In numerology, the number 7 is the seeker, the theorist, the searcher of Truth. The 7 doesn’t take anything at face value – it brooks no fools; it is always trying to understand the underlying arcana. The 7 knows that nothing is exactly as it seems and that reality is often veiled by human illusion.
In literature there are 7 days of creation, a 7 % solution, 7 madmen, 7 gables, 7 pillars of wisdom, 7th heaven, and 7 basic literary plots.
What does it all mean? Who knows? But I would like here to mention 7 books that are dear to me, 7 books which helped me along my own path, my own search for the truth, capital T or no. Not necessarily my top 7 novels but not necessarily not my top 7 novels.
- Ulysses. James Joyce. Well, yes. It is the twentieth century novel, and the novel most often credited with drawing the line between what came before and what came after. If one loves 20th century literature, as I do, it is an unavoidable book, dense, erudite, experimental, rich, moody, poetic, evocative, full of life. It is also, and this is not said often enough, funny as throwing an egg into an electric fan
- Little, Big. John Crowley. This will seem an odd choice to follow the undeniably classic status of Joyce to a book most often found in bookstore’s science fiction sections. But, this is, simply, the best fantasy novel ever written, a seamless blend of real world and other, written in a poetic style perfectly suited to its subject.
- Lolita. Vladimir Nabokov. This book is only controversial if you were raised with dunking stools and scarlet letters. It is not only the great American novel (ironically, penned by a Russian), but it is the great American road novel.
- The Trial. Franz Kafka. Kafka is the 20th century psyche—he either created it or he delineated it so clearly that for all time we shall be described as Kafkaesque. One might describe these perilous, guilt-ridden, hedonistic times we live in as Kafka in Levi’s.
- Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright. Steven Millhauser. Before he won the Pulitzer Prize and became the property of the media and the world, Steven Millhauser was a secret password among the cognoscenti. His books are magical evocations of places familiar yet numinous: childhood, the past, the imagination. This, his first book, is a wonderful introduction to his fictive world.
- Darconville’s Cat. Alexander Theroux. This is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink book, made up of equal parts sophistication and frolic, comparable, perhaps, only to Joyce’s Ulysses. Portmanteau words, larger-than-life characters with extraordinary names like Crucifer, passion and danger, all make up the heady mix which is this monster.
- Housekeeping. Marilynne Robinson. If there is a better-written, more perfectly constructed book, in American literature, I haven’t read it. Every sentence in this, Robinson’s first novel, is a thing of intense and articulated beauty. One must read very slowly to savor every nuance, every musical delight.
COREY MESLER has published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Good Poems American Places, and Esquire/Narrative. He has published 8 novels, 4 short story collections, numerous chapbooks, and 4 full-length poetry collections. His new novel, Memphis Movie, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press. He’s been nominated for many Pushcarts, and 2 of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife, he runs a bookstore in Memphis.
Corey Mesler’s poetry is featured in Issue 1.1 Read it here.