I had thought about sidling up to this new place with a small, offhand post that acted like I had been here all along and you just happened to come into the room, but then I thought instead that I would hit the nail square on the head. And so let's begin at the beginning. "Ephemeral Firmament" is a name I fell into when I created lists of my favorite books, music, and movies back when Amazon was temporarily considering giving its media editors individual spaces on the site to write about what we liked best. The idea died, but the lists live on, as does, in my case, the title, which I still find both pretty (ok, euphonious) and oxymoronically evocative enough that I think I can live under its roof for a while, even though it may be even harder to remember and spell than Omnivoracious, the last blog name I sailed under. (One advantage of such mouthfuls is that they stand for, even now, relatively unclaimed territory on the net. As far as I can tell, only this French duo of multimedia artistes has realized what a beautiful and meaningful phrase EF is.)
I wrote about books for Amazon for ten years, and now I'm writing about books (and, in theory, writing books) for myself, which might sound like a sea change, except that one of my more or less explicit strategies at Amazon was to bring "writing for Amazon" and "writing for myself" as close together as I could make a business case for, as we used to say. Here, though, the veil will be completely off, and I can just celebrate myself in the usual blogger style, at least until there's enough of a "you" I'm writing to that I start taking other people into account.
And so let us begin the celebration with the debut of the first regular feature I've concocted for EF: the Fortnightly Firmament. Making lists is, along with macaroni and cheese and '70s soft rock, one of my guiltiest of pleasures (I'm sure I could make a list of the others), and since top 10 lists in particular are something the net really has a shortage of, every other week (I'll try for Mondays) I'll post a new top 10 list of some variety.
For this opening fortnight let's get the ur-list out of the way: my favorite books. And by "favorites" I'm going to go against character and emphasize the ephemeral over the firmament by choosing the books that mean the most to me right now. The truth is that my firmaments are often not very ephemeral at all. I keep the same friends for decades, and the same favorites. Today, though, I'm just including the books I'm closest to now, the ones that proving the most useful to my head, the ones I feel I'm living inside. (No doubt there's another list waiting to be made of my Favorites I Haven't Actually Read in 20 Years--The Moviegoer, The Third Policeman, The Periodic Table. Another fortnight...)
Here's the 10 (in order, of course: what's the point of a list if it's not ranked?). Rather than write pithy little comments on each, I've just selected a choice and representative sentence or two:
- A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes: "Possibly a case might be made out that children are not human either: but I should not accept it. Agreed that their minds are not just more ignorant and stupider than ours, but differ in kind of thinking (are mad, in fact): but one can, by an effort of will and imagination, think like a child, at least in a partial degree--and even when one's success is infinitesimal it invalidates the case: while one can no more think like a baby, in the smallest respect, than one can think like a bee. How then can one begin to describe the inside of Laura, where the child-mind lived in the middle of the familiar relics of the baby-mind like a Fascist in Rome?"
- The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard: "A small flat road brought Paul and Caro, in the bloom of their youth, suddenly among the megaliths."
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark: "Taking inward note of this, and with the exhilarating feeling of being in on the fait smell of row, without being endangered by it, they followed dangerous Miss Brodie into the secure shade of the elm."
- Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill: "She felt as if she were a very young child, when every notion that appeared in her head was new and naked of association and thus needed to be expressed carefully so it didn't become malformed."
- Amerika by Franz Kafka: "But Karl merely leaned back happily on the arm which Mr. Pollunder had put under him; the knowledge that he would soon be a welcome guest in a well-lighted country house surrounded by high walls and guarded by watch-dogs filled him with extravagant well-being, and although he was beginning to feel sleepy and could no longer catch perfectly all that Mr. Pollunder was saying, or at least only intermittently, he pulled himself together from time to time and rubbed his eyes to discover whether Mr. Pollunder had noticed his drowsiness, for that was something he wished to avoid at any price."
- The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald: "It had always been of the greatest importance to him, Ferber once remarked casually, that nothing should change at his place of work, that everything should remain as it was, as he had arranged it, and that nothing further should be added but the debris generated by painting and the dust that continually fell and which, as he was coming to realize, he loved more than anything else in the world."
- The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson: "The most notable thing which I observed was that the reserve of the host increased in direct proportion to the hilarity of his guests. I thought that there was something going wrong which displeased him. I afterwards learned that it was his habitual manner on such occasions."
- Salammbo by Gustave Flaubert: "The light from outside struck against the leaves of black latticework. Tree-shapes, hummocks, swirls, vague animals were traced in their diaphanous thickness; and the light came in, frightening and yet peaceful, as it must be behind the sun, in the bleak spaces of future creations."
- Ghost World by Daniel Clowes: "I remember when I first started reading these I thought 'DWF' stood for 'dwarf'... I could never figure out why so many dwarves were placing ads..."
- Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar: "It was at about this time that I began to feel myself divine.... At forty-eight I felt free of impatience, assured of myself, and as near perfection as my nature would permit, in fact, eternal. Please realize that all this was wholly on the plane of the intellect; the delirium, if I must use the term, came later on. I was god, to put it simply, because I was man."