In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruellest month.” In this sixteen-page poem, Eliot hits home this year when he writes,
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road…
If there were water we would stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think
Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand
If there were only water amongst the rock…
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain…
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
Although The Waste Land contains a few foreign phrases and some uncomfortable images and incomprehensible passages, words of meaning and truth pierce the stanzas and give us pause.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans, is not an easy read. But I urge you to pick it up and at least look at Walker Evans’s classic candid photos of Alabama sharecroppers who featured in his and Agee’s summer of 1936. If you decide to continue reading the book, skip the preface, and jump right into page seventeen. The book is shelved under “A” in U.S. History.
Ulysses. Famed for its “stream of consciousness” style and for its impenetrability, as well as for being banned as “obscene,” James Joyce’s masterpiece is still celebrated annually at pubs on June 16, Bloomsday, when Molly’s monologue is read aloud. So if, as I, you have never read Ulysses, pick Molly Bloom’s monologue, the last fifty pages of the book, and raise a glass to her.
And then there is Marcel Proust. If you have dipped a madeleine cake in your tea, you have tasted Proust. The madeleine and his mother’s love are referred to frequently in literature. But how often have we gone to the source? Which is an eight-volume novel, Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time), beginning with Swann’s Way. We find the madeleine and his need for love: “My sole consolation, when I went upstairs for the night, was that Mama would come kiss me once I was in bed. But this goodnight lasted so short a time…that the moment when I heard her coming up…was for me a painful moment” (p. 13). Now it is for you to seek out, on page 45 of the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Swann’s Way, the story of the tea and the madeleine. No need to read the remaining seven volumes. Bonne chance!
My greatest embarrassment is never to have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly. Fragments of the story pop up so often that Tom, Eliza, little Eva, and Simon Legree are as familiar as any other fictional characters.
Now I’m going to stick my neck out and tilt with windmills. Never did I expect to read The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. But after reading the first paragraph, I am intrigued. It is humorous! It is full of small details. And of the character himself, “So great was his curiosity…that he even sold many acres of tillable land in order to be able to buy and read the books that he loved, and he would carry home with him as many of them as he could obtain.” What’s not to love about this guy?
Calypso, Circe, Cyclops, Charybdis and Scylla, the Sirens. All met by our hero, the resourceful Odysseus, as he wanders homeward to Ithaca and faithful Penelope at the end of the Trojan War. Richard Lattimore’s sterling translation of The Odyssey of Homer is available on the third floor of our Library under Poetry Collections.
If you haven’t guessed, these classics and many more are on the shelves in our library, just waiting for you or me to pick them up and check them out.
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