Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The great books, as I remember them

Apparently I have a giant memory. Humungous. My pinkly pulsating cerebral organ is so powerful that it puts all other brains to shame. Sure, I may make a few mistakes - I might say 'Hi Frank' to a person whose name really is Joe, or is it Fred - but these mistakes are nugatory. They are perfunctory. They are hugely inconsequential, or, to put it another way, they matter not. Such are my cerebral powers that even when I don't seem to remember a person's name, that is merely because that person themselves have forgotten their name. Or perhaps it is because I remember so much that I not only remember what that person's name is, but what that name might be as well. Or perhaps I have simply remembered to forget.

Anyway, the literature of the centuries is nothing to me and my fearsome mnemonic powers. The merest detail about a character's facial expressions is all stored in my memory, alongside the great overarching facts such as plot, climax, scene setting, and so forth. Observe! I shall set forth, on this page, as evidence of my brilliant brain, details of many of the great books in the literary canon.

I present: The Great Books, as I Remember Them.

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
This is the story of Pippi Longstocking, who is raised in the English countryside by her cousin, Flo Gargery, a kindly dentist. At first it looks like Pippi will follow Flo and become a dentist herself, but Chris Havisham, an old and wealthy bachelor, has other ideas, and in a climactic scene the Gargery dentures are burnt and Pippi goes off to London. There, she falls in with Michael Jaggers, a lawyer who dreams of earning his fortune as a famous international rock sculptor; and Mr Wemmick, who lives with his kindly parent, Aged Q. A book that has been loved by many generations of readers.

Crime and War and Peace, Fyodor Dostoevsky
When the main character of Crime and War and Peace, Raskolnikov, is killed by his kindly old landlady, Madame Bovary, in the first chapter, things look grim. And they only get worse after that. This is an important late-romantic work by Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Pride and Punishment, Jane Austen
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a wife must be in want of a fortune." With these famous first words, Austen opens her witty novel about the life of Elizabeth II, Queen of the Bennets, and her struggle to choose between two suitors, Darcy Fitzroy, and Sir Walter Scott, of the Raleghs.
Pride and Punishment is number 2016 in Mr Grub Fotheringham's 5001 books you might like to read.

Love in a Cold Comfort Climate, Stella Mitford
Stella Mitford was by far the least known of the Mitford sisters (Emily Barret-Mitford, with her novel Wuthering Bottoms, is far better known.) But with her first novel, Love in a Cold Comfort Climate, she earned a lasting place in history. It concerns Pollyanna Post, the daughter of rich parents, who is forced through circumstances beyond the control of whoever is responsible for such circumstances, to go and live in Cold Comfort Climate, actually a farm owned by her distant relatives. Here, the plot ends, if not the novel (that goes on for another 100 pages.)

In Rememberance of Things Past, Marcel Proust
I actually can't remember what this one's about, sorry.

Lucky Jim, Martin Amis
Lucky Jim is the story of Arthur Phillip Dent, an innocent schoolgirl at St Trinians who longs after something more. When the earth is attacked by the Martians, Arthur is rescued by the four horsemen of the apocalypse in a Corvette. They then drive down the river Mississippi in search of freedom and a mythical city of gold known as The Big Sleep. A curious tale told with great relish by Martin Amis, son of famous older novelist Kingston Amis.

The Wasps, Archimedes
A book of geometric theorems - not actually fun to read, but they remain useful in school even today.

Grimm Stories, John Donne
Folk stories collected by a master poet, including the famous 'The Three Billy Goats Grim' and 'The Story of the Three Bears and Bluebeard', as well as less known stories such as 'Goldilocks' Castle', 'Jack and the Magical Seven League Red Dancing Shoes', 'Honest Hansel and Clever Gretel', 'East of the Goose Girl and West of Rumplestiltskin'. This book makes easy and pleasurable reading for all people aged 1 or below, or 99 and above.

