Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blogging the Canon - Year One

Happy me! Yes, it's hard to believe, but it's been one year since I first started this blogging project! Woohoo, break out the absinthe! Actually, I'm sipping on some now, prepared in the traditional manner with sugar and water. I picked up a bottle when I was in London last spring, at the duty-free shop in Heathrow. It's pretty good...tastes like licorice, and has evil green color. And fortunately it hasn't driven me mad...yet. Ha, ha...wait, why are the walls moving?

This blogging project has been a great ride so far...26 books read in the year, out of my original 105, plus 76 blog posts, and countless cocktails while reading and blogging. So does that mean I'll finish up in three more years? Well, no, for two reasons. First, there are some remaining "books" on the list that are going to be incredibly all of Plutarch's "Lives", and all of Proust's "In Search of Lost Time", which is actually something like a series of 18 novels or so. Second, during this past year, I've come across more books that should have been on the original "greatest hits of all time but have yet to read" list. In fact, I have 126 of these books. So why not add them to the list then, you may ask? Well, my fear is that I'll keep adding books in order to avoid some of the ones on my original 105 that I'm rather dreading, like "Ulysses" and "The Ambassadors". No, I think at least for now I'll keep plugging away at the original 105 books on my list, and hold off on the others for awhile.

It's fun to look back on the year and think of the books I've read. My favorite so far? Hmm, hard to say, but I think it might be...drum roll, please...George Eliot's "Silas Marner". I dunno, I guess I'm just a sentimentalist, but that book made me cry. Although parts of "Anna Karenina" and "My Antonia" made me cry too. My second favorite may have been "Moll Flanders"...that book is seriously funny! My least favorite? Hard to say, because I really liked them all. In fact, that's one of the surprising things to me...I liked them all! No clunkers out of the first 26! But I haven't read any Henry James yet, either.

I was thinking in my last blog post of common themes in several of the books I've read so far. The character of Moll Flanders reminded me a bit of Becky Sharp...both were intelligent, street-smart women who used their wiles to work their way up from poverty. But they were different, too. Moll was more of a good woman who did what she had to do to survive. Becky also did what she had to do to survive, but she definitely had a mean streak that Moll didn't have, and she aimed higher than just surviving. And Moll may have become an inveterate thief, but she would never have cheated on any of her men.

And then there's the similarities between Becky Sharp, Rastignac from "Pere Goriot", and Julien Sorel from "The Red and the Black". All three are intelligent, ambitious characters who escape from their impoverished, lower class beginnings by using their intelligence and cunning to move up the social ladder. Rastignac and Julien don't really know what they're doing, at least at first, but their ambition and drive allow them to overcome their least for awhile (in Julien's case). We sympathize with all three, but all three definitely have their faults. But what's really fascinating is to compare these three characters to the lives of the authors of the three autobiographies I read this year: Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington. All three of these men were also born impoverished and lower class...and in the case of Frederick Douglass and Booker Washington they were born slaves, which is pretty much as low in society as you can be. Like Becky and Rastignac and Julien, all three of the real life characters used their natural intelligence and incredible drive to escape from poverty and move up in the world. But where Becky and Rastignac and Julien used sex and trickery to move up the ladder, Franklin, Douglass, and Washington used hard work, and when that failed, more hard work. And when they reached the top, they worked to improve the lives of their fellow citizens, rather than simply kicking back and enjoying the comforts of high society. Does this reflect the difference between fiction and real life? Or does it just mean that real life Becky Sharps would not write an autobiography? Or does it mean that people who write their own autobiographies can leave out all traces of their duplicitous, cunning natures? The latter seems the least likely, since other historical sources would have revealed the truth if Benjamin Franklin or Booker T. Washington had slept their ways to the top. Hmm, well, let me sip my absinthe and ponder this mystery, as I pick up book #27 and begin my second year of blogging the canon.


the wordy gecko said...

Just found your blog (through the Novel Readings blog, via OnFiction) and wanted to congratulate you on a year's reading, and say thanks very much for your very entertaining and informative blogging!

Anonymous said...

I wanted to offer you a belated congratulations too! This blog is quite the inspiration and while I may not entirely agree with some of your choices of what to read, I'll just put it down to your having read all the good stuff I'd have chucked in. Best of luck with the rest of your canon, Mr Virus, I'll be eagerly checking back to see how your faring! Best, Clancy.

Robby Virus said...

Thanks for the congrats! Indeed, there are many, many great books I've already read, such as "Crime and Punishment", "Moby Dick", "Huckeberry Finn", etc. etc., so obviously I did not include those on my "to be read" list. I've been thinking for awhile that I should make a list of all the great books I've read previously, and post that. I will make this attempt in the future!