Question Time & Biblio Files
Angie asked me for my favourite author:
Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote is my favourite work of fiction. The book is a witty portrayal of a mentally-ill man who has read too many books about knights and chivalry, and thinks he is a knight-errant. With his sidekick, Sancho Panza, Don Quixote embarks upon a series of adventures, most of which result in physical injury to himself and cause him to become known as the Knight of the Ill-favoured Face. Despite suffering violence, Don Quixote struggles on, undeterred, in the false belief that he is wooing an imaginary damsel in distress whom he is destined to rescue and whose kingdom he shall inherit.
Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History is my favourite work of nonfiction. Upon reading this book I was able to view present events in the context of thousands of years of progressions and declines of civilisations. This is one of the most important books that I have ever read.
So, to answer your question Angie: for fun, Miguel de Cervantes is my favourite author; for study and knowledge content, Toynbee takes the top spot. Prior to discovering Cervantes, George Orwell was my favourite author.
Many blog readers have asked me to describe the books I have most recently enjoyed. I checked out Great Russian Short Stories from the prison library because I saw that it included Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor. This story contained powerful prose but I obtained more pleasure from Nicholas Gogol’s The Cloak, which made me laugh a lot.
In another library book The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces (sixth edition, volume two) I discovered an author who I admire both for his ability and his political philosophy. I’m referring to one of the geniuses from the Enlightenment era: Francois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire. I read Candide,or Optimism, a comedy about human nature in which the characters are raped, cut to pieces, hanged, stabbed, mutilated and seemingly murdered, only to resurface at more opportune moments. Voltaire ridicules certain philosophical beliefs by juxtaposing them with historical reality.
The Norton Anthology also contains Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which I enjoyed. . Kafka’s story starts with Gregor who wakes up one day at his family's home and discovers that he has become a beetle who can listen to his family but not make himself understood. I was fascinated by Kafka’s dreamy style. Gregor’s sister, at first, feeds and cares for him. His father chases Gregor back into his bedroom for being an eyesore. At the end, Gregor’s death is warmly wished for by the entire family. I was moved when he died.
My fifth and sixth fiction selections both come from the same author: George Orwell, Animal Farm and 1984. I’ll come back to George shortly.
A book that I consider almost as important as Toynbee’s is Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
I enjoyed reading William Steinhoff’s George Orwell and the Origins of 1984, which contained this Orwellian quote:
"Political thought is a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of facts hardly matters.”
In accordance with one of my New Year’s resolutions, I have recently read four books about criminal justice.
I was moved by two disturbing books written by Jewish political prisoners. Jacobo Timberman’s Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number describes his stay in an Argentinian prison where he was subjected to electro-shock torture amongst other things. Primo Levi’s book Survival in Auschwitz reeks of death. Mr. Levi somehow survived the torture, slave labour, prolonged nudity, diseases, and managed not to be selected for the gas chamber where the majority of his fellow prisoners ended up. Timberman’s book, describes events occurring in Argentina decades after World War II. He points out that some of the Argentinian right wing extremists idolised Hitler, and that such forces are always fermenting below the surface waiting for opportune moments to rise up.
Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation explores the creative works of Western society from the fall of the Roman Empire to the twentieth century. The book covers works of genius in architecture, sculpture and painting, philosophy, music and literature. I expected Ken’s style to be stuffy, but a keen sense of humour shines through his prose. The book expanded my knowledge of arts about which I know little
I recently wrote about Proust and F. Scott Fitzgerald (see Literary Growing Pains) and perhaps my phraseology led some readers to believe that I am seeking to emulate their styles. I didn’t mean to mislead people. I can only ever dream of aspiring to such skill levels.
Regarding my New Year’s resolutions (see blog), I have thus far lopsided my reading in 2005 in the area of criminal justice. I will now try and focus on the other areas to achieve a better balance. I appreciate all of the books that readers have generously sent to the prison. On my shelf currently sit books written by Goethe, J.S.Mill, Freud, Brzezinski, Apuleius, and one called Suicide Girls.
Appreciatively yours, Jon.