postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 27, 2012 - 6:47pm

This discussion seems to get sidetracked into matters of taste, which is all well and good, but I'm curious what you all feel are books that are important to read (matters of taste aside) because they are so important to literature in English.

I'm reading Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, and he refers to Aristotles Poetics every second page. the Odyssee gets a high word count, as well as several works of Shakespeare. He mentions some works I'm passingly familiar with, like The Faerie Queene, or Paradise Lost, and others I've never read.

Aside from the ones mentioned above, I'd say the Bible and the Inferno (if not the entire Comedy) are essential older works, and more modern ones would have to include 1984. It's helpful (but not necessary) to be familiar with them. I find reading some of this stuff challening (never gotten through the Odyssee or the Bible, although I'm familiar with much of it).

Anyone else?

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters January 27, 2012 - 7:43pm

I’m passionate about books.  Probably to a fault.  So I sometimes get two concepts confused – books that are important to read because they are “so important to literature in English” vs books that I think are so important to read because what they say is important (to me, and probably me alone for all I know).
So I had to stop my knee jerk reaction to list countless wonderful books here, and really stop and think about this and the question at hand.  Rather than detract from that (just yet).  It’s easier (for me) to start with the more accessible stuff, by which I mean the most recent and easiest to read.  Such as Hemingway.  I would say For Whom the Bell Tolls is important to literature.  Also Faulkner.  I’ll go with As I Lay Dying.  Completely different styles, but they were both masters of their own style.  Salinger’s Franny and Zooey is another.  Naturally, I’m going to say Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, I’ve made no secret of my love for that book.  The Bell Jar by Plath.

Wait, am I just listing books I like yet?  Paradise Lost – or just all of Milton. 
Sophocles, the poems of John Donne, Shakespeare’s plays, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables , um… Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poetry. 
Actually, at this point I have to stop, because there are really too many. 
 

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 27, 2012 - 7:53pm

Great lists so far.  To those, I'd add:

The Collected Stories of Jorge Luis Borges

The Poems of Pablo Neruda

Both of these are in Spanish, but they are both important in the development of modern Western literature and they are definitely worth reading.  I'd also add City of God by St. Augustine, The Prince by Machiavelli, Don Quixote, Moby Dick, the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe, and Huckleberry Finn....Now, I'm just getting carried away.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 27, 2012 - 7:59pm

I'm beginning to realize how few of these I've actually read - LOL.

Oedipus and the Prince for sure.

Gulliver's Travels. Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Heart of Darkness.

I didn't study American Lit. formally, so I don't a good context for the essential works.

 

 

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin January 27, 2012 - 8:05pm

Goethe's Faust.

Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Cervantes' Don Quixote

Sun Tzu's Art of War

Machiavelli's The Prince

Chaucer's Canturbury Tales

Dumas' Musketeers

Tocqueville's Democracy in America

Doyle's Holmes

Huxley's Brave New World

Marx's Manifesto

Rand's Atlas Shrugged

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath

Twain's Tom Sawyer

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters January 27, 2012 - 8:06pm

Thank you for saying Tom Sawyer. 

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Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin January 27, 2012 - 8:09pm

Sadly, it was an afterthought I was looking at my own list and I thought "NO TWAIN!" and I was outraged.

Petitions followed, the Governor was upset, but he gave in to the will of the people.

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 27, 2012 - 8:12pm

Tom Sawyer instead of Huckleberry Finn?

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 27, 2012 - 8:32pm

I think he meant Huckleberry Finn.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. January 27, 2012 - 8:34pm

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Reasons to Live, by Amy Hempel

Sandman, by Neil Gaiman

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 27, 2012 - 11:12pm

@Bryan for including Sandman - an absolute must. Probably Watchmen while we're at it.

I think that the source material for so much that followed would have to include Arabian Nights, and the Decaeron.

of the Shakespearean classics, I believe Romeo & Juliet (although it's far from his best work, it is the most familiar for most people), Hamlet and Merchant of Venice are the most commonly referred to. Add Macbeth for good measure.

Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung. Never hurts to know your archetypes.

 

 

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin January 27, 2012 - 11:37pm

Why not Connecticut Yankee?

