- Paperback: 72 pages
- Publisher: Forgotten Books (June 29, 2012)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B008OMJ3UO
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,829,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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One Hundred Best Books, With Commentary and an Essay on Books and Reading (Classic Reprint) Paperback – June 29, 2012
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Top Customer Reviews
" ... How many luckless innocents have teased and fretted their minds into a forced appreciation of that artistic ogre Flaubert, and his laborious pursuit of his precious 'exact word,' when they might have been pleasantly sailing down Rabelais' rich stream of immortal nectar, or sweetly hugging themselves over the lovely mischievousness of Tristram Shandy! But one must be tolerant; one must make allowances. The world of books is no puritanical bourgeois-ridden democracy; it is a large free country, a great Pantagruelian Utopia, ruled by noble kings."
And to my taste, the essay on reading was much better than the list of books, although his review-length commentaries usually make his case firmly and succinctly. Powys loved "titanic" books; he was a Nietzschean. In the choice of books of his own day and age, he backed a few that haven't made it 'round the racetrack (Oliver Onions, anyone?). The book is short, thought-provoking, a little musty, perhaps, but I enjoyed my evening in the author's company.
Powys begins his list with some golden oldies, apparently in chronological order. He makes it from the Psalms of David to John Milton’s Paradise Lost in ten easy steps. He then proceeds along nationalistic lines, tearing through Germany (5 authors), Norway (Ibsen), Sweden (Strindberg), America (Emerson, Whitman, Edgar Lee Masters, and Theodore Dreiser), Spain (Cervantes), France (8 authors), Italy (Gabriele d’Annunzio), and Russia (5 authors). Not surprisingly, Powys reserves half of the hundred for his British countrymen, proving once again the bias inherent in such lists. Though his list contains 100 books, Powys only covers 61 authors, some of whom are represented by more than one work. 19th-century English writer Walter Pater, far from a household name these days, scores a whopping five entries on the list, while Homer only gets one for the Odyssey (to hell with the Iliad, apparently). Henry James takes the cake with six. As expected for the era, it’s all white guys, except for two ladies (Jane Austen and Emily Brontë).
I’m sure if I were to compile such a list, mine would be just as biased an uneven as Powys’s, so I wasn’t too surprised by his idiosyncratic choices. As a fan of classic literature, I hoped that Powys would turn me on to some authors and works that I had never heard of or never would have thought of reading. To that end, he has introduced me to Hermann Sudermann (“the most remarkable of modern German writers”), Russian naturalist Mikhail Artsybashev, and a handful of his “modern” English contemporaries including Gilbert Cannan, Vincent O’Sullivan, Arnold Bennett, and the picturesquely named Oliver Onions. Will I actually follow up on any of Powys’s suggestions? Probably not, except for maybe the Russian guy. The overwhelmingly British cast was a bit off-putting. Nevertheless, I’m thankful that Powys’s list wasn’t just a rehash of the usual suspects, and I did manage to glean a bit of literary education.
Roughly the final quarter of the Kindle file consists of advertisements for other books from Powys’s publisher, G. Arnold Shaw, including several books by Powys himself. Though this was not an unusual practice for the time, it leads me to suspect that Powys’s list was published as a promotional pamphlet for said publishing company. Even so, the ads comprise an interesting list in and of themselves.
If you like old books, you might enjoy browsing through Powys’s One Hundred Best Books. I won’t endorse it wholeheartedly, but it’s free and it won’t take up much of your time. Skip the introductory essay and just go right to the list.