Wednesday, December 31, 2003

I frequently hate book covers. Consider, for example, the picture for the most recent reprinting of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.

I just finished this book (fortunately, with a more sedate cover--the sepia one, with faded pictures of new orleans behind the central stripe), because it was a condition for my getting an apfelküchen recipe. R-- said she'd give me the recipe if I agreed to read the book. (I'll let you know if I like the cake; I have no baking apples at present, to essay it yet). I'd heard both Toole's name and the title, which knowledge I attribute to the fact that it is a Pulitzer-winning book. R-- refused to describe it to me, though. For one thing, she was laughing to hard at the memory of her reading of it; for another, she said any description she tried to offer wouldn't do it justice.

Now, i don't think that the book is as stunning as R--, or as the Pulitzer committee for 1981, thought it to be. (I'd recommend some Rabelais, instead: perhaps Gargantua & Pantagruel.) All of which is not to suggest that i didn't like the book; I did. I even laughed out loud once or twice. The laughs for me, though, came not from events or descriptions, so much as the occasional turn of phrase that amused me. I sincerely doubt that i'd find it all quite so funny, were I to reread it, certain parodic elements (e.g. Dorian Greene, the professor) excepted.

I also object to the cover that is principally sepia: you see, immediately under the title, the book is described as "the marvelous [sic; silly americans & their crazy spellings], madcap adventures" of Ignatius Reilly. The adventures, you see are not marvellous. Nor are they madcap. The weakly Menippean satire that characterizes the book does not lend itself to the marvellous or to the madcap.

So. Read, & laugh. If you like it, try Rabelais. Better yet... try Lawrence Sterne's Tristam Shandy. hm. I feel a list of recommendations coming on:
  1. Stephen Leacock, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

  2. Thomas McCulloch, The Letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure (excerpts)

  3. Thomas Chandler Haliburton, The Clockmaker

  4. Voltaire, Candide

  5. Aldous Huxley, Point counterpoint

I may add to this list, but don't count your chickens.

There. You have a list. Go forth, reading always, remembering that "to read makes our speaking English good..."