September 01, 2010

Science Fiction-Free September VI, VII - oh, I've lost count

Every September for the last several years, I've self-imposed a moratorium on reading science fiction, my preferred genre for reading. This was originally a way to devote a month to reading literature that is somewhat different from my standard fare.

In recent years, it seems that I've gotten most of my content from podcasts rather than dead-tree books, so in a sense every month has effectively been science fiction-free, in the sense that it's been entirely reading-free. I'm glad that since the beginning of this year that has begun to change: I've been intensely reading Isaac Asimov and Victor Hugo, for example. And I'm about due for my triannual rereading of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings - so if there's ever a good time to revive SFFS, this is it.

Since I usually like to decide on a theme for the month, this year I've decided to go with "Unfinished Works" - that is, to concentrate on books that were required reading in some class, but which I never finished (and thus had to bluster my way through tests - usually successfully, if I may say so myself). The most famous required reading book that I never finished reading was The Catcher in the Rye. It is not on the list. I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole and a hazmat suit. J. D. Salinger died in January, and as far as I'm concerned his Rousseauean hippie swill can die with him. So for starters, my list will look like this:

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. In my last term of university, I took a course in late Victorian prose, specifically because I wanted to sit under Professor John North for one course before I graduated. Unfortunately, he fell ill a week into the course, which was then completed by anohter lecturer. Jane Eyre was the only book he lectured on that term. Not expecting to move on to the next work so quickly, I left the last hundred pages or so unread, and never got around to finishing. Despite Dr. North's absence, I enjoyed the remainder of the course just fine, but the pace was a little faster than I was able to keep up with, so I left a lot of stuff half-read, for instance:
  2. Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold. Finish it? Heck, I never even started it! All I know is that this work was responsible for popularizing the phrases "sweetness and light" and "Philistines." 13 years later, it's high time I got started.
  3. Unto This Last by John Ruskin. Like Jane Eyre, I read most of it but ran out of time to finish before the term ended. But I loved reading Ruskin's prose, and I actually look forward to rereading this one.

My aim is to keep up a pace of one book per week, Sunday to Saturday (plus the three-day head start I have now). If there's time left in the month after these three works, then I'll see what I can add to the list. Between courses in modern literary criticism, contemporary rhetorical theory, and philosophy, there's no shortage of abandoned literature. T. S. Eliot? Rolande Barthes? Karl Marx? The possibilities are endless.

Happy reading, all.