Top 10 Books in 2007: 3 and 4

3. Joseph Pearce, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde (can be previewed at Google Books). Pearce's biography traces Wilde's "complicated" (to say the least) relationship to Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in particular. Noting that many of the French "decadent" authors the influenced Wilde (particularly Huysmans) later converted to Catholicism, Pearce discerns implicit longings throughout Wilde's corpus. Surprisingly (but not if one looks closely) he suggests that the supposedly scandalous Picture of Dorian Gray only "works" precisely because the decadence of the protagonist is implicitly criticized at every turn. It is hardly a celebration of immorality; rather, it is a morality tale in a classical tradition. I imagine that Wilde found himself wavering between two different Oxfords, or two different visions of the Renaissance that he learned at Oxford: one from Ruskin, the other from Pater. Pearce suggests that it was Ruskin's Renaissance that made the more longstanding impact.

4. It is perahps curious that in a year in which I read so much Joyce Carol Oates, I also had stacks of Graham Greene on my bedside table. The giant among them was certainly The End of the Affair. I can hardly begin to describe it because I find such a prospect so intimidating. Perhaps a couple of choice quotes might stand-in:

"I have never understood why people who can swallow the enormous improbability of a personal God boggle at a personal Devil. I known so intimately that way that demon works in my imagination. [...] I can imagine that if there existed a God who loved, the devil would be driven to destroy even the weakest, the most faulty imitation of that love."

"Oh well," [the priest] said, "I'm not against a bit of superstition. It gives people the idea that this world's not everything." He scowled at me down his nose. "It could be the beginning of wisdom."