28 May 2009

The Whole Five Feet

I borrowed The Whole Five Feet by Christopher Beha - I was interested in Beha's take on the shelf because my father has been trying to acquire a set of Harvard Classics (aka "The Five Foot Shelf of Books" among other names) to read; I find the "to read" part a little odd because my father is a systems engineer (my mother is more the reader of my two parents). At a crossroads in his late twenties, Beha decided to read one volume per week from the Harvard Classics over one year; his grandmother owned a set and it never ocurred to him as a child that his grandmother might be more well-read than he realized. The Whole Five Feet chronicles Beha's reaction to his reading, his thoughts on the composition of the Classics, and how events from Beha's life impacted his reading during that year.

I want to say I liked this book. I really do, but the most reaction I can summon up is "It was okay." And that's kind of it, in my opinion. Beha's not a bad writer; he has a nice style and his aunt Mimi would be very proud of him because the chapters when he talks about his aunt and her terminal illness are very moving. I think I was expecting more along the lines of intellectual cross-examination interspersed with the memoir and musing on Charles Eliot's motivation in editing the Classics and there was at times some good criticism (the "Tintern Abbey" section is quite good) but I just didn't find it very interesting. In the Afterword Beha notes that he came to literature through a love of novels and he concentrated more in undergrad on contemporary fiction. I'd like to see what Beha would do with a book of essays about modern fiction.

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