I've been spending a lot of time watching the implosion of my democracy, reading Washington Post and The New York Times, generally with a knot in my stomach, wondering what shoe will drop next. I have decided that in the service of my mental health, I have to limit myself to an reasonable amount of exposure to the terrifying Tumpshow per day.
So, I logged onto my wordpress reader for the first time in ages & started reading the posts written by some of my favorite bloggers. One of them mentioned that he had been challenged by another blogger to identify his "literary canon." I found this intriguing - and it begged the question - what is a personal canon? If we assume that:
"The term “literary canon” refers to a body of books, narratives and other texts considered to be the most important and influential of a particular time period or place. Take a 19th century American literature course, for instance."
Then a personal canon would be: a body of books, narratives and other texts considered to be the most important and influential to me. I googled "personal canon" and found a number of posts written by bloggers - many of whom are pretty obviously far more intellectual than I am - that described their personal canons. I thought that was a pretty cool idea, so I started thinking about mine.
This is likely to be an ongoing project - I'm going to set up a page to collect my "Canon" posts, and write some argumentative posts where I identify a book/author for canon and go through an identification of why I am or am not going to include the book in MR's Personal Canon. At the outset, there will be some low-hanging fruit that I can easily identify (including the four authors listed above - I'll get to those amazing women in a moment). I'm also going to work on identifying some elements or questions to consult when I am working out whether or not something gets the imprimatur of canon from me.
As a starting place, I've selected four works that are clearly part of my personal canon:
1. Jane Eyre - Michael Mason,Charlotte Brontë: One of the elements of canon that I intend to adopt is "personal importance." Identifying a book based upon a high level of personal importance means that it is a book that I strongly remember reading in the past, and that has been influential in some way. While Jane Eyre is widely considered to be a well-written book, a book that receives a high score on the personal importance element need not necessarily be well-written or well-regarded. Just important to me.
2. Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics) - Vivien Jones,Tony Tanner,Claire Lamont,Jane Austen: Another element of canon relates to "rereadability." In order to qualify as re-readable, a book needs to have some resonance that draws me back to the book. Pride and Prejudice is a book that I have reread more times than I can count. It is unlikely that a book will make it into my personal canon unless I have read the book more than once. Probably even more than twice.
3. The Song of the Lark - Willa Cather: Related to re-readability is the quality of the book or the author being horizon-broadening in some sense. It needs to be something that enriches my life or perspective. Willa Cather scores very high on this element for me - I find her writing to be near perfect, and the ground-breaking nature of her writing as an American woman writing about the American west, has been a personal touchstone.
4. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton: The last thing I can think of right now is thematic importance, especially as the themes relate to feminism, womanhood, and issues of equality. I would imagine that my canon will be heavy on women writers, because those are the writers to whom I gravitate.
While the four books that I've mentioned so far are undeniably classics, not all books in my personal canon will be classics. I suspect that A Wrinkle in Time will make it in there, as will all of Harry Potter. On the other hand, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald will be conspicuously absent, as those two authors leave me entirely cold, although they might prominently appear in someone else's canon.
Do you have a personal canon? What books do you think you would put on your list?