ď Tea at the Palaz of Hoon

Western Lit 501


After thirty years in academia, Jack was acquainted with a number of English professors. There were several whose opinion he had come to respect but none ranked above the one now retired and living near Jack on the Gulf coast. She had advanced degrees from eastern universities, but had managed to maintain intellectual independence from the deconstruction crowd. Jack arranged a meeting with her, but not wishing to explain the supernatural nature of the assignment, he cooked up a story about a publisher wishing to par down Harold Bloom's Canon. He said there was an honorarium attached which he would split with her.

They met for lunch at a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the beach and after formalities and the placing of orders, Jack explained,

"Our assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to make a Reader's Digest list, more or less from Harold Bloom's Canon. As you certainly remember, Bloom opposed all manner of critics on the left, whom he lumped together as “the School of Resentment". The School of Resentment wants to dump all dead white Europeans from any literary list and celebrate untalented but deserving wannabes who diddle liberal heart strings. They seem to be whining and winning, but that is not our concern. So I have made a short list which we then whittle down to bare bones. I hope you can suggest additions or deletions." He placed the list on the table where they both could see it. "First the Greeks."

The  Greeks

Homer (ca.800BC)   
Iliad; Odyssey.

Sophocles (c. 496-c. 405 BC)  Indispensable!

       Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) 

        The Last Temptation of Christ, Zorba the Geeek

The Lit professor said, "I don't see how we can chop either Homer, but identification with Odysseus is easier for me than Achilles, besides women play better roles in the Odyssey. In the Trojan Women, Hecuba's first insult is learning she is to be the slave of the hated Odysseus. But, Odysseus never wanted to leave home in the first place - he is like most guys drafted to war: Lets get it over with and go home. The jerk Achilles is protected by magic and noble Hector is not the central character.

The Theban Cycle is indispensible, every generation for the last two thousand five hundred years could have benefitted by exposure to those plays. Man is not the measure of all things, but the thing measured and found wanting, every generation needs to be reminded that 'It is not about you'.

 I don't know about Kazantzakis, he should have beat Camus for the Nobel Prize in '57, but.....'' her voice trailed off.;

Jack picks up the slack, "Zorba might be able to teach us all how to live. The narrator, who has socialist ideals, attempts to get to know the workers, but Zorba warns him to keep his distance: 'Man is a brute.... If you're cruel to him, he respects and fears you. If you're kind to him, he plucks your eyes out.' But I am willing to table Zorba, so to speak"

She further examined the list.


Chaucer, Geoffrey (ca.1343-1400)   
The Canterbury Tales
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616 
Plays and Poems.
Henry Fielding, 1707-1758, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.

 Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898, Alice in Wonderland

Then she said, "English teachers favor Chaucer, so he must be considered.  Now that I am older, I lean towards Lear for the Shakespeare entry.  As for Fielding and Carroll, I like the movie versions. The early Disney Alice is wonderful. What a heretic I am."


Dante Alighieri c.1265–1321)

Divine Comedy   

Roberto Calasso (1941- )

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony                                      

"Dante and Homer are in the same class. A must for the short list. The best book of our times on Greek Mythology was the Calasso, but I have reservations...."


Le Morte D’Arthur
"J.R.R. Tolkien thinks the story is French, probably composed by ChrĂ©tien de Troyes (ca. 1160-1191). Mallory only compiled the stories, who am I to doubt Tolkien - sorry Professor Bloom.  I might be pilloried for this, but I liked T.H. White's The Once and Future King and the movie Excalibur for the Arthurian legend."
Victor Hugo, 1802-1885
Les Misérables
Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867                        
Flowers of Evil; Paris Spleen.
Marcel Proust, 1871-1922                        
In Search of Lost Time.
Albert Camus, 1913-1960                                 
The Stranger
 "Steal bread for your starving sister and you are sent to the galleys (Hugo). Life in Paris at the end of the 19th century (Baudelaire). "We are all of us obliged, if we are to make reality endurable, to nurse a few little follies in ourselves." (Proust). In this intrinsically absurd world, what is a person of integrity to do? Apparently shoot an Arab and get convicted because you did not cry at your mother's funeral (Camus).  And after several attempts, I could never even learn to conjugate the subjunctive of irregular and stem-changing verbs. I do love French culture, but it has always like the unicorn eluded me."


    Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1821-1881
Notes from the Underground; Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov .

 "I waded through all four, but the only Dostoyevsky to stick with me was the Grand Inquisitor chapter from The Brothers Karamozov."

Mark Twain, 1835-1910
   Complete Short Stories; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  

Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955)                                                      

     Complete works

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

     The Sound and the Fury

Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)

     One Hundred Years of Solitude (Spanish: Cien años de soledad)

Walker Percy(1916 -1990)                                                                         

       The Moviegoer; The Last Gentlema

        Charles Portis, 1933
    True Grit

The lit professor continued, "Huck Finn, to some the great American novel and to others a dangerous book. I am unthreatened by Huck, but if you don't put Toni Morrison on the list you may be burned at the stake. Freedom of speech is limited to the politically correct.

Wallace Stevens is for me the great American poet. I struggle with his poems, but the struggle is worth it.  Percy is a fine southern writer, but he is outclassed by Faulkner. Overlooking Gabriel GarcĂ­a Márquez is impossible "

 "Give me some time and I'll come up with my choice for winners. I'll get back to you." She folded the list and placed it in her purse.

After they finished their lunch Jack paid the bill, they said goodbyes at her car and the lady drove away.

A week later Jack received an email from the lit teacher:


I have decided to make your job more difficult; rather than providing a short list of titles, here are some great openings from works you should consider.

Just point your browser here: Great Openings

Good luck on your quest,


PS, Keep my share of the honorarium, it's more fun to torment you. :)