10-Second Literature Reviews
Compiled By RayS.
I read once that some authors have written books because no one else had written what they wanted to read.
I did not “write” this book, of course. But I compiled it because, as an English major, I always wished that I had had available a brief overview, in chronological order, of the world’s major literary works. Such standard reference works as Benet’s’ Reader’s Encyclopedia and the Oxford Companions are not in chronological order, and even their brief summaries of literary works are not short enough for my purpose of an overview that can be read in a reasonably short time.
These “10-second reviews” are certainly not meant to be comprehensive. They can do no more than give an idea of the subject and flavor of the literary work. But they give the reader an idea of the flow of literature over the centuries, from the ancient past to relatively modern times (the mid-1950s).
The next question is, “What is literature?” Here are some thoughts on the subject by some pretty respectable literary critics and writers:
“…great literature, whose meanings…can never be totally grasped because of its endless power to ramify in the individual mind.” Loren Eiseley, The Star Thrower, p. 274.
“…the reader’s happy conviction that Tolstoy enables him to see everything as if for the first time.” Bloom, The Western Canon, p. 336.
“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life." William Faulkner in Cowley, ed., Writers at Work, p. 139.
“What are stories but attempts to fix the permanence of the moment, to salvage it from the rushing impermanence of time?” Mellow, quoting Hawthorne in Hawthorne in His Times, p. 8.
Joseph Conrad defined literature more clearly, more vividly than any man of our time: “My task is by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.” Quoted in F. Scott Fitzgerald on Writing, p. 6.
To be continued.