I became somewhat consumed with a question posed me by an old acquaintance. In fairness, the inquiry was nothing but innocent, and it was my ruminating (however unnecessary and tangential it may be) that caused all the mental fuss.
I tried a challenge last year in which I attempted to read 75 books.* A friend asked me simply how I was choosing the books I was reading. She was interested in understanding any coherent path that lead from book to book. In sooth, there were some general patterns, namely postmodern writers, to be found. I began to think and think about the relationships between these books quite a lot after that.
At one point, I read three books from around 1938: A Night of Serious Drinking by Rene Daumal, Laughter in the Dark by Vladamir Nabokov, and one other which presently escapes me. I was fascinated by t-Murphy by Samuel Beckett. That was it, sorry. I was fascinated by the stylistic variances, the content differences, and the idea that these three books were written in an anticipatory time of World War II. Of course, none of the three texts above deal directly with themes of war, which is absolutely intriguing.
As a teacher, I'm constantly attempting to assist my students in recognizing that we are temporal beings. That is, we have a history, and we're currently acting in a way that will inevitably affect the future. I recall a moment during a lesson revolving around the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor and the ensuing internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans. After discussing the attack (and watching videos, listening to radio interviews), my students reacted with utter disbelief. "What did we do back?" This, of course, was the lead-in (quite a natural and student-centered one, I'm proud to say) to discussing and exploring interment. As we finished our discussion thereof, there was a student who, having understood the idea of patterns in history, asked to verify that Japan must have had a reason to have attacked in the first place, justifiable or otherwise. It was unbelievable for me to experience that with students.
What's the takeaway? How does this relate to a reading blog? Basically, I want to walk through the 20th (and eventually 21st) century through literature. I want to consider the times, the peoples, the geopolitics (to the extent I understand some macromovements related thereto), the attitudes, the cultures, and of course, the languages of pieces of literature as they lie in a temporality.
I anticipate a few things will happen along this journey. First, I'll be able to get a better understanding of literary movements and movers who served as harbingers of new styles. This will demonstrate the glorious importance of a figure like the aforementioned Beckett, for example, whose work absolutely did not belong. In addition, I will find that, while I love many types of literature and content areas, I am quite a bit more sheltered than hitherto understood. In short, I will likely find great challenges in many of the texts that lie outside my style preference.
In all, I hope to learn-experientially-about the movements of literature, generally, and how certain texts fit within historical memes, specifically. I will also miss an uncountable number of texts and important authors to boot. I'll cherish the day that I get to the forties, when I can spend time with Nabokov and Hemingway, truly understanding what an unbelievable phenomenon it was that the two co-wrote in those years. I'll have to get through a helluva lot before I get to the writer whose words inspired my true love of literature, when I reread Cat's Cradle in '63. I am relatively excited about Robert Coover's 2010 Noir, which I'll have to remain patiently pining for.
It should be fun.
*No, I did not finish 75 books last year. I made it to 58, which is definitely more than I'd ever done previously. I was slowed a little by some tomes. I got through Gravity's Rainbow, and would like to read it again. I loved the Sot Weed Factor by Barth, and look forward to more of his writing. I also became acquainted with about 15 new authors (D. Barthelme, Raymond Queneau, Ray Carver) and revisited some old friends (Calvino, Brautigan, Borges). Try it!