The OF Blog: Blind Spots

Monday, May 05, 2008

Blind Spots

I've been thinking about my reading "blind spots" ever since I commented on Jeff VanderMeer's blog last week that I had only read one of Vladimir Nabokov's works, Lolita. Needless to say, he was quite surprised, considering my admiration for his contemporaries, not to mention my own liking of that one book of his that I had read.

There are other such "blind spots" I have. While I am relatively well-read in Latin American literature, I still am woefully under-read in Spain's El siglo del oro era of poetry, theatre, and novels. Outside of Thomas Mann and Goethe and a tiny bit of Schiller, I barely have read anything written by German authors. Same holds true for many Japanese, Chinese, or African writers.

For spec fic works, it's much the same. Although my bare reading of Asimov and Heinlein is due to not caring for the samples of their work I've read (Asimov's "Nightfall" and Heinlein's A Stranger in a Strange Land), there are a great number of SF writers that I haven't read or have given only a cursory glance at before moving on. I have barely read any of the Hugo or Nebula winners from the 1950s-1980s, for example. I still haven't read any of Steph Swainston's work in full, despite liking what I read in excerpts. And so it goes, on and on.

But I'm curious: What are your recognized literary "blind spots?"


Liviu said...

This is an interesting post but there is so much literature out there that is hard to know where to start:

in genre: I avoid most high fantasy pre GRRM and definitely anything with elves, orcs and farm boys destined for greatness so no Tolkien/clones, Jordan, Feist... and almost all urban paranormal, so no Gaiman, Butcher...
I also avoid most cyberpunk and near-future novels, so no W. Gibson, Sterling...

I also rarely read mysteries or thrillers - though I like some historical mysteries or sf ones

In literature, I am reasonably read in Russian and French classics (all or almost all Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Balzac, Mauriac, Camus, Malraux, Hugo, Dumas, and various others), some English classics too - I detest Dickens, but read a lot of Hardy, Galsworthy, E. Waugh and others

In German literature, I've read Thomas Mann - maybe not all but a lot and Dr. Faustus is still my favorite by far and I love EM Remarque since he has done the literature of exile and uncertainty the best. Also a more obscure German author that I love is Gregor Von Rezzori

I've read some Middle East authors - A. Maalouf is one of my favorites - and a lot of S. American ones, but not African ones.

I've read some contemporary American literature like P. Roth, J. Updike, S. Bellow, R. Davies (Canadian) and enjoyed it at least to some extent as well as some classics like Dreiser, S. Lewis, Steinbeck, but I have never read African-American work like T. Morrison and similar.

There are 4 major authors that I own pretty much all their translated books, read some and I want to read all - Nabokov - read about 6 or 7 novels, but still have not read Pale Fire and Ada, Tanizaki - my favorite Japanese author, Mishima - I've read the most of all 3 Japanese here including the brilliant tetralogy that ended his life upon completion - and Kawabata

Of course I've read a lot of other European classics, Italian, Spanish, Nordic, Polish, Czech, Hungarian..., and tons of my own native authors - Romanian - though sadly few are translated. Most notably there is the journal of Mihail Sebastian which is referred a lot in the recent brilliant N. Baker book Human Smoke , and the fantastic works of the famous historian of religion Mircea Eliade - his fantastic ss and several short novels are excellent, while his main novel Forbidden Forrest is one of my all time favorite books - I have read it in 3 languages Romanian, French and English and own it in the first 2 - sadly the English translation is too expensive

Lsrry said...

I don't know how available these books would be over there, but I cannot resist the temptation of suggesting Southern (American) Lit - Thomas Wolfe (NOT Tom Wolfe), Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor - as well as African-American authors like Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Edward P. Jones, among others. Thomas Wolfe in particular is one of my favorite 20th century authors and the eponymous section of his You Can't Go Home Again hit me like an F-5 when I re-read it after moving back to my native TN five years ago.

Those are some really good books you named, plus you reminded me of a few more I have been meaning to sample; Waugh being one of them.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Thomas Pynchon - Of his books the only one that I have read, oddly enough, is Vineland (I honestly don't understand the dislike for this book, I liked it). I recently picked up The Crying of Lot 49 to read (seriously why the F haven't I read this yet!?!?!) and just looking at Gravity's Rainbow scares me.

