sunday salon || On to the canon, and other follies

I come to you on a break from waging a war against my bookshelves. The end goal, of course, is to realize the system I’ve had in my head since I first bought these babies—but I’ll take, for the meantime, the pleasure of seeing those lovely uncracked spines of my books. [I remember that in college, in a particularly craptastic poem, I’d once described my books as elephants lined—trunk to tail to trunk to tail.] And it pleases me, really—it tickles me like crazy—the very thought of seeing my hiccupping collection of Classics on my pristine-for-now white shelves.

I’ve always maintained, pre-blogging, that I am not a reader of Classics [awkwardness toward the Great Books, perhaps, best exemplified by how I insist on capitalizing the words, haha]. This, despite the fact that I have sworn to bring Jane Eyre to my crematorium. This, despite my having realized that Madame Bovary will forever be my spirit animal. This, despite the fact that many a listless summer, I’d dipped into my mother’s circa-1940s encyclopedias to read woefully abridged works like The House of the Seven Gables and Lorna Doone. How’d I spent another too-young summer poring over The Picture of Dorian Gray, bought for me by my mother without her batting an eyelash.

Permit me my navel-gazing, but I think that as I grew older, I formed this not-quite-mistaken view that the Classics were difficult reading, if tedious. Mostly, I think now, was that I thought then: the Classics were inaccessible—and that, well, I couldn’t be bothered.

But nothing brings one soul-cringing shame at one’s heathenhood more than the blogosphere. Long story short, exposure and interaction with readers the world over—most of them profess to loving all these dead writers and their work—brought me back to being that young girl undaunted by a piece’s reputation, its status in the canon and long-standing appearances in curricula here and there and everywhere. That girl just wanted to read, and it didn’t matter if the book was musty—or if the text was cut up in pieces for inclusion in an encyclopedia where a voyage to the moon was but a pipedream.

And this girl, now, she’s got two tall, white bookshelves, and several of those shelves house the Classics, both canon and the obscure-yet-rediscovered, both the comforting and the daunting, both the You’re-never-going-to-read-that-you-know and the Try-not-to-abuse-that-more-than-you-already-have.

There’s been Classics-related rumbling from friends in the book-blogging-biz. Last September 6, Jessica announced that The Classics Circuit—hugely responsible for my return to reading all these dead people [and instrumental to my meeting many of you good book people]—had run its course. There’s a recent [for me, given my absence] surge of Classics-reading, however, with the creation of The Classics Club, and I’m going to try so very hard this time. I need to read, you see. I really, really need to read again.

And so I plod on with my own little ambitions—to amass as much of the Classics that I want to read, which involves reading a lot of the Oxford World’s Classics [oh, that unrelenting white spine] and amassing more of NYRB Classics, too [I’ve been shy-stalking the NYRB Classics group on Goodreads, and it’s a treat]. I’ve also just recently bought Proust’s Swann’s Way—partly because of the heathenhood factor, partly because I trust Lydia Davis’ translating prowess. I’ve bought this beautiful annotated and unexpurgated edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as yet another edition of Jane Eyre. I want to read Frankenstein, too, and Dracula, and Moby-Dick. I’ve bought Anna Karenina, and one of these days, I am taking a deep breath. I want more of Sherlock Holmes. And then there’s Raymond Carver and Richard Yates—we need reunions, we do—them, and Wilfrido Nolledo and Kerima Polotan. I want more of the books people have forgotten over time but are recently rediscovering—it’s not unlike being privy to a great secret, not unlike being part of a movement. I want more dead writers in my shelves, more people-characters that have grown timeless right in my head, were they justly belong. I just want more.

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9 comments

  1. Hello! I have been a member of The Classics Club since the week of its organization, and it’s nice to find fellow Filipino bloggers signing up for it. :D

    I envy your NYRB Classics collection! I’ve recently read Stoner by John Williams (arguably the most popular in the collection). It made me want to start buying these books. And yes, I’ll be attempting Anna Karenina next month (the PV translation). Deep breaths, indeed.

  2. Oh my goodness, I have my books arranged exactly the same way as yours!

  3. Oh, that is the most beautifully organized bookcase I’ve ever seen.

  4. Your post just made me think of all the classics I have yet to read and I’m panicking because there are so many. Do I have time to read them all and still be able to keep up to date with the contemporaries? Lydia Davis’s translation of Swann’s Way is wonderful, though I must admit to having a fondness for the Moncrieff Kilmartin Enright translation. Moby Dick is one of the best books ever, read it as soon as you can or you’ll regret it!

  5. P.S. Your NYRB collection makes me drool.

  6. Want to read all those classics too. I remember having copies of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and Moby-Dick just lying in the bookshelf in my parent’s house. I’ve enjoyed Dracula and would have read Sherlock Holmes already if a colleague didn’t borrow it before I stared. And then there’s Anna Karenina, a novel I’ve been meaning to read but has not secured a copy of yet.

  7. [...] else. I was quite unambitious, and even acknowledging that in those days wasn’t a comfort. I, again, simply wanted [...]

  8. I’ve been wanting to buy a bunch of Oxford World’s Classics. They have lovely covers and great notes. But the first one I just bought has an unplesant manufacturing type smell that bothers me when I try to read it (I’m not sure if it’s the ink, paper or adhesive). Has anyone else noticed this, and if so, does it air out and go away over time?

    1. They smell very textbook-y to me, which I don’t mind. One problem I’ve seen, though, is that even though they look amazing lined up on your shelves, when you take them out, there’s so much foxing on the pages. I guess for the relatively cheap price—the content and the critical commentary, which I’m nuts for—the non-acid-free paper is something to shrug about. I’ve been branching out, though.

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