Interesting, Oprah, very interesting.
Methland: Guest review, and other assorted thoughts.

A love affair with books.

For the past few weeks I've been making my way slowly through the title Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde, and it's wonderful. It's a literary biography about Oscar, told entirely through the lens of the books he read as a child, owned, gave away to others, and had confiscated and sold when he was put into jail.


I never really knew much about Wilde, and reading this book was a lovely way to get up to speed on his life (although reading about his arrest and imprisonment for "gross indecency" and "sodomy"* was anything but lovely--the prison they sent him to didn't sound good at all). But that is only a very small part of the story; author Wright does a splendid job of exploring Wilde's childhood and education through the books he read, explaining how that reading influenced his later life and his own writing:

"The folk tales and Ossianic legends formed the landscape of Wilde's adult imagination. He spoke fondly 'of the beauty and glamour of the old Celtic legends,' and retold Irish folk tales at dinner parties in Paris and London. During these performances Wilde imitated, in an alien urban context, the seanchai [Irish storyteller] he had encountered as a boy in the West of Ireland. When he picked up his pen too, Wilde drew on the reservoir of images, scenes and phrases he had absorbed in his infancy." (p. 25.)

Even if you've never read any Oscar Wilde** (I've started The Picture of Dorian Gray on tape, but I don't know if I'll be able to stick with it), if you're a reader, you should definitely consider this title. And do make sure to read the afterword, which explains the author's own education, following in Wilde's footsteps.

*Mr. CR read a couple of those chapters and thought that perhaps it might have been prudent of Wilde not to have a love affair with the son of the Marquess of Queensberry, a peer of the realm, who was really the one who was determined to put Wilde away. I have told Mr. CR that sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants, but he's not buying it.

**I still don't know him all that well, but I was charmed that one of Wilde's first requests for books from inside prison was for titles by Gustave Flaubert (like Madame Bovary), another author who had been charged with indecency for that very book. That took some chutzpah, I think.