Liviu said...

Thanks for the suggestions; I live here near NYC so American literature is easy to get:), European is harder :)

I thought more, and if you get a chance Forbidden Forrest - the alternate title is Midsummer's Eve Night by M. Eliade is probably something you would enjoy. It was one of the first things I've read when I came here in the late 80's and kept reborrowing it from my University library all the years I spent doing my PhD- the book was banned in my childhood since I lived my first 21 years on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

The synopsis I found on Amazon is misleading - it's a magical book of which the main character who is in many ways an alter-ego of the author, though he is a bureaucrat rather than a writer wants to "escape history" - but as we well know even if we want to escape history, history wants us - meets many interesting and weird people, and experiences lots of dark historical moments - some local, some more international like the bombings of London where he was an attache, the Russian Front, the terrible bombings of Bucharest in early 1944, and later the coming night of Communism. In his personal life he oscillates between two women - his wife and a mysterious woman met on the night of the title whom he keeps meeting in strange places and circumstances along the years, though ultimately when it comes to choosing - well fate has a way of playing unpleasant jokes on people.

It is a long book, tracing Stephen/Stefan's life from 1938 to 1948 with remembrances about the past, and it has a lot of moments from the author's life - in many ways it is semi-autobiographical and the ending is very appropriate

Lsrry said...

Brian, I've only read 3 Pynchon novels (Gravity's Rainbow; Mason & Dixon; Against the Day), but I'd highly recommend any of those for you to read as well, especially GR.

Liviu, I guess I misinterpreted your comments into being that you still lived in Romania! Yes, those books I mentioned would be quite easy to find in NYC. And of those books you mentioned, some of those are quite tempting right now. Might buy a couple of them in used hardcover format shortly.

Anonymous said...

Oh God, I'm one big blind spot. I haven't read virtually any classic literature (with the exception of adventure stuff like The Three Musketeers). I have a dislike of Russian authors, but it's not based on anything (I do not see me reading any Dostoevky, it sounds incredibly boring; I tried Bulgakov, didn't like it). I will probably read some Angol-Saxon classics sometimes, but not very soon.

I have read little Latin-American/Spanish literature, but I do plan on at least trying some of this magical realism stuff. I was planning (wishing) to read it in Spanish, but my level is really too low to properly understand a normal book. I tried Cronica de una muerte anunciada and failed miserably... (I've been more succesful with short stories, but none were very memorable.)

I am much more well read in SF&F, but I am sure I missed many of the important names. Anyway, I'm not interested in Tolkien clones either (please, keep the elves away), I don't like Gibson's style of cyberpunk, I don't like space opera or hard sf. I have recently decided to try to get my hands on more new wave writers, since it seems as this is the type of writing I like best. I like SF with themes that go beyond techonology - ethics, environment, sociology/anthropology (but I don't like LeGuin's style). I like the urban fantasy/new weird I've read so far.

There are SO many books I want to eventually read that, even if I never bought a new book again, I wouldn't have the time... It's depressing, really.

Re: Liviu's comment, Mircea Eliade is the only Romanian author I studied in school and really liked. His fantastic short stories are awesomem, but I don't know if they've been translated in English. Forbidden Forest didn't impress me that much, but I read it when I was younger so I'm sure I missed a lot of things...

Anonymous said...

Like Jen, I often feel like I'm one big blind spot. I've read far more than the average human being, but there is still far more to read than I will ever be able to get to in my lifetime. I alternately find this reason to despair and reason to rejoice: reason to despair because I will never be able to read everything worth reading, and reason to despair because I will never run out of good things to read.

You have encouraged me to seek out South American writers, for which I thank you. I hope to tackle some folks I've never heard of over the summer due to your influence.

Lsrry said...

Well, blind spots can be overcome with patience, so I'd urge both of you to keep at it. Jen, if that book is available in Spanish, I could just get that if it's not in English, since my curiosity is piqued now. Terry, hope you enjoy those authors, as part of the reason why I blog about them on occasion is to (re)introduce them for readers to consider.

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