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100 Books I Want To Read Before I Die – Part One

1. Ulysses by James Joyce.

My son wants to read this, and has prepared himself by reading the Odyssey first, although I told him he would be better off reading Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.  This novel is kind of the Modernist Tai-Shan, more venerated than assayed, and I think I’d like to accompany my son in his ascent.

2. Ægypt by John Crowley

I could have cheated and made this four books.  Crowley has teased away a portion of the post-modern DNA better than any other writer.  He needs to be better known.  In a way, he appears to be continuing the work begun by Charles Williams 75 years ago in his novels, incorporating hermetic themes into the literary conversation but without promoting the diabolical element.

akita3. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

Another of my son’s suggestions.  I’ve started this book.  It is as cold, as bright, and as spare as an icicle on a cold, sunny day.  It is supposed to be the centerpiece of Japanese literature.  A novel written as haiku, and as descrete as the food in a bento box.

4. Book Of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Another cheat.  I have actually read the first volume of this, The Shadow Of The Torturer, and it deserves another read, in concert with its companions.

5. November 1916 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I will forgo the dubious pleasures of reading Proust.  If I have to read a book of over 1000 pages in which nothing actually happens, I would prefer it to be this one which would help me understand the twilight of the Christian Empire and the Russian Revolution.

6. Blindness by Jose Saramago

Portuguese is a language to get drunk on.  I believe there is some sort of Celtic substrate obtaining in Portuguese that isn’t so apparent in Castilian that accounts for the sheer enchantment of this language.  Having puzzled my way through Os Fidalgos da Casa Mourisca by Júlio Dinis, and enjoying it thoroughly, maybe I could tackle it in the original.

7. 2666 – by Roberto Bolaños

Yet another suggestion from my son.  Bolaños is everything a South American writer should be; subversive, transgressive, political, tongue-in-cheek, and  eclectic in his epistemology.  This is his magnum opus.  It also about the deeply disturbing ongoing holocaust of young women in Ciudad Juarez, an incident that draws several modern fault lines together; feminism, oligarchic capitalism, Free Trade, machismo vs marianismo.

8. The Fourth Ecumenical Council – All of the literature leading up to and culminating in it; the Letter of St Cyril to John of Antioch, the Condemnation of Dioscorus, the Acts of the Council, The Tome of St. Leo.   The Chalcedonian Definition answers more questions than we have yet put to it.

9.  English People – by Owen Barfield
10. Poetic Diction – by Owen Barfield
11. Saving The Appearances – by Owen Barfield

I am ashamed to say I haven’t read that  much Barfield.  His books are not available in libraries that are accessible to me, and I have little money with which to purchase them.  I so badly need to find out just what he is saying.

12. The Magic Mountain – by Thomas Mann

The period between 1912 and 1925 has a particular fascination for me.  maybe this is the reason I enjoy Boardwalk Empire  so much on HBO.  The Great War of 1914-1918 as the beginning of the Great European Self-Immolation and the period of deep disillusionment immediately following are approaching their centenaries, so even more urgent to understand this period of intellectual history.

13. Rumi

The few tastes I have had hitherto have only awakened my appetite for this world-class poet.

14. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

Indianapolis moves from agrarian polis to outpost of Empire.

15. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

I love Southern literature, and I’ve read Walker Percy, Flannery O’ Connor, and Robert Penn Warren.  I need at least one Faulkner.  I’m told this is the one.

16. Jurgen by James Branch Cabell

I don’t want to read the entire  Biography of Manuel, but somewhere in my future I hope there is a wood-fire-warmed, stuffy, bookcase-lined room with great bay windows overlooking a snowy street where I can devour this book.   I’ve read about 1/4 of it already.

17. A Critique Of Pure Reason along with “What Is The Enlightenment?” by Immanuel Kant

I need to be awakened from my dogmatic slumbers.

18. Personal Knowledge and
19. The Tacit Dimension by Michael Polanyi

After invoking Polanyi for 12 years to buttress my arguments on the Internet, it’s high time I actually read something by him.

Anubis_standing20. Russia’s Crimean War by John Shelton Curtiss

The struggle between the Revolution and the Reaction is fascinating to me.   The Crimean War was Phase Two as Napoleon’s nephew embroiled France and Britain in an international imbroglio over the Holy Places in the Middle East.