Meh, Huck Finn is a fine book, and I get that the use of the N word makes it "controversial" so such counterculture types will hop on the bandwagon.

BUT Tom Sawyer is the classic, Tom Sawyer is the better book, and Tom Sawyer is canon.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones January 27, 2012 - 11:41pm

slaughterhouse five

451

pretty much any short story from sherman alexie...

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 27, 2012 - 11:58pm

I've only read excerpts, but you could probably throw in Thomas Aquinas. My impression is he's one of those guys who were so influential, reading him today might almost be redundant to anyone but a student of history and / or philosophy. I felt that way about The Prince -- I was like, "Yeah, even Final Fantasy characters know that."

I'm curious to know what books contemporary academics are pushing for as new additions to "The Canon:" stuff from the last 30-40 years. Has post-modernism practically annulled the very idea of adding anything? Do the advocates of the canon ignore it and its effects? Or does it mean that even Sandman could stand a chance?

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch January 28, 2012 - 12:03am

Oh no, you're mentioning Jung but not Freud? So much of literature owes something to Freud that you kind of have to read him. Just to mention a few: Totem and Taboo, Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Then if you want to get really theoretical, read Jacques Lacan and you'll get dizzy from the combination of pshychoanalysis and linguistics. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Then, get into Derrida and read at least one - maybe Dissemination.

Now I'm kinda kidding. These are only for those who dig theory, and there are plenty more where that came from (Foucault for that matter is pretty important to read because he shows you how totalitarian and capitalist societies meet somewhere in the middle). I felt a bit guilty for mentioning non-literary books but I saw in previous posts people mentioning Marx and Jung.

For literature, you have to read Absalom, Absalom if you want to read Faulkner. I've said it 100 times and I'll say it again.

Nobody mentioned Gabriel Garcia Marquez? He's one of the most awesome writers. Personally, Love in the Time of Cholera is my favorite but others will say 100 Years of Solitude is his best. I know this thread started with works in English but then it went all over the map.

And read some Romantic poets, there's something so writerly about them... the angst of the genius, the longing for something lost or mythical, the chaotic gloominess...

For Shakespeare, The Tempest is also awesome. But I also like Tennessee Williams for drama. A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie may be his best. Some Arthur Miller too?

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 28, 2012 - 12:16pm

I was thinking of books that are common cultural references, maybe less so with people who are immersed in literature (like this crowd so clearly is).

@JY Hopkins - 20th century lit in general is harder to choose from, what with us lacking much in the way of perspective like we have with Homer, for example. I've read in a number of places that postmodernism ended with 9/11, so we can probably take a look at what may be considered canonical from that mess of experiment and nose-thumbing.

Slaughterhouse Five, as has been mentioned (although I prefer some of the devices Vonnegut used in Breakfast of Champions, it's less familiar). The Things They Carried should be added, but it's not as widely familiar as a lot of other 20th Century Lit. From a more academic standpoint, postmodernism began with Ulyssees, peaked with Gravity's Rainbow and ended with 9/11...

I was also wondering how important it is to actually read a work, ,as opposed to being familiar with its points of reference. Should Catch-22 be part of a 20th Century canon, or is knowing what a Catch-22 situation is sufficient? Do I really need to read Moby Dick provided I have a general idea of what the plot & symbolism are?

I think that having a classical education was more important when so much of what was written was referring to the classics on several levels. Having read it was key to understanding, whereas I don't think we need such a thorough understanding as our predecessors did.

 

Nighty Nite's picture
Nighty Nite from NJ is reading Grimscribe: His Lives and Works January 28, 2012 - 12:24pm

I'll echo To Kill a Mocking Bird and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Also:

Faust

The Iliad and the Odyssey

The Great Gatsby

Lolita

The Stranger

Sherlock Holmes

Absalom, Absalom!

Ulysses

The Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Flies

For Whom the Bell Tolls

That's off the top of my head. There's more I'm forgetting right now, I'm sure. I tried to avoid repeats, but eh.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 28, 2012 - 1:23pm

grocery lists of books don't really do it for me, ladies and gents - why do these books deserve to be part of a canon? are they referred to? Other than the title of For Whom the Bell Tolls, is it necessary to be familiar with it to be culturally literate?

