Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Autodidact

Isn't that a great word? The very first time I heard that, God knows when, I thought it sounded imposing and impressive. It means someone who is self-taught, so it has connotations good and bad. Even before my (not-quite-) year-old new lease of life, I have always associated the good with it. I think of the girl who, immersed in a Francophone community, learns French, or the impoverished student who spends his every waking hour in the library, studying an original text. It is an inspirational word for me, and that is why I like it so much.

A year or few ago the BBC released a list of five score books, of which list they opined an average Briton would have read half a dozen. Some I knew to be good, others I knew were awful, a handful carried their reputations before them like standards - not always to their benefit. At school I was introduced to a series of dull books (or perhaps books I wasn't ready for), which quite put me of so-called "Classics of Literature". Luckily, this list contained a few books I had read, as well as some I had given up on, and some few books of foreign origin. The BBC decided not to have too many of these, lest they terrify Britons reading the list. We Angles can be trusted to distrust extraordinary writings as easily as we distrust the European Union. Happily, school had taught me to fear "Classics of English Literature", and so I dived into One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was superlative.

Having thus been exposed ever so slightly to the chance that "Classics of Literature" might perhaps be ok, and that "Classics of English Literature" could just possibly be readable, too, I embarked on a slippery slope. I tried Pride and Prejudice, but was too filled with pride to overcome my prejudice against the work. Or was I too weighed down with sensibilities to let my sense incline me to like Sense and Sensibility? Something Austen was my bugbear a year or two ago in Greece. I had always liked Orwell, as Animal Farm was one of the few tiny tomes that schooling did not ruin for me. So I recently trundled into 1984. It would be mad to say that it was a delight, but it was a great piece of work. To Kill A Mockingbird recently reared its head, and I partly enjoyed it, too, despite finding it horribly dated in parts. I suspect anything from that era, pertaining to race-relations and set in the Deep South would make most people gasp today.

Tonight I was filled with pleasure at having finished Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which was acclaimed a joy when I was still a child. So I decided to pluck out one book, and then another, and then a vast collection from the shelves of the house. I enlisted the rest of the family in locating what we have in the house, and my brother, who nobly volunteers at a local charity shop, also noted down several volumes which I might purchase thence. I have read sixty pages of the 333 pages of my mother's youthful copy of Wuthering Heights. I am not aghast at the turgid prose. I am not bored out of my wits at the senseless blather of the characters. I am honestly interested in how the story will progress. Of course, we all know the general scheme, but every Athenian knew the legend of Medea, and still they turned up at Euripides' tragedy. the telling is as vital as the tale.

I have about a dozen gaily-decorated convocations of paper to get through, and then another several from my brother's shop or that he has located about the house. After all of that I might push my way to having completed half of this BBC list of a hundred books. I shall never complete it all. It contains The Da Vinci Code, The Lord of the Rings, Great Expectations and a few other books I would rather flee at than read. But I shall do my best to raise the number as high as I can - without funding The Da Vinci Code. ;-)

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