Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Save Money and Get a Literary Education

I confess the main reason I chose Northwestern for grad school was so that I could take a class similar to one offered in the fall that was not, I regret to say, offered during my time at the Big University. The class in question is on Eastern European literature of the 20th Century and contains the following book list (pulled from NU's website):

Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles (1934); Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (1928-1940, publ. 1966)--in the Burgin/O'Connor translation (1995); Danilo Kis, The Encyclopedia of the Dead (1983); Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars (1983)--either male or female edition; Stanislaw Lem, A Perfect Vacuum (1971); Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)

It occurs to me that I own all of these books (I believe—maybe not the Lem). I shall now take the class—in a sense—by reading these texts on my own and digging for as many critical essays on them as I can find via the net and the library. Who needs to spend the money? Anyway, I’ve already read the Bulgakov, which is essential reading, goddamnit, and I’ve read a bit of Kis and Schultz, so I’m on my way.

Another class I saw is on Latin American literature—a big interest of mine. The reading list contains a lot of the usual Boom suspects (Garcia Marquez, Borges, Cortazar, Paz) though I noticed some lesser read authors (lesser read this side of the border, that is) such as Josè Bianco, Silvina Ocampo, Felisberto Hernandez, Juan Josè Arreola, and Miguel Angel Asturias. I think I’ll skip Garcia Marquez and move straight to Ocampo.

So long as I can read the booklists of NU, or the University of Chicago for that matter—though they privilege more “classic” texts—I won’t feel so bad about the aspects of the literary education I missed. So to anyone else eager and willing and unconcerned with the degree itself, or the so-called prestige, do a little browsing and you’re all set.

By the way, I realize I am not the first to think up this idea. Hell, it was in Good Will Hunting, right? But it’s a slow day in the Inferno and I’ve got nothing else.