I’ve hit the end of the term (crunch time? do we get free Crunch bars, because I could get behind that) and I now have to revise my Personal Canon, the list of 40 or so books that are my main influences for my thesis. Here’s how it’s breaking down at the moment, with some annotation.
- The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Let’s be honest, these are on my list for reasons of gravity (gravitas?). I needed some “older” works of weight to balance out my love of All Things Late 20th Century. But Gatsby is always a fascinating study in point-of-view (the debate rages: who is the protagonist? Is it Nick, because he’s the I, or is it Gatsby, who is (maybe) the hero?) and in storytelling in general. It was pointed out recently that you get the major settings for all major actions in the entire book within the first chapter: the house, the dock, even the car and the intersection. And Tender is the Night is a sentimental favorite, because it puts a man in an unsympathetic situation and makes him sympathetic and then pitiful. So I won’t mind re-reading either this summer.
- Middlemarch, by George Eliot, which I read for this term’s Writing and Conference. Oh, omniscience, how you puzzle me.
- Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. I’m only halfway through, and I still don’t know where I am. Switches from first to third person within the space of a single paragraph sometimes. That’s a trick to get away with.
- Plainsong and Eventide by Kent Haruf, both of which are interesting studies in multiple POV writing; they’re also just great stories.
- Still with the Chabon: The Amazong Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Wonder Boys in particular, though his newest book is sitting on my shelf and begging for attention. K&C does dual perspectives, which is cool and useful.
- Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, for its omniscience; Patchett’s Taft for its psychology; her The Magician’s Assistant for the idea of narrative payoff at the end.
- Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” and possibly the entire collection of the same name, looking at character development over a short space, and also at language.
- Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and maybe also “Good Country People,” looking at developing characters and putting them in impossible situations.
- Empire Falls by Richard Russo (multiple POV ahoy!).
- Ian McEwan: Saturday, Amsterdam, and oh, yes, Atonement.
- Carol Shields’s Unless
Those last two are mostly just there because I love the writing; their form has little to do with my project. But they are pieces I can take something new from every time I read them.
To read this summer:
- Tim O’Brien’s collection, The Things They Carried
- Jayne Anne Phillips’s Machine Dreams
- Alice Munro’s “The Love of a Good Woman” from the collection of the same name
- Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, which I’m about halfway throug
- Homestead, by Regina Lippi
And eight hundred other things, of course. But these are the highlights.