Saturday, August 29, 2009

For the Ideal Library

At a web site maintained by St. Lawrence University I found a list of essential books compiled by Marianne Moore for inclusion in Pour Une Bibliothèque Idéale, edited by Raymond Queneau in 1956. I know nothing else about Queneau’s project except that Henry Miller, American literature’s anti-Marianne Moore, also took part. Charles Molesworth, author of Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, makes no mention of the list:

Auden, W. H.. The Double Man; Collected Shorter Poems
Blake, William. Poems.
Burke, Edmund. Speeches.
Byron. Letters.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Cavalcanti, Guido. Donna Mi Prega.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Troilus and Cressida; Canterbury Tales.
Cocteau, Jean. Poemes; Theatre; Essais critiques.
Coleridge, Samuel. Poems; Biographia Literaria.
Comtesse de Ségur. Les Malheurs de Sophie.
Corbière, Tristan. Les Amours jaunes.
cummings, e. e.. Eimi; Poems.
Dante. The Divine Comedy; La Vita Nuova.
Donne, John. Letters; Poems.
Dumas, Alexandre. Les Trois Mousquetiers.
Eliot, T. S. Poems; Plays; The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism.
Fabre, Jean-Henri. Souvenirs entomologiques; Littre.
Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary
Goldsmith, Oliver. Vicar of Wakefield; Plays; Poems.
Gregory, Horace. Criticism.
Hardy, Thomas. Poems; Tess of the d'Urbervilles; A Pair of Blue Eyes.
Hawthorne, Nathanial. Notebooks; Fiction.
Henryson, Robert. Poems and Fables.
Hopkins, Gerald Manley. Poems; Letters.
James, Henry. Prefaces; Letters; Novels.
Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the Poets.
Joyce, James. Poems; Novels; Dubliners.
Keats, John. Letters; Poems.
Lamb, Charles. Letters.
Lear, Edward. The Owl and the Pussycat.
Levin, Harry. Studies of Joyce; Stendhal; Flaubert; Balzac.
Maritain, Jacques. "Religion and the Intellectuals" (Partisan Review Symposium).
Melville, Herman. Poems; Short novels.
Moliere. Theatre.
Nash, Ogden. Poems.
Niebuhr,Reinhold. The Dilemma of Modern Man.
Pascal. Pensees.
Perrault, Charles. Contes.
Perse, Saint-John. Eloges; Exil.
Plato. The Dialogues.
Pope, Alexander. Essay on Criticism.
Potter, Beatrix. Peter Rabbit; Squirrel Nutkin.
Pound, Ezra. Translations of the Analects of Confucius; Poems.
Proust, Marcel. Maxims.
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. Italian Poets before Dante.
Sainte-Beuve. Portraits contemporains.
Saintsbury, George. A Short History of English Literature; The English Novel.
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets; Midsummer Night's Dream; Hamlet; Macbeth.
Sidney, Sir Philip. Defense of Poesie; Poems.
Smart, Christopher. Poems.
Stein, Gertrude. The Making of Americans; The Geographical History of America.
Stendhal. Le Rouge et le Noir; De l'Amour; Memoires d'un Touriste.
Stevens, Wallace. Poems; Prose commentaries.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver; Journal.
Trollope, Anthony. Autobiography; Phineas Finn.
Valery, Paul. La Soiree avec M. Teste; Poemes; Variete; Introduction a la Methode de Leonard de Vinci.
Various: Greek Reader (Viking Press).
Voltaire. Correspondance.
Wilson, Edmund. Joyce; Axel's Castle.
Xenophon. On Hunting; Hipparchicus; On Horsemanship.

The list is eccentric for what it leaves out and includes. Melville but no Moby-Dick? Proust but no A la recherche du temps perdu? Horace Gregory? Harry Levin? Dumas? Moore was being both honest (James and Pound, of course) and slyly provocative. We read such lists for the same reason we follow a putative recipe for the world’s best chili con carne, with one difference: We hope an ideal library catalog assembled by Moore or any comparably gifted writer is a shortcut to genius. By reading it we may hope to further our understanding of the list-maker’s life and work, but also to flatter ourselves by having read much of what Moore deems essential. And listening to Mozart makes us smarter.

Friday morning my younger sons wanted me to see what they had been building. Around two books salvaged from my wife’s childhood – Tell Me Why: Answers to Hundreds of Questions Children Ask (1965) and Still More Tell Me Why (1968) – they had erected a scaffolding of Tinker Toys connected to another similar but empty scaffolding. The latter they placed over my head like a crown and commenced the countdown. It was, they said, a knowledge transference device. My 9-year-old called it a “cerebral enhancifier.” School starts Monday.

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