View RSS Feed


The Ten Questions on Everyone's Mind

Rate this Entry
The Ten Questions on Everyone's Mind
(following in the wake of examples by Petrarch'sLove, Virgil, Antiquarian... and probably a number more by this point in time)

1. One book that changed your life- This was initially a difficult question. But eventually I came up with three. The first would be J.L. Borges' Labyrinths. Borges undoubtedly opened me up to the endless possibilities of Post-Modernist literature... and art. Where I had been initially hesitant about the self-consciousness and forced or mannered nature of Post-Modernism... or shall I simply say of that certain strain of Modernism that surely includes Kafka, Joyce, Beckett, Hesse and Mann (to a lesser degree), Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Thomas Pynchon, and endless others, Borges opened me up to a real appreciation of such. Through him I began to recognize a tradition that went back to Swift, Sterne, Cervantes, and others. Drawn ever deeper into his seductive labyrinths I was continually introduced to writers who were forever new (to me at least) and fascinating. he also led me to re-imagine endless familiar books in a new light: The Arabian Nights, Cervantes, Sterne, etc...

As a visual artist the Book of Kells

...was an absolute epiphany. This work shattered all of my comfortable assumptions about art. It completely destroyed my preconceptions about the Middle Ages... the so-called "dark ages". It undermined my clear dislike of abstraction... I mean the paintings in this book were essentially "abstract"... but undeniably beautiful. It also opened me up to artistic possibilities beyond painting... especially to the world of the book as an art form. I was soon exploring the medieval collections of museums and collecting books on the Lindesfarne Gospels, the Rohan Master, the Limbourg Brothers, the Hiberno-Moorish illuminations, Islamic and Persian manuscripts, the Paris Psalter, and on to William Blake, the Kelmscott Chaucer, Matisse's Jazz, Adolf Wölfli etc...

The third life-changing book most certainly had to have been the Collected Illuminated Books of William Blake. Like the Book of Kells, Blake completely challenged all of my preconceptions of what an artist is. As a student in art school where the heirarchy of art with painting at the pinnacle was being reinforced, Blake challenged my very notions of what an artist could be. At a point in time in which large painterly paintings in oils dominated, he freely chose to work in print and watercolor. As an artist/bibliophile Blake challenged the notion that one needed to make the choice between art and literature... between painting and books.

2. Books that you’ve read more than once: Quite a few. Dante's Comedia (in multiple translations), many of Shakespeare's plays, much of William Blake, J.L. Borges, Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal, Kafka, Rilke, Goethe's Werther, Don Quixote, Steppenwolf, The Bible, Tristam Shandy, Calvino's Invisible Cities, The Iliad and The Odyssey... and far too many more.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island

Limited to but a single book I would need to select a really good annotated (and illustrated) Collected Works of William Shakespeare. If we are speaking of that "Top Ten List" it would run:

1. Collected Works of William Shakespeare
2. Dante- Divine Comedy
3. The Bible- King James Translation
4. John Milton- Paradise Lost
5. Cervantes- Don Quixote
6. Collected Works of Edmund Spenser
7. Collected Works of William Blake
8. Proust- In Search of Lost Time
9. The Arabian Night's Entertainments
10. Abolqasem Ferdowsi- Shanameh

The first 5 are virtually set in stone... the final 5 would undoubtedly change depending upon when you asked me... still all would fall into the top 20 continuously.

4. One book that made you laugh: Certainly there are more than one. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Flannery O'Connor's Good Country People (yes... I'm sick... I like that black humor), Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge, many of J.L. Borges' tales which take logical concepts to an absurd end, O'Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Donald Barthleme's Me and Miss Mandible, Phillip Roth's The Breast and Portnoy's Complaint, Tommaso Landolfi's Gogol's Wife.

5. One book that made you cry- The closest must certainly be DeQuincy's memories of his beloved Anne from his Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

6. One book that you wish you had written- Well... not being a writer I might think to say I wish I had been the one responsible for the gorgeous Shanameh of Tabriz:

Or William Blake's Dante:

7. One book that you wish had never been written- Mein Kampf? Anything by the Marquis deSade... ?

8. One book you’re currently reading- Obviously this will change again and again. Currently I'm still reading the Shanameh of Ferdowsi, Stephen Hawking- A Brief History of Time, Traces of the Brush-The Art of Japanese Calligraphy, Donald H. Akenson- Surpassing Wonder-The Invention of the Bible, Christopher de Hamel- The Book- A History of the Bible. I have a problem with reading just one book.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read- I seriously have got to get around to reading the Qur'an

10. One book you'd recommend to almost everyone- Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dante... almost anything on my top ten list.


  1. andave_ya's Avatar
    Hi Stluke, welcome to blogging. From what I've read from random posts around the forum I'd like to say that I'm very much looking forward to reading your blog--this was a fascinating start. I recently read Don Quixote and enjoyed it very much; in fact it was the last huge novel I read. I own a copy of Dorothy L. Sayers' translation of the Divine Comedy but haven't read it yet--what is your opinion of her translation? She is in my top five favorite authors, but I have read hardly any of her works beyond the Lord Peter books.
  2. stlukesguild's Avatar
    I have heard some good things of Sayer's translation but have never read it myself. My personal favorite is John Ciardi's... but admittedly that may be due to it having been my first exposure to Dante. It is very fluid... and poetic... but some have suggested it is perhaps too fluid... too much Ciardi and not enough Dante. One largely agreed-upon translation seems to be Mandelbaum's which certainly has a greater degree of muscularity. Mandelbaum must also be credited as quite a solid translator of Epic poetry... including not only Dante, but also Homer and Ovid.
  3. Virgil's Avatar
    Yes welcome to blogging St Lukes. So far I have enjoyed all your blogs. To Andy: If you're looking for poeticism, the Ciardi translation in my opinion is best; if you're looking for accuracy of translation and in depth footnotes to explain try either the Musa or the Durling or the Hollander translations. Those three are all good scholarly translations with the Italian on one side and the English on the other with fabulous notes and supplemental sections. I don't know the Sayer translation. But for your age I would think its adequate. Otherwise the Ciardi translation will do fine.
  4. chrisvia's Avatar
    Enjoyed reading this post, stlukesguild. Is there an edition of The Book of Kells you'd recommend?