I enjoyed the Tempest, but it hasn't permeated our common references the same way Romeo and Juliet has, with the star-crossed lovers and all that (let alone all of Shakespeare's phrases that have entered the parlance of our times).

What am I lacking if I haven't read Tom Sawyer? (which I haven't, btw).

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. January 28, 2012 - 1:27pm

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 1:37pm

@Alien - It isn't at all snobbish to acknowledge that some books are more important for Western literary history than others.  That's just reality.  To argue that, say, The Devil Wears Prada is as important to our literary tradition as The Bible would be absurd.  The idea of a Canon is just a way of coming upon a general mutual agreement as to the important works of our history.

Nighty Nite's picture
Nighty Nite from NJ is reading Grimscribe: His Lives and Works January 28, 2012 - 1:47pm

I'll take one from my list, and I'll expand upon it.

Let's go with Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes wasn't the first of the detective stories, but his stories have arguably been the most influential. Think of how deeply his adventures have permeated society. His use of forensic analysis was fairly accurate, his name has weaseled its way into modern day jargon. We've seen countless movies, series, and re-imaginings. Alongside the works of Poe, Doyle completely changed the mystery story.

This is an interesting case, too, where the character is actually more relevant, perhaps more important, I think, than the original stories.

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 1:49pm

Meh, Huck Finn is a fine book, and I get that the use of the N word makes it "controversial" so such counterculture types will hop on the bandwagon.

If you think that Huck Finn is highly regarded because it uses the N-word, then you're really missing the point.

The reason that Huck Finn is universally acknowledged as Twain's masterpiece is because of the themes and metaphors that it explores - ones that far exceed what his intent was with Tom Sawyer. 

Tom Sawyer is a fairly basic tale about a young, adventurous boy.  It isn't until Huck Finn that Twain really grapples with America's original sin:  racism.  Huck Finn is an incredible metaphor contrasting Huck's coming of age and loss of innocence, with America's coming of age.  He crafts a much more complex character than that of Tom Sawyer, and really uses the novel as a means of exploring complex issues and ideas.   In doing that, Twain profoundly influenced the writers coming after him.  That's why Hemingway said it was the "best book we've ever had." 

razorsharp's picture
razorsharp from Ohio is reading Atlas Shrugged January 28, 2012 - 3:09pm

I'm surprised Beowulf hasn't been mentioned. It's not something I enjoyed reading, but if you're going to compile a canon I think it probably belongs due to its historic value. Moliere probably should be added if we include Shakespeare. Voltaire as well. Grimm's Fairy Tales. Aesop's fables. The Decameron. I don't think Dickens has been mentioned. For the twentieth century I would add Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 3:23pm

Not sure how far we want to stretch this, but I'd add in the US Declaration of Independence.  The prose is spectacular and its influence is undeniable. 

It also has, I believe, one of the most important declarations in all of human history:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 28, 2012 - 4:29pm

@Nighty Night: Sherlock Holmes is a fiction become myth, and Jack the Ripper is a fact become myth. They both inhabit the same London. Good point.

I think part of the difficulty in this, is that the North American living art form is the motion picture, and here we are imposing the older form of fiction/literature on it. It might be more relevant to say that Casablanca is more important to us than A Tale of Two Cities.

Nevertheless...

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin January 28, 2012 - 4:31pm

touche Popeye, touche.

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. January 28, 2012 - 4:38pm

I wasn't saying you were a snob, I just like that picture lol  Trust me YOU aren't a snob but there are some people who are.  Not naming names.

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Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin January 28, 2012 - 5:29pm

He means me.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading January 28, 2012 - 5:44pm

He means me too, no doubt, and that's fine, but the idea of snobbishness itself seems kind of useless in the first place. Anti-snobbery is often badly disguised inverted snobbery. Having a "canon" or a "counter-canon" allows for that. We make do.

Canonical works, as a category, I can't see us ever getting out of. We privilege texts of various sorts all the time. But the justifications for excluding certain works from the canon are often really unconvincing. I still don't see why James Hanley's little novel, Boy, isn't considered a real classic. It's been forgotten for decades, but it works well as a much grittier, less polished Conradesque story. It's like the underside of the Conrad universe.

