At the end of March a few members of the Accra Book Club met to discuss Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi. We glanced at the book group questions, but didn’t really address them much – we all agreed they were a little esoteric! But instead we talked about the political situation in Iran and how it impacted on the lives of the author, her family, her students and members of the book group who came to her house to discuss books.
In addition we looked at the list of books for “recommended further reading” at the back of this novel, as well as the books which formed a type of focus for each of the chapters. We all felt that we were slightly illiterate, even though we might actually be reading quite a lot we hadn’t read some/many of the books mentioned.
So what follows is a personal self-assessment:
Books actually mentioned in the chapter headings of the text:
- Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita: yes, I have read it, but it was a long, long time ago – probably in my teens, so I have to admit I don’t remember much about it.
- F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby: read it not too long ago, just about the time of the financial crisis, which I thought was entirely appropriate!
- Henry James: should I be ashamed to admit that I haven’t read any of his books? I suspect I may have tried, but never succeeded…
- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: this I proudly acknowledge as one of my favourite reads, and I think I have probably read it at least once in each decade of my life… most recently within the last couple of years. I still appreciate it, and also enjoy the movies/TV adaptations.
What about the “suggested reading” list at the end of the book?
- Jane Austen, Persuasion: Definitely a while since I read this, I think I am definitely up for a re-read!
- Saul Bellow, The Dean’s December, Herzog, More die of heartbreak: I read Herzog, but again a long, long time ago…
- Heinrich Bool, The clown: not read
- Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights: read it as an adult, but to be frank, wasn’t that inspired! Is this heresy? Probably
- Mikhail Bugakov, The Master and Margarita: read as a teen, but don’t really remember it
- Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler: not read
- Lewis Carroll, Alice’s adventures in Wonderland: read several times, some as a child, some as an adult. Probably due for another re-read, especially with the new film out
- Raymond Chandler, The big sleep: read it, but a long time ago
- Joseph Conrad, Under western eyes: not read; I suspect I may have tried to read it, but just couldn’t get into his style. I just about managed Heart of darkness not so long ago, but not any of the others. Yet I am amazed that this author was not writing in his native language!
- Diderot, Jacques Le fataliste: not read, not even in secondary school French class
- Henry Fielding, Tom Jones and Shamela: read neither, though I suspect I may have watched at least part of a film version of the former, but does that count?
- Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary: read it, but a long time ago. Time for a re-read?
- Sadeq Hedayat, Buf-e-Kur (The blind owl): not read, and I haven’t even heard of it
- Henry James, The ambassadors: again another not read
- Franz Kafka, The trial and In the penal colony: haven’t read either, though I seem to remember attempting to read at least one Kafka novel and not getting very far.
- Herman Melville, The confidence-man: a no again, and I never did read Moby Dick either
- Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin: not read
- Iraj Pezeshkzad, My uncle Napoleon: not read
- Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea: did read it, but I suspect that I am such a fan of Jane Eyre that I might not truly appreciate Rhys’ heroine
- Scheherezade, A thousand and one nights: I’ve heard about the stories, but I don’t think I have ever read any.
- Muriel Spark, Loitering with intent and The prime of Miss Jean Brodie: I have read the latter, and seem to remember feeling rather sad about it
- Laurence Sterne, The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, gentleman: somehow I never read that many 18th century classics
- Italo Svevo, Confessions of Zeno: not read, another one I’ve never heard of
- Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: not read, and I am ashamed to say that I only read The adventures of Tom Sawyer very recently, so I guess I can be excused. But of course I had seen some of the film or TV adaptations, even though some of them might have been more than a little sugary.
- Virgina Woolf, To the lighthouse: read, though I seem to remember neither liking it nor understanding it.
So by my count, I hit 33% – 10 out of 30. I don’t think this is too bad, but then it does make me feel I have some catching up to do. Maybe I should make it a goal to read or reread at least one so-called “classic” every month, along with at least one “Africa” written or themed book?