Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Notes before finally blacking out

I have just finished re-reading Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness. It's probably the third time I've read it, with a thirty year gap between the last two readings. It's a book that's stayed with me, that I've always thought of as a great book. But reading it again I have changed my judgment. Now I consider it to be an extraordinary novel, was weeping as I finished it.

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I got to thinking about what were my favourite novels, written during my life, or, at least, the part of it where I could consider myself to have some semblance of critical taste. Say from 1950 onwards. The list I came up with:

The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula LeGuin
The Thief's Journal – Jean Genet
City of Night – John Rechy
The Miracle of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
The Naked Lunch – William S. Burroughs
Dhalgren – Samuel Delany
The Shockwave Rider – John Brunner

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What to make of it? First, that it's obvious I haven't done all that much keeping up with fiction over the intervening years; it's pretty much a sixties list. Then that seven are male, but that inequality is also a sixties thing. Five of the writers are homosexual, six if you count Burroughs. Four of the books are science fiction; if you change that term to speculative fiction, which I prefer, then six fall into the category.

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If I move away from the specific & into bodies of work, that is, favourite writers, then added to the above - & probably removing Rechy from the list since I consider him to be a one-book wonder, but such a book that I forgive him everything since - would be Borges, Donleavy, Ballard, Kerouac, Brautigan, Pynchon, Maxine Hong Kingston, Grass, Böll, William Gibson, Robbe-Grillet, Duras, Beckett, Trocchi, Eastlake, Vonnegut, de Mandiargues, Bowles, Dürrenmatt, Zelazny. Again, such sexual inequality.

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What does it say about me? & what, further, if I admit that none of the books listed above would make it to my strictly rationed desert island bunker. That list would probably be:

The Collected Short Stories – J.G. Ballard
The New American Poetry – (ed) Donald M. Allen
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas S. Kuhn
The Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman &/or
The Collected Poems – William Carlos Williams
A Personal Anthology – Jorge Luis Borges
The Complete Nevèrÿon – Samuel Delany (cheating here; 4 books in 1)
The Ascent of Man – Jakob Bronowski
The Portable Magritte

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All those Thes.
 

2 comments:

Michael Parker said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I have never heard the novel The Left Hand of Darkness. I'm going to have to pick it up and read it as soon as possible. I love The Ascent of Man, by James Bronowski.

richard lopez said...

Mark:

it is interesting that we have a shared interest in several of the writers on yr list. tho, I've not read fiction in quite a while, Dick, Borges and especially Jean Genet's _Thief's Journal_ were absolutely critical in my reading when I was a very young man coming out of a major episode of mental illness that had left me nearly incapicated for roughly a year. I also went thru a period of reading sci-fi, but my faves were the pulp novels of horror writers, such as Lovecraft and Clive Barker. reading Lovecraft lead me into poetry, tho I can't say how it did, only that the gothic fictions opened a path I've been travelling ever since.