Midsummer Night's Children, Salman Rushdie
This classic Shakespearean comedy, written by Rushdie, is set in the jungles of India during the time of independence. Oberon Waugh is set to wed Titani, but matters go awry when Puck, Goodfellow, Bottom, and Mahatma Gandhi rush on to the scene. Meantime, things are brought to a head when Tybalt slays his nemesis, Romeo, before the magician Prospero resolves all difficulties in his famous speech 'we are such dreams as stuff are made on'.

The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
I can't be sure of all the details of this one. It concerns D'Artagnan, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and one other Musketeer whose name escapes me at the moment, whose purpose in life is to rescue Louis the XIV, XV, XVI, or some other number, from being beheaded by Madame Defarge. However, they are distracted from their task when Captain Ahab kidnaps Marie Antoinette, or Marie Antoinette kidnaps Captain Ahab, I'm not sure which. This ripping, if ambiguously-plotted adventure story is as much a thrill to read now as it was two days ago.

The Most Lamentable Tragedy of Arthur, Crown Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare
Another brilliant tragedy by Shakespeare, whose masterstroke was to set Denmark in the middle ages in England, in the dark ages. This work was so powerful that it changed the course of literary history even before it was written.

Bridget Jones Diary of the Plague Year, Helen Defoe
A classic historical account of the black plague in 17th century England, from a 20th century 30-something woman looking for love, who just happened to be there at the time, except in person.

Alice, The Betrothed, in the Heart of Midlothian's Mysterious Udolpho, and Vathek of Otranto, have a Christmas with Carol in a Midwinter's Wonderland Tale (with Jolly Old St Nicholas Nickleby), by Charles Scott-Burns Radcliffe
I haven't actually read this one, but I assume the author put all the plot into the title, and the rest is just padding.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, by Bram Stoker
In this chilling horror tale, Victor Frankenstein contrives to resurrect Count Dracula from the grave of Mary Shelley, or possibly Mary Shelley contrives to resurrect Victor Frankenstein from the grave of Count Dracula, or possibly Count Dracula contrives to raise Mary Shelley from the grave of Victor Frankenstein, or maybe it's just Mary Shelley contriving to raise Mary Shelley from the grave of Mary Shelley. Actually, I'm a little hazy on all these details, but rest assured it all ends happily never after, in the manner of all bad folk tales. The end.


Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

I may as well put this on record: You Are Bloody Clever. This is besides the prodigious memory thing.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Can someone else please leave a comment? I'm feeling a bit conspicuous here.

TimT said...

Maybe they're trying to be conspicuous in their absence.

I shall commence the deconspiculating... now.

Ampersand Duck said...

I've been busy, but I'm taking the time to make you feel more comfortable, Baron.

This is blurry marvellous.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Thanks, Duck. You're a brick.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I am here via Duckie, also cracking up.

lucy tartan said...

I have never been so astounded.

But, but, no Great Australian Books?

LOL at the Alice one.

TimT said...

Thanks all. In retrospect I probably should have put in a few more Australian books, nothing leapt out at me at the time I was writing it. I think I was looking for books with the sort of universal recognition factor that Austen and Dickens have.

Australian books... let's see - Seven Little North Melbournians? The Magic Dessert-Bowl? Xavier Herbert's Cornucopia? Helen Garner's The First Pebble? A D Pope's Duncaniad?

Ampersand Duck said...

Seven little Austrians? Very topical, at the moment.

Paco said...

Hmmmm. I guess your memory is better than mine, Tim. I seem to remember them all a little differently. I'm just getting old and forgetful, I supoose.

Maria said...

A Town Like Alice Springs
The Tragic Pudding
Seven Little Ostriches - a poignant political commentary

TimT said...

Oh, and Patrick White's Riders in the Harriet.

phil said...

7 Little Austrians? Who comes after Hayek and von Mises?

Please do Lord of the Rings.

Helen said...

Oh please, you have to do a followup post with the Australian Lit.

sue said...


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