Showing posts from 2014

Confessions of a Literary Snob in Recovery

Prior to my exposure to crime fiction novels or (if you prefer) suspense, thrillers, murder mysteries, burglar books (I love alliteration), my choice of reading material might've conformed to what Jeeves referred to as 'improving books'. Independent of the college curriculum, I gravitated toward the staples of higher learning. My literary nourishment focused on the published ideas of the great philosophers, the verse of the famous poets, and the prose of the classic novelists. If I wasn't scrambling to read everything from Socrates to Sartre, I was immersed in the epic tales of Homer, the tragedies and sonnets of Shakespeare, even sprinklings of William Blake and James Joyce when no one was looking. And if those masters weren't keeping me up nights, it was the 19th to early 20th century fiction (and diction) of Dickens, Stevenson, Wells, and Twain.
Of course even the most prudish palate occasionally indulges in a hot dog and a bag of chips. I read a number of Doyle&…

The Problem of Pain, How Human Suffering Raises Almost Intolerable Intellectual Problems, by C. S. Lewis (published 1940)

As I've mentioned elsewhere, many years ago I was a self-professed atheist. Yet I considered myself open to opposing views. It was in this spirit of open mindedness I accepted a short work a friend and mentor loaned me called Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Directed to skeptics who seek intellectual reasons for faith, it forced me to question my disbelief. It would be another decade before I squashed my pride, confronted its truth, and converted. (Guess I wasn't so open minded after all.) But that's another story that deals more with the heart than with the head.
I'm convinced that Lewis' conversion from atheism to Christianity contributed to his insight and argumentative powers. Such converts, whether it's the great economist Thomas Sowell (having first been a Marxist before embracing capitalism), tend to speak and write with more authority than those who carry the same political or religious views from cradle to coffin.
I'm not suggesting converts ipso …

Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller

We've all known our share of walking rain clouds. Happily for me, those relations never lasted. Sure, I'll be the first to acknowledge the world is full of cruelty and corruption, but I'd rather celebrate the good than bemoan the bad. To fixate on the tragic, or worse, to claim only the brutal and the vulgar constitute all there is to life, is not only shortsighted but makes for a grim personality, not to mention a depressing read.
First published in Paris in 1934 and subsequently banned in the U.S. until 1961, Tropic of Cancer charts Miller's experiences among the French bohemians during the early '30s. Full disclosure, I served in the U.S. NAVY. I've seen it all. Hell, I've done more than I'd confess to in mixed company. Still, Miller's attitudes and indulgences easily exceed my humble excesses. Such lapses in judgment were the stage dressings of my experience, not the main attraction. For Miller, it's the other way round. His chronicling of co…

The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I tried to immerse myself in this tome of pseudo lore after reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time nearly thirty years ago. Fantasy fiction was my genre of choice back then. Still, I couldn't do it. Middle-earth's creation story, which kicks off the book, felt as dry as a Texas summer drought, and by chapter two my thoughts had wandered off to swimming holes and cold beers. I set the book aside for stories featuring plots and protagonists, intending to one day return to this unfinished, posthumous, literary geekfest when my constitution could endure the myriad cameos and daunting pronunciations of foreign place names.
Years elapsed. In the interim, I was exposed to the likes of Twain, Nabokov, Steinbeck, Greene, and Davies. Over time, my concerns shifted; I developed an appreciation for style. Craft superseded genre. Plot was reduced to its essential ingredient, like flour or stock, but no longer the dish's draw. In short, what happened in a story became …

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

Books written in the elevated prose of 19th century English literature have a certain charm. If you can get past the tuberculosis, syphilis, dysentery, kissing (and marrying) cousins, the writing, with its somewhat stilted syntax, has a certain seductive quality. Its graceful grammar, even the vocabulary, appeals to me in ways I can't really define or defend.
Partially due to my age, partially due to my love of language, I have a tendency to sound like a stuffed shirt when I should don the prose equivalent of the casual pullover. I'm inclined to receive when I should get, speak instead of talk. In casual conversation, I still distinguish can (what is possible) from may (what is allowed). And don't get me started on will and shall. Incidentally, this might explain, in part anyway, why I love reading Wodehouse and watching British comedies. Or maybe it's the other way round; spoiled on the stirring elocution of poets, I dread the brute with the bullhorn.
For whatever reas…