Jason Hartley, author of The Advanced Genius Theory, says some artists, from Miguel Cervantes to Bob Dylan, are so advanced that the rest of us can't keep up with them. The Week asked him to suggest a few books that help illuminate his theory:
Chronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster, $15). Dylan is the ultimate Advanced musician, having made bewildering career choices that have angered and confused his fans. One such choice was writing an autobiography that barely mentions his greatest hits but describes in detail the recording of obscure albums, and also muses about the wrestler Gorgeous George. He made the right choice: The book fascinates because it avoids well-worn topics.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Harper, $17). Cervantes may be the original Advanced Genius, having written what is sometimes called the first modern—or even postmodern—novel. As Harold Bloom once wrote, he’s “always out ahead of us, and we can never quite catch up.”
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Dover, $5). Melville’s masterpiece did find a publisher during his lifetime, but reviews were mixed and it virtually disappeared until the Melville revival of the 1920s. Nathaniel Hawthorne, though, recognized the novel’s genius right away, so perhaps he was Advanced.
The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham (Wilder, $6). In this 1919 novel, a London man leaves his comfortable life as a stockbroker to become a painter. His art, though startlingly original, is dismissed, and he dies alone, in Tahiti, blind from leprosy. Though the story is based on the life of Paul Gauguin, it reads a bit like a biography of actor Marlon Brando.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (Grove, $15). Walker Percy wrote that Toole’s protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, was “without progenitor in any literature I know of—slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one.” It’s unorthodox to call a fictional character Advanced, but Reilly is worthy of the title.
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (Penguin, $21). Though Joyce is my favorite author, I’ve never tried to read this book because I know it is too Advanced for me. I hope to be ready for it someday, because I know I will enjoy it—even if it’s just a complicated recipe for bangers and mash.