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?

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Literary Taboos?

This 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:

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The Best Bad Book You’ve Ever Read

MarxIn the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Bookends Section, the question asked is “What’s the Best ‘Bad’ Book You’ve Ever Read.” This area of the Book Review always asks the question to two individuals in the world of literature or journalism and often the answers constitute a rousing “he-said, she-said” of literary taste and opinion. Not always, however, and the response to the question this last weekend was varied but not especially combative.

For the record, James Parker dipped back into his love of popular genre fiction, selecting Earl Thompson’s 1974 novel Tattoo (I actually read this one) but quickly spreading out his opinion to cover what might be called a genre of bad fiction, from Science Fiction to Rockstar Autobiography. Parker did not convince me that I should read any of the works he reminisces about.

But Leslie Jamison focused on a specific book and then asked a very pointed question (but flunked the answer):

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