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 5:51pm

I still don't see why James Hanley's little novel, Boy, isn't considered a real classic. It's been forgotten for decades, but it works well as a much grittier, less polished Conradesque story.

I'd imagine it's not considered a real classic because it's been forgotten for decades...You could always hope for a revival, though.  Some books are not well-regarded until they experience some sort of revival where everyone acknowledges their genius. (Blood Meridian comes to mind.)

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading January 28, 2012 - 6:00pm

Boy does keep getting little revivals. I think the last big one was when Anthony Burgess wrote an introduction to it. So far, the "revivals" haven't clicked. The book was banned for obscenity, and still nobody's reading it.

I have extremely mixed feelings about Cormac McCarthy, but I did enjoy a couple of his novels. He's written some stuff that I found really tripey, like All the Pretty Horses, but Blood Meridian has grown on me. It feels like the only actually semi-convincing novel of his that I've read. Yet The Sunset Limited was great, and I wish he'd write more plays. The Orchard Keeper was good, but so close to being a light Faulkner that I'd assume it wouldn't impress canon-formers. I hated Child of God and The Road and No Country for Old Men.

Blood Meridian, though, I can get behind that.

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 6:06pm

Definitely with you on All The Pretty Horses and Child Of God.  I was not a fan of those.  No Country For Old Men was a good, but minor, work.  I'll have to check out Boy sometime.  To be honest, I'd never heard of James Hanley until you mentioned him (lol - I hate mentioning when I'm not well-read)...

Blood Meridian and The Road I found to be absolutely brilliant.  I re-read both of them often, and whenever I do, I switch allegiances and say, "That's his greatest work."  What did you not like about The Road?  Not saying it should be canonical (although I might argue that it should - I'd need to give it a few more years), but I thought it was a beautiful and brilliant novel.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading January 28, 2012 - 6:13pm

The Road felt to me like it hadn't earned its bleakness. I haven't read it in a few years, so my memory is fuzzy, but I remember at the time my girlfriend saying, "Phil, you will LOVE this book, it's so dark and tragic" and she was seriously surprised when I said I hated it. It was relentlessly manipulative. The conversations between the man and the boy kept making me feel ugly inside, though I wouldn't know how to explain that.

It felt like a "tender" Blood Meridian, with a lot of wandering around in the barren nothing, except instead of killings everywhere it was a few scenes of forced tenderness.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 28, 2012 - 6:14pm

Never heard of Boy or Hanley either. - I could fill a stadium with all the books I haven't read.

I read by themes, like last year was a lot of South Asian literature, and South American literature. They have their own canons, which are less relevant to folks in North America, despite the fact that the writing is incredible.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading January 28, 2012 - 6:15pm

Having said that, I would be a good deal more forgiving if it hadn't been for the ending, with the almost hopeful but seriously grotesque "resolution" involving a family with a little girl or whatever, a familiy that took the boy in as the father died. I don't remember the details, but that just made me nauseated.

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 6:17pm

It felt like a "tender" Blood Meridian, with a lot of wandering around in the barren nothing, except instead of killings everywhere it was a few scenes of forced tenderness.

LOL - That's pretty good....hadn't thought of it that way.  Obviously if the tenderness didn't feel real to you, then that would pretty much ruin the book.  It really did feel realistic to me, though.  I could actually see having those exact conversations with my niece.  It was the only book I've ever read that made me physically tired and emotionally exhausted at the end of it.  It's kind of fascinating how people can have such completely opposite reactions to it.  I guess that's one of the cool things about literature.  It's always surprising.

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 6:21pm

I read by themes, like last year was a lot of South Asian literature, and South American literature. They have their own canons, which are less relevant to folks in North America, despite the fact that the writing is incredible.

That's a cool idea.  I'm a big fan, not necessarily of just South American literature, but of Spanish-language literature in general.  I think that it's going to become more and more important to American readers as our culture continues to evolve, which is a good thing.  Latin America has an incredible literary tradition.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading January 28, 2012 - 6:24pm

I'm trilingual, and I've made an effort to read the various "canons" (at least somewhat conscientiously) in French and Portuguese as well as English. Portuguese literature, some of it, remains my favorite. People like Jose Saramago and Antonio Lobo Antunes astound me often. I recommend them.

