French author and 1947 Nobel Prize for literature winner André Gide says of his Amyntas, or his travelogue detailing his five-year self-chosen exile to the North African city bases of Algiers and Tunis: “’There were not very many to notice that I had ever written anything more perfect than Amyntas . . . To whom could the secret value of the book speak? Only to a few rare souls; the others were disappointed’ –Journal, 14th Nov. 1910.”1
More perfect than Amyntas?
How is it that we ordinary readers go about our business of either unmitigated missing or critical disappointment?
Amyntas makes the third book I have read this year in which I have learned of an author’s view of his or her unsung, yet “more perfect,” “favorite,” or “best” book. The 1928 Nobel Prize for literature winner, Norwegian novelist Sigrid Undset, is known for her Kristin Lavransdatter, yet her biography of a fourteenth century saint, Catherine of Sienna, she considered a favorite.2 Our very own Mark Twain echoes Gide and Undset when speaking of his Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc: “I like the Joan of Arc best of all my books; & it is the best; I know it perfectly well.”3
“Let life, uninterrupted, pursue its course.”
–André Gide, Amyntas
1 André Gide, Amyntas (London: Bodley Head, 1958), contents verso.
2 Publisher, Sigrid Undset, Catherine of Sienna (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), back cover.
3 In 1900, quoted in Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1912) II, 1034.