiction I’ve read in a long time. Everything of his I’ve read since has been terribly frustrating. (I read the whole Baroque Cycle…) Guess which of his works is written in first person. Moby Dick is first person. So is Notes from Underground, which is all the Dostoevsky anyone really needs. I’m sure there is a technical reason for all this, and that writers know very well what they are doing and why certain narratives should be the way they are. It’s still striking.