The Booklovers: Prologue

03Jun08

“This book deals with epiphenomenalism, which has to do with consciousness as a mere accessory of physiological processes whose presence or absence… makes no difference… whatever are you doing?”

I’ve always thought that The Divine Comedy are an under-rated band. Most people I know have either not heard of them, or heard only a few tracks and dismissed them for some reason. They have enjoyed some critical success, but limited mainstream popularity.

Perhaps one reason for this is the albums. Because mixed between the upbeat pop songs and the soaring orchestral numbers, are always a few strange or unusual songs, songs that would never stand a chance of being released. One of these is track three on the 1994 album Promenade. It’s called ‘The Booklovers’.

It opens with the quote above (which the internet informs me is Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face), and takes the form, more or less, of a spoken introduction by Neil Hannon (the lead singer of The Divine Comedy) of the names of seventy-one authors (full lyrics here after a little scrolling). It’s an introduction because every author then ‘greets’ (for want of a better word) the listener – some with a short “Hello!”, some with an apposite quote. To a background of strings, mostly.

There’s also a chorus, which is fairly unusual for a Divine Comedy song, and even more unusually the lyrics are the same for each repeat (often there is a common theme but the actual words change slightly).

“Happy the man, and happy he alone who in all honesty can call today his own;
He who has life and strength enough to say ‘Yesterday’s dead & gone – I want to live today’

And this too is literature-related. It’s a slight reworking of lines from John Dryden’s Imitations of Horace – with the emphasis very slightly shifted.

The song is decidedly odd, whichever way you look at it, but I find it interesting. Like so many of the songs by the Divine Comedy, actually.

I’ve always been a bookworm, and as a child devoured books as if they would disappear. But while I worked my way through a great number of what might be termed fairly modern literature at an age when I was probably too young to understand it properly (The Handmaid’s Tale made so much more sense when I was sixteen than when I was nine), I read very few of the “classics”. And as a university student, I sadly did not have the time to read nearly as much as I would like.

Now that I have rather more time on my hands, I’ve decided to rectify this situation and read some books that are, in some sense, important. And I’m going to use “The Booklovers” as a guide. My aim, over the next large number of months, is to read a book by every author on the list. Here they all are, in the order that they’re named:

Aphra Benn
Cervantes
Daniel Defoe
Samuel Richardson
Henry Fielding
Lawrence Sterne
Mary Wolstencraft
Jane Austen
Sir Walter Scott
Leo Tolstoy
Honoré de Balzac
Edgar Allen Poe
Charlotte Brontë
Emily Brontë
Anne Brontë
Nikolai Gogol
Gustav Flaubert
William Makepeace Thackeray
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Herman Melville
Charles Dickens
Anthony Trollope
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Mark Twain
George Eliot
Emile Zola
Henry James
Thomas Hardy
Joseph Conrad
Katherine Mansfield
Edith Wharton
DH Lawrence
EM Forster
James Joyce
Virginia Woolf
Marcel Proust
F Scott Fitzgerald
Ernest Hemingway
Hermann Hesse
Evelyn Waugh
William Faulkner
Anaïs Nin
Ford Maddox Ford
Jean-Paul Sartre
Simone de Beauvoir
Albert Camus
Franz Kafka
Thomas Mann
Graham Greene
Jack Kerouac
William S Burroughs
Kingsley Amis
Doris Lessing
Vladimir Nabokov
William Golding
JG Ballard
Richard Brautigan
Milan Kundera
Ivy Compton Burnett
Paul Theroux
Günter Grass
Gore Vidal
John Updike
Kazuro Ishiguro
Malcolm Bradbury
Iain Banks
AS Byatt
Martin Amis
Brett Easton Ellis
Umberto Eco
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Roddy Doyle
Salman Rushdie

I doubt I’ll read them in this order, not least because getting books in English in Japan is slightly difficult (though, thanks to Amazon, not nearly as difficult as it might be). But I aim to read a work by all of them. And, just to satisfy my own curiosity, I’ll try to figure out the rationale behind the “greetings” for each one.

I’ll try to read books I haven’t read before, since that is rather the point of the exercise. And just to keep track of how I’m doing, I’ll write a little about each author and each book I read on here. I’m not a literary critic by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ll give my honest opinions. Seventy-one of them.

Next: Chapter One

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One Response to “The Booklovers: Prologue”


  1. 1 The Booklovers: Chapter One « Gin&Comment

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