As for the French, I went through a deliciously serious Emile Zola phase, and came out of it feeling indignant at the world for reasons I can't really recall. All that violence in 19th century French novels, probably. I love Zola, even at his worst.

Roberto Bolano, from Chile, will almost certainly become a part of the "world canon", which pleases me. The Savage Detectives, in particular, is a book I'm always recommending.

Japan: While Yukio Mishima is more famous than Junichiro Tanizaki, I think the latter's novel, Naomi, is the best novel about sexual obsession between generations after Lolita, and people should read it, full stop. As I've said elsewhere, so far I'm not impressed by Murakami. I love Akutagawa.

Borges.

I'm partial, too, to Dostoevsky, especially The Brothers Karamazov, but I've grown a bit sick of hearing his praises sung. It's pathological, I can't explain that either.

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 6:25pm

I'd also be interested in what people would consider to be the Litreactor Canon.  What are the books that you pretty much have to read to really understand where most people are coming from here?  American Psycho, Fight Club, and The Contortionist's Handbook come to mind. (Not trying to de-rail thread, so feel free to ignore if appropriate)

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading January 28, 2012 - 6:32pm

Poland: Witold Gombrowitz wrote Cosmos, and that alone makes him great.

Italy: Alberto Moravia. Starting to be forgotten, but his Contempt is good. Tommaso Landolfi, because of Gogol's Wife.

Czech Republic: Kundera, because.

Germany: Georg Buchner, because of Lenz.

Austria: So much. Lately, I read Stefan Zweig and appreciated him. And Rilke.

Hungary: Imre Kertesz, over and over.

Scotland: Alasdair Gray, Agnes Owens.

 

PopeyeDoyle's picture
PopeyeDoyle from Rio Grande Valley, TX is reading Chronology of Water January 28, 2012 - 6:38pm

Not including Umberto Eco for Italy?

Latin America:  Borges, Neruda, Marquez, Cernuda, Bolano, Llosa, Paz, Allende, Pacheco.  A lot of others that I'm probably not thinking of off the top of my head....

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aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. January 28, 2012 - 7:01pm

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters January 28, 2012 - 7:43pm

"The conversations between the man and the boy kept making me feel ugly inside, though I wouldn't know how to explain that. "

The Road - I loved that book, and almost for this very reason that you disliked it.  It made me feel awful.  It took me to a really unhappy place that I really never want to go back to, but I was in awe of McCarthy's ability to make me feel that way. 

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions January 28, 2012 - 7:46pm

@ Tom vs Huck: thank you popeye.

I'd assumed it was an honest error (the way my mom calls me by my brother's name) because Huck Finn has actually been "canonized," is in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, is taught on every college campus in America, and has been called "the best book we've ever had" by Hemingway and many more, while Tom Sawyer is generally considered a children's adventure story.

I have no interest in arguing the "better" book, but I did find the reaction: 'the use of the N word makes it "controversial" so such counterculture types will hop on the bandwagon'--intensely annoying on a number of levels...

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin January 28, 2012 - 8:38pm

I read them both when I was 8. One of them made a big impression on me.

Somehow all of the "race in america" stuff went right over my head.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch January 28, 2012 - 9:32pm

Warning: this may read like "blah blah blah" so feel free to skip.

I'll make a case for The Tempest - it's one of the first literary documents we have of how as the world was becoming bigger, people's imagination grew too. Tempest is a pre-Swift travel fantasy and it also sets the tone for colonialist mentality. I find it interesting to see the Caliban-Miranda-Prospero dynamic since the ugly scary savage is given some good lines against Prospero, so you can't quite say Shakespeare was simply a speaker for that colonizers' mentality.

I never was a big fan of the Romeo-Juliet story except as a cute, overly dramatized story of failed love. It's popular with teens, I suppose, but I don't get much out of it. I get more out of more weird love stories, like Twelfth Night or Othello, or even Taming of the Shrew. At least there's more to scratch your head over and try to figure out where Shakespeare stood on male-female issues.

