- My Canon and a Heresy
Well, I have pondered, and decided to submit a paragraph or two. This is because I do not have one favorite novel but, rather, a number of favorite literary works. They run the gamut of genres, styles, subject matter, and historical periods. Classical: The Iliad and The Odyssey (which I've read three times in three different translations), the Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus, and Virgil's Aeneid. Medieval: The Divine Comedy. Renaissance/Elizabethan: Henry IV, both parts. Modern (meaning from the 18th century to the present): Tom Jones, The Red and the Black, Madame Bovary, The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Lord Jim, My Antonia, The Great Gatsby, Ulysses, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Adventures of Augie March. Three contemporary novels that I'm fond of are: Lonesome Dove (McMurtry); The Human Stain (Roth), and Going After Cacciato (O'Brien). They are as recent as I care to go at the moment.
If I were forced to choose one book out of this eclectic library, I would pick Lord Jim. I first read it as a course requirement in college, and found it difficult going. I next read it after I'd served a tour in Vietnam, and was mesmerized, proving, I guess, that one's experiences deeply affect one's literary judgments. The novel's setting—East Asia and its seas—were familiar to me; but beyond that, was Jim's story, his youthful fantasies of heroic adventures, his moral failure when he abandons the storm-tossed ship with the rest of the crew, his later struggles to redeem himself in his own eyes. All that resonated with me because of what I had seen and done in Vietnam.
Do you mind if I include two of my least favorite novels? They are Proust's A Remembrance of Things Past and Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, the former a brain-numbing tangle of subordinate clauses, the latter an impenetrable jungle of language. Doubtless that commentary will earn me a few brickbats if you publish it, but I'm six months shy of 80 and don't really give a hoot. [End Page 29]
PHILIP CAPUTO learned his craft in the time-honored tradition: as a newspaper reporter, and later, a foreign correspondent. In 1977, he published A Rumor of War, a book he'd worked on in his spare time for nine years. With its success, he quit daily journalism to write full time. Since then, he has published 17 works of fiction and nonfiction, in addition to A Rumor of War, and written numerous articles and essays for, among others, the New York Times, Esquire, and The Atlantic, as well as for his professional alma mater, the Chicago Tribune.