Craft & Consumption

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A little spring reading

I recently stumbled upon Time's list of the top 100 novels (English language novels, that is, written after 1923). In an effort to continue my post-grad education, I've randomly selected two of these literary works from the library, and am in the process of reading them. Both. 

Once and only once in his career the bitter, urbane, howlingly funny satirist Evelyn Waugh screwed up all his nerve and his talent and produced a genuine literary masterpiece. Though it's saddled with a faded doily of a title,Brideshead Revisited is actually a wildly entertaining, swooningly funny-sad story about an impressionable young man, Charles Ryder, who goes to Oxford in the 1930's and falls in love with a family: the wealthy, eccentric, aristocratic Flytes, owners of a grand old country house called Brideshead. In the first half of the book the exquisite, hilariously fey Sebastian Flyte, who is Charles's classmate, teaches the young man about beauty, booze and witty conversation. In the second half every one grows up and everything goes spectacularly to smash. Told in flashbacks from the dark days of WWII, Brideshead is aglimmer with the guttering-candle glow of an elegant age that was already passing away.—L.G. ( review)

Augie comes on stage with one of literature's most famous opening lines. "I am an American, Chicago born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted." It's the "Call me Ishmael" of mid-20th-century American fiction. (For the record, Bellow was born in Canada.) Or it would be if Ishmael had been more like Tom Jones with a philosophical disposition. With this teeming book Bellow returned a Dickensian richness to the American novel. As he makes his way to a full brimming consciousness of himself, Augie careens through numberless occupations and countless mentors and exemplars, all the while enchanting us with the slapdash American music of his voice.—R.L. ( review)

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