But I'll have to say that I don't think we can just say "I know what Moby Dick is about so I don't have to read it" - I mean of course we can shrug a book off (like I can say I know Lolita without reading it). But if many people got so much out of reading that book, which partly comes from the detail, is it possible we might find something too, even if we live in a different context and even if we kind of know what people say Moby Dick is about? Can you really start identifying Ahabs around you, let's say in politics, if you haven't felt any anger and/or sympathy for the character as you watch him keep going and hear his crazy rationale? Again, you may hate the book so don't read it if you don't get into it, but I don't think I can agree that we should just not read what is well known. Since I mentioned Derrida before, I'll say that I'm very angry when people say they understand deconstruction or Derrida and then proceed to criticizing him by repeating what they heard others say about Derrida but I can tell they never read him.

If we want to just have an idea about what someone else had to say, we can just ask about what the idea was. But if we think it might help us as writers to know how that writer said that thing, put that idea on paper, then we should look for ourselves. Just my opinion - and plus, of course, no one has the time to read everything that's been written or even what's "most important."

If you just want to get a sense of the flavor of a time period, just read a few from each period, maybe those considered to have more impact? As I said, read some Romantics, but also read some modernists, read some Victorians, go farther back in time, read some stuff and get more than an idea. What are we discussing these for anyway? I'm assuming that we're trying to figure out if it helps our craft? I'd say even Plato can help you as a writer.

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin January 28, 2012 - 10:37pm

My first thought when the influence of the Tempest was downplayed was "haven't these people heard 'The Island, Come and See'?"

But, whatever, I like highly literary music. Not everybody is into that.

Romeo and Juliet might have a broader cultural impact, but if you really want to get canonical on Willy S's body of work then I think that FAR more important (in the literary sense) is Hamlet.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch January 28, 2012 - 10:35pm

Hamlet, no argument from me with that one. I love Hamlet.

Anybody saw Forbidden Planet? (speaking of Tempest) I think it was made in the 50s but it's still a cool science fiction movie.

(and no, I haven't heard that song, I'll look it up)

Nick Wilczynski's picture
Nick Wilczynski from Greensboro, NC is reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin January 29, 2012 - 12:01am

It's 12 minutes long and a little slow at the start, but it is all about some Tempest. I love me some Decemberists.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like January 29, 2012 - 12:04am

@postpomo - I get what you're saying about perspective, but Homer has long been included. Like ever since people in the Western world studied literature. Inertia / Tradition. Will anyone ever say it should no longer be studied? There is nothing that needs to be understood.

I've read in a number of places that postmodernism ended with 9/11

I might have to read whatever that's from before I can make any sense of such a proclamation. (In saying that, I mean no offense to you, of course.)

Also, I'm late but I want to pitch in on the McCarthy tip -- I thought Child of God was funny. I thought the Road was overrated, but not bad. Pulitzer? There must have been a better book that year. Those two and No Country (which I liked) can each be read in an afternoon. They aren't really demanding.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 29, 2012 - 8:41am

@JY Hopkis - with respect to 9/11 ending postmodernism (we need some arbitrary designation), the article I read (and have been unable to find again - my google-fu is bunged) was about pomo in architecture. However, I think that every cultural movement has its life - people continue to exercise it after it has had its time (like Jazz died in the 1980s - may musicians who helped develop it are still alive and playing, and many new musicians have picked it up, but it's life is done, and they are exploring a dead form).

@Liana - I think this all depends on how we define a canon - in Shakespeare, we have 3 different plays mentioned, all of which qualify, but for different canons - Romeo and Juliet for broader cultural references, Hamlet for more literary reasons, the Tempest for modern sensibilities (re: colonization, globalization and so forth).

I was thinking about this thread this morning (and thank you all for sharing your thoughts on it), and I'm left saddened that all of the writers (or almost all, I have to go back and check) are European men. Granted this is the bulk of our historical canon for a host of political/historical reasons, but nevertheless, it leaves me wanting to burn the canon (or Blast it and make it new in Ezra Pound's terms) and start from scratch.

(that's what I get for reading the Truth About Stories when I woke up this morning).