21.  The parts of the Bible I haven’t read yet.

When I became Orthodox, my Bible got bigger.  I haven’t kept up with it.  I need to read Ecclesiasticus,  2nd, 3rd, and 4th Maccabees, Judit, Tobit, 2nd 3rd and 4th Esdras, the additions to Esther, Daniel, and the Prayer Of Manasseh

22. Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Sigh, the world I am leaving to my children…  I figure if I read this,maybe I won’t  have to read anything by David Foster Wallace, who probably says the exact same thing, just in a far less entertaining way.  Anyway, any woman who admits that if you live by the Wonderbra, you will die by the Wonderbra deserves  a little of my attention.

23. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I have heard that this novel contains the DNA of the United States of America in all of its batshit-crazy, Manichean glory.  I hope this is true. I have also heard that it is, if not unreadable, at least unfinishable.  I hope this is not true.

24. The Long Day Wanes – by Anthony Burgess

I loved Clockwork OrangeHoney For The BearsThe Wanting Seed, and Earthly Powers.  If I have to give too much attention to any one writer, it may as well be Burgess.

25. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

The literary legacy of Charles Williams lept forward 40 years and settled in John Crowley and Tim Powers.

stgaudensFebruary 15, 2013 is an important date in our household because it is my wife’s sixtieth birthday.  I have already blown past sixty and I find sixty-one to be far more amenable than sixty, which for some reason bothered me far worse than fifty, forty, or thirty.

February 15 is also the 100th anniversary of the New York Armory Show, the first exposure Americans were given to the artistic innovations and blasphemies that had been percolating in Europe for some time.  Apart from displaying American artists such as James Whistler and Edward Hopper, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors also subjected sensitive American sensibilities to the Cubist visions of Marcel Duchamps, Pablo Picasso, and Jacques Villon, as well as undecipherably non-representational abstractions such as those of Wassily Kandinsky.

Now, I learned about the New York armory show from Francis Schaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live?  Now, I know it isn’t cool for the cool Christian intellectuals to acknowledge any sort of debt to Francis Schaeffer and his reactionary cultural analysis, especially after the hatchet job done on him by his son, but I find his evaluation of the 1913 Armory Show spot-on.   The world was different after 1913 than it was before.  Sometimes time turns a corner and you can’t go back to the way things were.  The Armory Show marked the moment when the Marginal became the Mainstream, the Transgressor became the Canon-setter, and Western art embarked on its self-evidently futile quest of finding one yet more convention to violate.  That awful harridan Madonna said something similar when she stated that she couldn’t perform properly without visualizing some sexually uptight [like me] person disapproving of her show.

It is easy to fall in with Dr. Schaeffer’s analysis of the Armory Show and its exhibitors until you look at some of the actual art exhibited there.  It is breathtakingly beautiful.  This beauty makes it hard for me to dismiss modern art in the way a conservative Calvinist friend did after viewing an exhibition of 20th Century art: “It’s all autonomous man all in your face like THIS!! [sticking his hairy presuppositionalist face with its luxuriant Warfieldian beard within inches of mine]”   Well, duh.  You say that like that’s a bad thing.

A little later in the year [May 29] will arrive the Centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring.  This had an impact on its viewers even more marked than that of the Armory Show on its patrons. They rioted and tore up the theatre.  Can you imagine people these days rioting about art?   Well, I can easily see why.

  On YouTube I found and watched  the Joffrey Ballet’s performance of the ballet, with the restored choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky and the disturbing costumes designed by Nicholas Roerich.  It made me wish I were 30 years younger and could rut like a reindeer.  100 years later and this is still as sexually charged a work of art as I have ever seen.

OSCARS-BEST PICTUREAnother centenary last year passed me by.  April 15, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  Despite what you think of James Cameron’s blockbuster romance based on this disaster, one scene in it struck me as particularly iconic.  It is, of course, the shot of Rose and Jack at the prow of the ship, with Rose’s arms extended cruciform and Jack embracing her waist, flying into the setting sun with the wind in their hair.  ‘Yeah, there’s 20th century man for you, I thought,   ‘Beautiful as an angel, dumb as a stump, trusting blindly in your machines and heading straight for an iceberg.’

The rooster always crows three times.  The survivors of the Titanic, the viewers of the Armory Show, and the rioters at the Ballet Russe had one final outrage awaiting for them the next year, a Centenary which is bearing down on us and demanding our contemplation; the Cotillion of Mars, the self-mastication of Europe, the outbreak of the Great War.

It cost the Great War to begin the breakdown of the epistemological hubris of Europe, which price we are still paying, with interest.