Monday, November 18, 2013
Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts. You are free to agree or disagree with him.
One day it will come, I’m sure of it.
That masterpiece, which I will not question.
Its style will be beyond compare. Its world-view incontrovertible. I will greet it and read it and be complete.
I will never have to read another book because this book will be the summation of all books that are worth reading.
I will never have to feel abashed at gatherings where people praise books I have never heard of, and tell me that I really MUST read So-and-So.
I will never feel lost and small when unfamiliar titles are mentioned, by way of comparison, in literary articles.
I will find the book that will trump all literary discussion.
Look, I am searching.
Look, I am diligent in my search.
I have read publishers’ catalogues hopefully.
I have gone to well-lit libraries and modern bookshops and been overwhelmed by the acreage of print, the shiny covers, the making of books of which there is no end.
I have breathed dust in second-hand bookshops, fingered and fondled the pages of decay.
So often I have felt that I am near to this ultimate book.
So often I have thought that I have found it.
Hello Sir Walter Scott, I said at the age of fourteen. And then I blushed.
Hello Joseph Conrad, I said at the age of nineteen. And then I blushed.
Hello Nadine Gordimer and Honore de Balzac, I said at the age of thirty or thereabouts.
And hello Don Quixote, the nearest I have found to this perfect book; the one in which I could bury myself and ride and feel largeness of spirit.
But always the worm entered at some point and I knew I had not found perfection.
The analytical mind reasserted itself, and carped and found fault. The historical mind situated the novel in its context, and said it was all wrong.
Perhaps, I said, I should read some of those one-off masterpieces. Would the perfect book be Le Grand Meaulnes? Would it be The Last of the Just? Would it be Metamorphosis?
Close, but no apple in the back.
Was it a gender thing?
Was I reading too many men and not enough women?
Was I too Eurocentric?
Would I find perfection if I read translations of Chinese or African authors?
I stared at the spines and fading dust-jackets of the unread books on my own shelves.
Every so often I read one.
I looked to the new and just published.
I looked to the old and esteemed.
Surely I will find it soon.
Surely, just one more book, just one more title.
It must be out there, that masterpiece. Let me just go back and try again that one I tossed aside years ago.
Let me follow one of those dinner party suggestions.
You must be there, little book that ends my quest.
Let me try that out-of-the-way one
One more hit. One more injection.
I must read and read.
It is out there.
It is mocking me.
Where is it?