• The Best Literature of All (Excepting Shakespeare)

    Here in New England, the snow piles up and the cold continues. With more snow days and inside time, I have benefitted by having more hours than usual available for reading. I have come back to reading literature after some years of focusing on non-fiction books.

    Since I have taken the opportunity to return to reading literature — for the past few years I read mostly non-fiction — I want to recognize some of the favorites in my collection. The works below appear in no certain order, and the omission of Shakespeare is only because Shakespeare is beyond favorite in my estimation.

    1. Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths. The short stories of Borges layer world upon world and make delightful difficulty of distinguishing factual knowledge from fictional.
    2. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. The most captivating narrative I have ever encountered.
    3. Philip Roth, American Pastoral. Roth’s characters neither relent nor yield. I remain blown away by the intensity of the ending.
    4. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Thoughtful, funny, and diverse, this novel awakened a philosophical disposition in 18-year-old me.
    5. Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays. Frost’s poetry lives in intimation and implication—yet he sets each poem so concretely and gorgeously.
    6. William Carlos Williams, Paterson. Poetry that creates a world rather than just describing or exploring one.
    7. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre. I love Jane’s toughness.
    8. Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time. Perhaps indulgent, the novel nevertheless tenderly accounts the interior world of a sensitive young man. I related to all of it.
    9. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. The language, the setting, the tales themselves: all continue to add up to great fun and profundity.
    10. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Amid a curious, self-sabotaging world, Huck grows up in front of us. He becomes a friend to Jim by learning to step ahead of this world; he doesn’t subscribe to the world’s stupidities, even if he cannot escape them.
    11. Jack Kerouac, On the Road. I don’t see how any young man of my generation could not have felt spoken to by this novel. I wonder if mine is the last generation that can really understand it in something like its original context.
    12. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina. A grand, sweeping novel. To read it is to understand that one is reading greatness.
    13. William Faulkner, Collected Stories. Faulkner has a mastery of giving distinct voices to characters, and of giving distinct character to places.
    14. James Joyce, Dubliners. Joyce encompasses all of modernist intellectualism, innovation, and exhaustion. Each story is a timepiece.
    15. Beowulf. A poem that has changed for me over the years. I still love its characters, episodes, and dark undercurrent.

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    Article by: Larry Tanner