August 2009

The New Classics

Have you checked out the list of new classic books published by Entertainment Weekly? I found myself perusing over the list of “100 best reads from 1983 to 2008,” seeing which ones I have read, which ones I haven’t, as well as the choices I agreed with—and which ones I didn’t!

Though there’s a good handful that I haven’t read, there were plenty that I did read, and of those, some seemed very questionable choices to me. I’m constantly surprised, for example, by the number of people who loathe Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I found to be one of the most moving, well-written works I’ve ever read in my life. Then again, I was the only person in my senior lit class who enjoyed Heart of Darkness

Dunces: In a Confederacy...

The first time that I was utterly stunned by a book – post Twain fascination, at least – was probably The Stranger by Albert Camus. And while that book may have informed my perception of the world and how it (doesn’t) work, it wasn’t as much entertainment as A Confederacy of Dunces - which was written by John Kennedy Toole during the ‘60s, although it remained unpublished until 1980. The story around the book and even its posthumous printing could serve to make up the whole of some other literary gesture. And while that is more than improbable due to the author’s suicide in ’69, what Toole left readers should be considered one of the most playful pieces of fiction written by an American, Twain or otherwise.

Knut Hamsun's Pan

The perceived transgressions of Leni Riefenstahl have been forgiven, to a certain extent. And today she’s seen as a huge figure in the development of non-fiction films. So, despite an apparent flirtation with fascism – and Hitler – Knut Hamsun probably deserves to be understood as one of the better fiction writers of the last hundred and fifty years or so. Writing towards the end of the nineteenth century, Hamsun’s work possesses elements of a changing time – one from the vast expanses of untamed wilderness to the industrialized metropolis. That metamorphosis would be touched upon in some way amidst a few of his novels, but perhaps nowhere else more adroitly than in Pan, his 1894 novella.

Budget Ulysses Edition

The estate of author James Joyce is notoriously litigious, so much so that one would

think that works like Joyce's novel Ulysses were moneymakers on the scale of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, or, at the very least, Dan Brown's oeuvre. They are not, despite generations of pallid undergraduates being forced to read about Steven Daedelus, and even more less pallid, and slightly more erudite graduate students eagerly constructing narrative out of Finnegan's Wake. Don't mistake me, please; I rather like Ulysses, but I like it in the manner in which I also like to reverse engineer software problems.

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Nation is best described as a novel that can change the way you view the world. Or at least encouragingly nudge you out of your comfort zone. Written by Sir Terry Pratchett, it is one of the few instances when he has indulged in a fictional world outside of Discworld. For those who are wondering, Discworld is the imaginary world created by Pratchett for his immensely popular fantasy spoof series. In this case, the world is a kind of parallel take on our own world and is set in the 19th Century. This book is actually meant for children but, in all honesty, I can imagine a number of adults falling in love with this book.

Child of God: A Chilling Tale of Depravity and Violence

With the recent surge of Cormac McCarthy novels being turned into films—the Academy Award-winning No Country for Old Men and the much-anticipated The Road coming to theaters soon—the reclusive writer is now being featured more prominently than ever. This has made finding some of his older works easier than it may have been in the past—or, at the very least, it has increased awareness of these books. Having loved (and been terrified) by both The Road and No Country for Old Men, I decided to check out an older book of McCarthy’s. I was not disappointed.

A Fopish Tale: The Picture of Dorian Gray

It may or may not be an extended abstraction to figure that the character of Dorian Gray, in more than a few ways, was a template for the dandies of Britain in and around the ‘60s. Both the fictitious character and the folks on the scene during the swingin’ ‘60s partook in more than just a snifter of sherry. Opium, while perhaps not the most favorite downer of Brit Hippies, was still around – just ask Brian Jones. I guess you can’t actually do that considering that he’s no longer with us, but that to a certain extent completes the comparison. Jones, who was really the prototypical out of control Brit musician of the era didn’t make it through to the other side. And while Dorian Gray might not have come to exactly the same end as the one time Rolling Stones’ guitarist, the literary character had more than a slight disregard for his own health.