Wednesday, 31 December 2008

“Anche questa notte passerà.” (Giuseppe Ungaretti)

“This night will also pass away.”

I feel I should be bashing out a Books of the Year, or 100 Best Books of 2008, or 1,000 Best Books of the New Millennium list, as it’s becoming more and more common at this time of the year.

But the truth is I’ve never believed in this sort of charts – so, forgive me, I won’t give you one. I don’t think you can claim that Dante is “better” than Shakespeare or Shakespeare “better” than Milton. In the same way, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Jane Eyre is “better” than Wuthering Heights or viceversa. No BBC-poll- or red-button-produced list will ever convince me that one author or one book is ranked higher than another one in any all-time chart.

I believe that a book speaks differently to different people at different ages. For example, when I was younger, I was strongly influenced by Keats, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Dante and Ariosto, to name but a few. These days I only go back to Dante on a regular basis, and rarely read from the other four. I have also developed a kind of aversion to Yeats which was unthinkable a couple of decades ago.

If you had asked me to name my favourite three books in the genres of poetry, fiction and drama back in 1990, I would have answered, without hesitation: The Divine Comedy, The Idiot and Macbeth. If you were to ask me the same question today, I would be completely at a loss.

Not only have I read hundreds and hundreds more books since then, but my knowledge of certain languages and their literatures (as well as the context they fit in) has changed, and as a result of my daily editorial job I am a lot more critical and exacting. Keats was a demigod for me in my twenties – now he’s much more human, and I can see a lot of the flaws (even linguistic ones) in his poetry that other authors such as TS Eliot have pointed out.

So my personal chart is an ever-changing affair. But my new year’s resolution is to try and talk, on these pages, about some of the authors and books that I love or influenced me most.

Happy New Year!

AG

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