R. Mutt Reading List

Way back in the year 2009 Barack Obama was still being heralded as the first black President of the United States (heralded by some, vilified by others) and the Los Angeles Times published the 61 Essential Postmodern Reads: An Annotated List. I have posted the titles but I highly recommend going back to the original article to read the fun and informative annotations. First, an introduction from the article:

DadaThe thing about postmodernism is it’s impossible to pin down exactly what might make a book postmodern. In looking at the attributes of the essential postmodern reads, we found some were downright contradictory. Postmodern books have a reputation for being massive tomes, like David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” — but then there’s “The Mezzanine” by Nicholson Baker, which has just 144 pages. And while postmodern books would, you’d think, have to be published after the modern period — in the 20th or 21st centuries — could postmodernism exist without “Tristram Shandy”? We think not.

Below is our list of the 61 essential reads of postmodern literature. It’s annotated with the attributes below — the author is a character, fiction and reality are blurred, the text includes fictional artifacts, such as letters, lyrics, even whole other books, and so on.

      • Kathy Acker’s “In Memorium to Identity”
      • Donald Antrim’s “The Hundred Brothers”
      • Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin”
      • Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy
      • Nicholson Baker’s “The Mezzanine”
      • J.G. Ballard’s “The Atrocity Exhibition”
      • John Barth’s “Giles Goat-Boy”
      • Donald Barthelme’s “60 Stories”
      • John Berger’s “G”
      • Thomas Bernhard’s “The Loser”
      • Roberto Bolaño’s “2666”
      • Jorge Luis Borges’ “Labyrinths”
      • William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”
      • Robert Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy”
      • Italo Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”
      • Julio Cortazar’s “Hopscotch”
      • Robert Coover’s “The Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor”
      • Stanley Crawford’s “Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine”
      • Mark Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”
      • Don Delillo’s “Great Jones Street”
      • Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle”
      • E.L. Doctorow’s “City of God”
      • Geoff Dyer’s “Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D. H. Lawrence”
      • Umberto Eco’s “The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana”
      • Dave Eggers’ “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”
      • Steve Erickson’s “Tours of the Black Clock”
      • Percival Everett’s “I Am Not Sidney Poitier”
      • William Faulkner’s “Absalom! Absalom!”
      • Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Everything Is Illuminated”
      • William Gaddis’ “JR”
      • William Gass’ “The Tunnel”
      • John Hawkes’ “The Lime Twig”
      • Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”
      • Aleksandar Hemon’s “The Lazarus Project”
      • Michael Herr’s “Dispatches”
      • Shelley Jackson’s “Skin”
      • Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”
      • Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”
      • Jonathan Lethem’s “Motherless Brooklyn”
      • Ben Marcus’ “Notable American Women”
      • David Markson’s “Wittgenstein’s Mistress”
      • Tom McCarthy’s “Remainder”
      • Joseph McElroy’s “Women and Men”
      • Steven Millhauser’s “Edwin Mullhouse”
      • Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”
      • Vladimir Nabokov’s “Pale Fire”
      • Flann O’Brien’s “At Swim-Two-Birds”
      • Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”
      • Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor”
      • Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”
      • Philip Roth’s “The Counterlife”
      • W.G. Sebald’s “The Rings of Saturn”
      • William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”
      • Gilbert Sorrentino’s “Mulligan Stew”
      • Christopher Sorrentino’s “Trance”
      • Art Spiegelman’s Maus I & II
      • Laurence Stern’s “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy”
      • Scarlett Thomas’ “PopCo”
      • Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”
      • David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest”
      • Colson Whitehead’s “John Henry Days”

Anyone care to comment about Hamlet? How about Faulkner?

4 responses

  1. Tristram Shandy is one of my favourite books but if you are going to claim it for post-modernism you might as well chuck in Cervantes and Rabelais as well. Burton is surely Early Modern. Kafka and Borges? I also note that there are only two women writers on the list and precious little from around the world as though everything significant occurs in the English-reading world. What about Angela Carter, for example? What about Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

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    • It’s not my list. I have a theory, though: even if it exhibits all the characteristics of postmodernism, if it pre-dates modernism, it can’t be call postmodernism (unless you consider prophecy a viable element of literature).

      So two questions in return: do you think Laurence Sterne suffered from the anxiety of influence even though he was dead for 200 years when Pale Fire was published; and is the naked bathtub scene with Demi Moore the reason The Scarlet Letter is considered postmodern?

      Oh, my list would have Kathy Acker and Angela Carter in prominent positions but, as I said, it’s not my list.

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      • Good questions. Considering how much Sterne copied out of Bayle I doubt he suffered much with the anxiety of influence, but I tend to confound him with the characters he created so he has become a bit of a fiction in my mind. Demi Moore is something else: did she make a movie of The Scarlet Letter? That skipped past my inadequately functioning cultural radar.

        I know you didn’t compile the list and recommended looking at the original but the comment slipped out right there.

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      • Demi Moore is probably an unfair reference for anyone not harboring naughty thoughts involving Emma Stone and a dark closet, so allow me a quick explanation.

        For several years I have used my daughter’s observation that all versions of Hamlet on film are incomplete and each version is incomplete in its own way (how Tolstoyan); therefore, the teacher can identify which film the student used to avoid actually reading the play and can discipline the student accordingly (the worst punishment for Mel Gibson but Lord Larry is not far behind). I now have a new litmus test.

        In the fabulously erudite American film, Easy A, starring a gorgeous and desirable Emma Stone, the teacher can identify those students who watched the movie of The Scarlet Letter, starring an older and less desirable Demi Moore, by their concern over the naked bathtub scene which, if you recall the book, was never a part of Hawthorne’s story.

        And if it’s not obvious, the movie Easy A is a modern-day retelling of The Scarlet Letter with zany teens and of course the fabulous Emma Stone.

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