Who Should Be Kicked Out of the Canon?

1001_Books_You_Must_Read_Before_You_Die_(cover)There is a big heavy book that professes to illuminate the 1001 books that everyone should read before they die. Well, the reality is that this is a joke for most people since they will actually read very few books of fiction after leaving school and very few of those books would qualify for any recommendation list other than a short-lived publisher’s marketing hype. But there is a subtle problem with the 1001 list: it has been revised.

It struck me as odd that I should definitely read a book that was then dropped in the next edition of 1001 Books. I can see adding books that might have been published since the previous edition and even books that might have been overlooked, but I cannot accept telling me I had to read something worthwhile and then saying never mind. Is it possible that the books themselves (which do not change) are less important than our attitude towards those books?

Continue reading

An ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us

imaginationThe New York Times continues to offer age-old questions that can be answered in as may ways as the wind blows. This week it was Should Literature Be Considered Useful? This, of course, begs the question of whether we should consider this question useful, let alone ask what we mean by literature. I suppose no one would even consider asking if art was useful (a good painting can hide those pesky nail holes left by the not-as-good painting you gave to the Animal Shelter for their annual fund raiser).

Doing a mind dump about literature I know that it generates many jobs—writer, publisher, editor, bookseller, etc.—and has a huge secondary market in the folks that purchase the books, read the books, and study the books in school (not to mention the billions and billions of reading groups on the internet). But what do they say in Bookends?

Continue reading

Literary Taboos?

RochesterThis is the subject of today’s Bookends feature from the Sunday NYT Book Review: “What Are the Last Literary Taboos?” Francine Prose and James Parker play a little Crossfire with the topic and it gives us an opportunity to think about a difficult subject and to develop our own opinions. If you consider the idea of literary taboos a bit passé, I guarantee you will encounter, on a daily basis. a clear example of someone or some organization that doesn’t think it is passé and furthermore considers it a clear and present danger to the survival of our culture … our species, even. Think of it, a naughty short story might one day destroy all that we hold dear … or maybe just bring a smile to our faces … you never know.

Prose gives a nice summary of some of the well-understood examples of questionable fiction:

Continue reading

How Relevant Is the Author’s Biography?

CopperfieldThe Bookends article in the New York Times Book Section this week is titled, When We Read Fiction, How Relevant Is the Author’s Biography? If you’re not familiar with Bookends you can think of it as a Crossfire for Books and writing (or you could consider Crossfire as a Bookends for politics and government). I read Bookends regularly and often find the two arguments enlightening, but not always mutually exclusive. This week’s question, however, is an old concern of mine and since the article started right out referencing the New Criticism, I felt a strong need to absorb the two sides and make my own comments.

Continue reading