So, Jillian @jillianofjills challenged me to create my own #personalcanon. This made me think what a personal canon actually was, which made me crate the booktubevideo The one about the personal canon:
As promised in the video here are the 20 books and why they are in my personal canon (if I’ve written a review of them the title will be hyperlinked):
This is a bildungen novel, at the same time a deconstruction of the bildungen novel. The point is for Pinocchio to be a real boy, the same way the point of the bildungen novel is to show the main characters travel from child to grown up. Mixing it with Carlo’s dark humour, making the story very much a black comedy, I also enjoyed this immensely due to my dark hart (or just love of British black comedy, a genre I haven’t really seen anyone else outside UK do well. Well done Carlo, well done.)
The princess bride by William Goldman:
As much as I love the film (and William did write the screenplay for the film) the book was better. The book where William explains that he didn’t write the book, but more adapted it, is a brilliant metaphor for the way stories are translated from generation to generation. It explores how stories have to change to speak to a new audience, and how much the storyteller does impact the way a story is understood. The best way to do this is compare the original fairy tale with Disney’s much more known adaptations. After I’ve read the book I was sad they didn’t take this concept into the film, talking about how films are a new generation of story adaptations. Then again we wouldn’t have the original film, which would make me sad. Can I get both?
I’ve read this for my European reading challenge. Laza is from Serbia, and this collection turned out to be surprisingly typical for Eastern-European literature. There is something about the dark “the world is bad so there is no use crying about it” tone that just hits me in the gut. As it’s a short story collection not all stories will be equal, but being short it’s a great introduction to reading Eastern-European literature in regarding the tone and way to tell a story.
To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee:
The story of the southern lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman in the 1930s US, everyone knowing he is innocent but will be sentenced to death because he’s a black man being accused by a white family, is so known it’s probably waisted on this list (if you are a western reader). But, the scene where Finch (the lawyer) is standing outside the jail while the white mob wants to kill Tom (the black man) before his trial is over. Finch telling them that he won’t allow it, that they all know Tom will be sentenced to die because the system is rigged and that they have to face that the system is rigged, is so powerful it just has to be on the list.
Matilda by Roald Dahl:
How can you not have a book that encourages children to be anarchist on this list? (I’ve made a video about this that you can see here)
How to talk about books you haven’t read by Pierre Bayard:
This is a brilliant non-fiction book that talks about what is classical books, how do we know “the canon” the books everyone else reads, what does it mean when we admit we haven’t read it. It’s a brilliant discussion on the cultural elite and the power they have, and a must when talking about personal canon (to understand the concept of personal canon).
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller:
World War II changed the course of history in so many ways it’s almost idiotic. Any book talking about what happened during or after is a must to understand why things are the way they are today (that being said, there are a lot of books there about the topic that wouldn’t help in this regard. Yellow is a primary colour, but not all primary colours are yellow). That being said Catch-22 is also a brilliant use of the non-linear story teller. The books jumps around and it does take you a while to realise what is happening. No matter if you choose to read it as the book presents, or the many different ways argued by different sources (you can find lists where they present the chapters chronological), but just thinking about what order you want to read the book makes you think about how the order of the story can change how you read it (if you know the outcome of a dramatic event or not when reading it).
Moby Dick by Herman Melville:
A brilliant character study of Captain Ahab. He is a classical character and almost stock character for a reason. I was surprised after I’ve read the book how few have actually read it, though they know the story. You won’t regret it, even if I’ve just vented my frustration to the book in a upcoming bootube video.
So I’ve decided that heavy topics from now on are only to be handled by children’s authors. Having studied inter-faith in society I know how difficult that subject it to handle well. It’s practically impossible. But Hans does this so well, talking about losing faith, conversion, about how to handle that other people have a different faith than you. He talks about Christianity, Judaism and Atheism. It’s so, so, so wonderful done I want this to be mandatory reading for everyone.
So, to be honest, I could have just made William’s plays half of the list and call it a day. As that would have been a very boring list as the excuse would have been “It’s brilliant, read it”. So, I decided to only pick one, and therefore this one. Both because it’s my own personal favourite due to the language being the more complex (it is a comedy), but also because of the role William has in society today. William Shakespeare always advocated in his plays and sonnets to not woo women by using flowery words, but be frank and honest and direct. This play is the most direct critic of this practice. It’s so ironic that he is now the go to guy if you want to use flowery words to woo someone.
A doll’s house by Henrik Ibsen:
Ibsen is a writer you must know about if you grow up in Norway. He is also the second most produced playwright worldwide, mostly with this and Peer Gynt. It’s a feminist play, though in a lot of countries it’s read more about human rights than necessary women’s rights. Especially in less democratic countries like China where “no one” has rights. A doll’s house can be more accessible to a lot of people due to the grounded story and presentation (in the play, not necessarily in the production).
As someone who has studied cultural history I just love this book for so brilliantly showing how a country does create a narrative about itself and how a culture changes because life changes. So important topic now a days.
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott:
Mathematics as social criticism and philosophy. Mathematics is great. I love it. (Video here)
Alice’s Adventure in wonderland and Through the looking glass by Lewis Caroll:
Mathematics as a social criticism and philosophy. Mathematics is great. I love it. (No, the books are not about drugs. The animated Disney film is about drugs, but the books not so much.) (Video about the mathematics in these books here)
The woman in white by Wilkie Collins:
It’s considered one of the first modern mystery novels with a brilliant gothic feel to it. It also talks a lot about family obligations, women’s right and about the rights of the mentally ill in Victorian England. A topic I didn’t know much about (it’s not a non-fiction book to learn about the topic, but it was a wonderful way to be introduced to the topic so I could look more into it in other books).
I love books that discuss topics (don’t really care what topics, it’s the discussion I’m a fan of). These books are unfortunately very difficult to get right, as the author often has a side s/he wants to promote. This makes the arguments the author doesn’t agree with weaker and therefore more a lecture than a discussion (I don’t mind lectures, but that’s a different type of book). Discussion the industrialization in North and South is brilliantly balanced, and while you know Elizabeth’s personal stance in her other writing, she manages to create a balanced piece of fiction with a wonderful cast and a great love story.
How do you manage to make a love triangle not cringe worthy? Create three compelling characters, where you don’t really care who ends up with whom. Not because you’re not engaged, but because the story and morals work no matter what (and the plot doesn’t scream the solutions either). Considering this book is about sisterly love, not romantic, the romantic love triangle becomes worthwhile.
Lysistrata by Aristophanes:
Up until Victorian Age, women where considered the more sexually charged of the two genders. They were not as developed as men, more animalistic and therefore more bound by their desires. This makes Lysistrata a funny play to read for a modern audience, because growing up with “lie back and think of England” and fighting for women to get their sexuality back (and even now there is still much debate about that) the play about women denying their men sex until they stop the war they are fighting could be seen as strange. At the time it was written it was seen as divine intervention that the women could manage to say no to sex. Today not so much. Still, the play is so hysterical for someone who enjoys blue humour (it’s the sex jokes, the play has so many sex jokes). It’s also interesting to see a positive example of this change in the view of woman (as the other way I’ve seen this is women falling in love with their rapist because sex).
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder:
An introduction to philosophy with a meta literary discussion thrown in for fun.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht:
Bertolt really should be more known than he is. As someone who lived through both world wars in Europe, he was one of the key people of the dramatic verfremdungseffect. This is a dramatic effect, where you keep spoiling the fact that you are at the theatre. You weren’t supposed to be excited about what was coming, but focused on the message.
So, what is your personal canon and why?