25th October 2012 - 12 Midnight Kevin Jackson
Kevin Jackson is the author of countless articles on film, photography, modern art, literature and cultural history for, among others, the New Yorker, Granta, The Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and the Guardian. He has also been a script editor and script consultant, lectured and taught at the National Film Theatre, the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Musuem, presented documentaries for BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, directed and produced films for television, written lyrics for a rock opera, curated film seasons and a photography exhibition, as well as authoring and editing more than twenty books.
His new book is Constellation of Genius - 1922: Modernism Year One, a fascinating day-by-day look at the events that shaped one of the most ground-breaking years in world culture. Here Kevin selects his favourite books published in those tumultuous twelve months.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Legend has it that this is too long, too boring and too arcane for the 'average' reader. Well, OK, it's more demanding than Dan Brown, but it's also funnier, and more interesting, and cleverer (if that's a word). What's more, I'll bet it's also a lot sexier than Fifty Shades of Bad Grammar. I first read it when I was a dopey 17-year-old and it was love at first page. The greatest novel in English? In any language? Possibly.
The Waste Land by T S Eliot
Again, I was about 17 when I first read this, and it struck me as a thrilling, terrifying shriek of agony, all jumbled in with incongruous low comedy and piercing beauty. Now that I know more about Eliot's life (overwork, chronic fatigue and headaches, shabby-genteel poverty, mental breakdowns and the worst literary marriage since the Carlyles') I see that I underestimated his pain. An astonishing thing. Shatteringly brilliant.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)
The trade edition, much shorter than the 1922 version, only came out after Lawrence's death in the 1930s, but the longer first edition was passed around his friends for comment and criticism in the summer of that year, just weeks before he joined the ranks of the RAF under an assumed name. Not an easy read, but a fine one.
Babbit by Sinclair Lewis
Not much read nowadays? It was an international best-seller in 1922 and is still a brisk, amusing satire. The name of its anti-hero passed into the American language almost at once, and it remains there, to signify a plump, complacent philistine and provincial type of Mid-Westerner. T S Eliot read it with approval.
The Glimpses of the Moon bv Edith Wharton
An absorbing, witty and delightfully well-carpentered novel by the author of The Age of Innocence, The Custom of the Country and other masterpieces of keen-eyed social observation. Wharton gracefully balances comedy and pathos in this yarn of a charming but penniless young couple who survive only by their ability to sponge shamelessly on the rich. I am fond of the Virago edition, as it has an introduction by my wife.
Plus two cheats: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald & Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, but it is set in the summer of 1922 and no other fiction evokes quite so exquisitely the tone of the 'Jazz Age' in its earliest months; Brideshead Revisited, in its early chapters, looks back on Evelyn Waugh's first terms at Oxford in 1922 (he came up in January), when he first encountered a set of rich and drunken undergraduates who fascinated and inspired him. Both of these novels, by the way, contain allusions to The Waste Land - a sign of how quickly the poem was taken up by the young and the brilliant.
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