There is a keening noise like a mosquito’s whine. You hear it from somewhere behind your left ear when you’ve just asked someone what literature they like and they’ve started to fumble, memory scanning through works they were made to read (often from high school, even for the universitied). When I am charitable, I attribute it to shyness about the books they must actually like.
Anyway, in a process almost, but not quite, entirely unlike therapy, I have worked to not be shy about my taste in reading, and to have a taste in reading not requiring shyness. Somewhere I met myself in the middle. Here, a sample of the result.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)
Are you deeply drawn to and yet ambivalent towards Haute Culture? Does the very nature of relating to other humans seem like an unsolved problem? Do you both enjoy and despise the sort of game-like abstraction found in academic fields as a sink for undirected intelligence?
Ficciones (Jorge Luis Borges)
You could write a provocative take: “Borges’ short stories cover all that is meritorious in postmodernism, and everything else is an imitation or rearticulation.” I don’t know that it’d be worth litigating, but you get the scale of the thing.
Much Ado About Nothing (William Shakespeare)
I said no curricula and I meant it. This inclusion came to my family via the 1993 filmed version with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. I came to it too young to be able to take an analytical distance. I enjoy it only as the Supreme Romantic Comedy–read, staged, filmed.
Claudine at School (Colette)
When you are a young woman with a whirring mind, you need to read good literature about the experience of it, or you will go crazy. You may still go crazy, of course (The Bell Jar is filed to the right) but it’s the only way I know to approximate informed consent for your life. The virtues of this book exist in the small, not the large–forget the plot, to be sure–focus on the way every description or aside forms (and is formed by) the title character.
My Man Jeeves (P. G. Wodehouse)
Bertie Wooster is the first among comedic idiots, and I don’t think I’ve ever found one I could enjoy as thoroughly. Any of the Jeeves books are good for a vacation from your life. Well, unless your life involves a lot of country homes and engagement-related antics. (Write me and tell me about them?)