Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Best of...Kevin Demetroff's Top 10 Books (Part 3)

We are closing in on the last four of Kevin's favorite books. Are you enjoying them? When I read this thoughts, I am in awe of his spanse of literary knowledge and his ability to express himself. It makes my daily posts seem like drivel! Now, for the last four:

7. À la recherche du temps perdu / In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust (1913-1927)

I had dabbled in and out of an old English Remembrance of Things Past in high school, found it absorbing, but never got very far. In the spring of 1971, however, I took the original text with me each weekend on a suburban train from Gare Saint-Lazare to the Norman town of Gisors. After wandering through the ruined castle and the church of St-Gervais-St-Protais, I would find a reading spot under a tree along the river Epte and sink languorously into my Proust. I not only improved my French and my appreciation of things French, I learned patience, slowing down, taking time to savor, and the importance of memory. Copious draughts of good Norman cider and slatherings of farm cheeses on French country bread were effective tools in my struggle to tame Proust.

8. Avtobiografija / Autobiography, Branislav Nušić (Macedonian translation, 1965)

In 1979, this little volume was given to me by a friend in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, as a going-away gift to read on the train to Thessaloniki. Until I opened the first hilarious page by Nušić, humor was the farthest thing from my experience of Balkan literature. The use of idiomatic Macedonian, translated from an equally idiomatic Serbian (which I later saw echoed in the idiomatic Bulgarian of Elin Pelin), gave me a new joy in reading these recently developed literatures with linguistic roots in the ancient Balkans. It encouraged me to find the humor in all these cultures and to recognize their similarities, their unity in the Ottoman and immediately post-Ottoman past. This is a major theme in my reading, my music, my thinking and my conversation.

9. The Alexiad, Anna Comnena (c. 1148)

I was interested in Byzantine history before reading E. R. A. Sewter’s translation of the The Alexiad, but that reading, in 1969, sold me on Byzantium and made it a major strand in my understanding of my own family heritage and the world it came from. Anna’s first sentences enthralled me: “The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration; as the playwright says, it ‘brings to light that which was unseen and shrouds from us that which was manifest’ [Sophocles, Ajax 646]. Nevertheless, the science of History is a great bulwark against this stream of Time; in a way in checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion.”

10. Cavafy

My tenth entry, like my sixth, is a multi-volume one. It includes:
--The Complete Poems of Cavafy, translated by Rae Dalven, Introduction by W. H. Auden, Expanded Edition (1976)
--C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard (1975)--Konstandinos Kawafis: Wiersze zebrane, Polish translation by Zygmunt Kubiak (1981)
--Homage to Cavafy, Ten Poems by Cavafy (Keeley/Sherrard translation), Ten Photographs by Duane Michals (1978)
--Cavafy’s Alexandria: Study of a Myth in Progress, Edmund Keeley (1976)

Cavafy’s poetry began to sink into my heart on first reading in the early 1970s. After Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, I was ready for anything Alexandrian and found, to my delight, Cavafy. I have read copies of his poems in Greek beside the Dalven and the Keeley-Sherrard translations and sunk deeply into the magic of Alexandria. This gave a lyric component to my fascination for the Levant, the Ottoman and post-Ottoman Eastern Mediterranean and Balkans, the detritus of Hellenism, and what it all means for the peoples of the region today. It has a lot to do with my inner Ottoman, too. Cavafy has helped me see the historic unity embedded in the midst of the various warring states of the Balkans and the Levant. This is glorious poetry in its own right, even without all the other layers that accompany it in my particular world.


Andreea said...

I have heard of Proust, but I've never read any of his books. I will check out “In Search of Lost Time”. Thank you for this great list!

Unknown said...

I haven't even heard of any of these books. It is great to be introduced to so many new ones. Are you planning to read any of them?

Literary Feline said...

Kevin's putting me to shame too. :-) That's really an amazing list--so varied. And I loved his commentary. Thank you for sharing, Sandy!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Andreea - I've never read him either. Very intimidating!

Jackie - I sort of look at these "best of" lists as an extension of my TBR. If my good friends have it on their all time best lists, then it deserves a shot!

Wendy - Yes, Kev is an amazing guy. Never short of a conversation topic with him!

ds said...

"Copious draughts of good Norman cider and slatherings of farm cheese on French country bread" would make me sink even deeper into Proust, too. Must remember that for the next volume ;)

I have just added The Alexiad to my list.

You sure have interesting friends, Sandy, and that is in direct correlation to how interesting you are! Thank you for this.

Sandy Nawrot said...

ds - oh, take my word for it, Kevin is WAY more interesting than I am! I am humbled in his presence, not only for the books, but for the movies. If you get my sister and Kevin in the same room talking movies, just give up and go home!

Gavin said...

I love Cavafy's poetry and someday I read Proust (maybe a read-along?)

The other two I don't know but I am curious about The Alexiad. I love Byzantine history.

Beth F said...

Phew! I'm afraid my little books don't hold a candle to Kevin's!

Unknown said...

What a fantastic list of books. I admit I'm not familiar with any of them. I have never read Proust and it bothers me (always has! Yep, I'm a dork! lol) but Proust intimidates me. I'm going to check out this book and try reading it. Maybe knowing Kevin read it and it's one of his faves will kepp me focused on it!

Matt said...

I am ashamed that I have never read any Proust. Remembrance of Things Past would most likely be on my chunskter list for 2010. :) I'm chugging along.