Archive for the Top Ten Category

Regarding the Romantics

Posted in Fiction, Reading List, Recommendations, Top Ten with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2011 by jaclemens

According to Keats, “The excellence of every Art is its intensity.” To this I would add the mark of an excellent work of art is in its implicitly directing you to others of its kind. As such The Stress of Her Regard is excellent, in that it lead me, like Michael Crawford, to explore Keats, Shelley, and Byron. My second reading was therefore far better informed (from reading their letters in particular). In some respects this was unveiling the man behind the curtain, but it served to transform the fascination of a reader into the admiration of a writer. I also took some satisfaction in being able to visualize Byron’s fencing maneuvers this time, as I took an elementary fencing class shortly after my first reading. After reading “A Time to Cast Away Stones” I paid particular attention to Edward John Trelawny the second time through. The Stress of Her Regard is intense and excellent and remains one of my all-time favorites!


The Devil is in the Detail

Posted in Fiction, Non Fiction, Reading List, Top Ten with tags , , , , , on March 30, 2011 by jaclemens

In preparation for my annual springtime re-reading of my all-time favorite novel, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, I delved deeper into the details of its creation. I began with Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov, a Life in Letters and Diaries, edited by J.A.E. Curtis, who had unprecedented access to Bulgakov’s letters, his diary, and the diary of his wife, Elena Sergeevna. This presented a trove of information to be mined and I took copious notes. Here is Elena’s entry on March 1, 1938:

“It looks as though Misha has now settled for the title The Master and Margarita. There is of course no hope of getting it published. Misha is now correcting it at night and is forging ahead with it, he wants to complete it during March.”

This stood out to me for two reasons: I wanted to complete my re-reading in March, which is earlier than usual (the story takes place on an Easter weekend in May), and the fact that Bulgakov set goals for a book he had no hope of seeing published. He continued to revise the novel over the next two years, but died in March 1940 without completing his corrections. The first significantly censored version was published in 1966, with more complete editions to follow.

I own the Burgin and O’Connor translation published in 1996, which includes the enlightening annotations and afterword by Ellendea Proffer (who has also written a biography of Bulgakov). To this I have added my wonderful professor’s insights, my own notations, and now the author’s (along with his most ardent advocate’s) declarations. Each additional detail, even if it be a discrepancy, adds to the majesty of The Master and Margarita. For my next re-reading I shall have to acquire the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky published in 2001 for side-by-side comparison. My ultimate goal is to read a Russian copy that I possess.

To complete my reading I picked up Diaboliad and Other Stories, edited by Ellendea and Carl R. Proffer. I was primarily drawn to The Fatal Eggs, a science fiction escapade along the lines of H.G. Wells, but I couldn’t resist exploring the other early short fiction. Elements that would develop into full form in The Master and Margarita can be isolated, like Persikov’s red ray, in these stories inspired by Gogol (his favorite author). In this period of his career Bulgakov noted in his diary:

“As a literary figure I am making my way slowly, but I am making progress, of that I am convinced. The only problem is that I can never be clear and confident that I really have written something well.”

These early stories would have profited from keen editing, but Bulgakov was met with stinging criticism and severe censorship. The incendiary attacks drove him to despair, yet from the refiner’s fire emerged a manuscript that didn’t burn. It is the finest novel of its dreadful time, The Master and Margarita.

Directed Reading

Posted in Reading List, Top Ten with tags , , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by jaclemens

I’ve challenged myself to read 50 books in 2011 and I am one-tenth of the way to my goal. I’ve been directing my reading toward books that will provide a jolt of inspiration for Grandpa Art; in the process I’ve discovered some excellent books on the back list such as The Life of Monsieur de Molière by Mikhail Bulgakov, My Name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. My Name is Asher Lev has replaced The Historian on my top ten list!


Top Ten Books

Posted in Top Ten with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2008 by jaclemens

There are many ways to slant a top ten list, but this is my straight up Top Ten Books list (arranged alphabetically by author):

1. Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

3. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

6. On Writing by Stephen King

7. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

9. Mila 18 by Leon Uris

10. Trinity by Leon Uris

While no individual title by C.S. Lewis has cracked the list (I have yet to acquire Allegory of Love, so it may still happen), his collected works are certainly among my favorites.