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In Kentucky the comments sections of one of the state’s largest newspapers have been particularly aflame lately, as have posts at several of my favorite, whip-smart kidlit bloggers weighing in on the stories. The controversies in question? Books that teenagers want to read.

That’s right–once again, concerned citizens have been looking out for the best interests of the children by, you know, preventing them from reading what they want or–in one particular case–from assigning or analyzing several highly regarded, recently published books for teens, using the spurious rationale that such books can’t possibly help prepare students for college.

In one case, some women lost their jobs for way overstepping their bounds and preventing a graphic novel from circulating (among other things), and while this is the valiant and right outcome, the graphic novel section at the public library in question is now being moved away from the teen section. I sympathize with the library, who must be under fire to do something to protect the children, especially given that it did the exact right thing initially. The second, the one where books are being kept out of a high school’s classroom and  book club is the more disturbing, as the local superintendent seems to have planted both head and heels in the sand while having no clue what he’s talking about. There are people who are concerned for the teacher who introduced the books into the classroom’s job.

I don’t want to lay all this at the foot of The Canon, certainly not. But, hear me out, I do think that the elitist desire to rank fiction–when the rankers always, always have an agenda, be it a clear-cut one or not–ends up contributing to certain crazy ideas people hold about literature, especially people who don’t get out enough. And by get out enough, I mean who don’t read contemporary fiction, because it hasn’t been stamped by the mighty passage of time. Do I believe that history sorts out good books from the pack? Sometimes. Do I believe excellent fiction gets swallowed up as the years pass? Sure. Do I believe that the only healthy approach to reading involves throwing some newer stuff into the mix? With all my brain.

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I had a professor in college, an extremely nice man who prided himself on his identity as a gentle scholar of classic fiction. He didn’t believe in reading anything less than 100 years old, because there’s simply no way–he maintained–to sort through the clutter and volume of books being published to determine what is worth reading. (Which, of itself, implies that you can’t learn from flawed books. And all books are flawed.)

Being the obnoxious undergrad that I was, I needled him into a commitment to read five books for me written in the last century that I felt were contenders for the title of great literature. And, to his credit, he read and reported back on all of them. (I don’t remember the list, actually, but I do recall that Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was the one he came closest to admitting was worthwhile.) Then he immediately went back to rereading Shakespeare and watching baseball on a black-and-white TV. Clearly, this is a guy who would ADORE Cormac McCarthy, if nothing else.

The same view, admittedly an extreme one, is at the root of this spurious idea that teens should only read The Classics. That only The Classics can prepare a child or teen for college. How could we allow the reading of a book in the classroom that is younger than something by Twain? And how could an older book be offensive? This argument tends to ignore anything on the content side that the people making it would squawk about in a more recently published book. For instance, The Canterbury Tales were mentioned specifically in the Montgomery County schools article by a parent on the wrong side of the issue; the Tales just happen to feature a woman literally getting her ass kissed (or possibly something racier, depending on where you come down on the translation of a certain word). We all know Shakespeare was a filthy little genius. To pretend that literature can be literature without ever getting anyone’s mind dirty–well, it’s just stupid. And most of our minds are dirty anyway, right?

What this rubber-stamp with the word Classics on it school of thinking leads to is an inability to engage with modern letters, something we certainly don’t need any help with in this culture. It’s no coincidence that if you examine the arguments involved in either of these cases, you’ll come across things like: graphic novels are all for children; Alan Moore is just a pornographer (and a Wizard! or whatever we’re calling that these days); books for teenagers can’t be literature; teenagers shouldn’t be reading about sex/the consequences of sex/gay people/abuse/foul language (my personal favorite). As if teenagers are some sort of delicate morons. In fact, teenagers are at just the right age to begin grappling with extremely polemic works and with much more nuanced ones. They can take it. Trust me on this. (If you mention The Twilight Saga, you lose. An eye.)

Sure, religion plays a part here, but I believe the lessons people who grow up to be non-readers–usually–absorb about what fiction should be (i.e. OLD!) is the bigger factor. (Not to mention, maybe one of the reasons they’re non-readers.) And that’s why I say that teachers like the one in Montgomery County are to be applauded. Not just because she’s in trouble and we all know she’s right, but because she’s shaking up the way literature is usually presented to these kids. She is showing them that books worth reading and analyzing and discussing aren’t limited to books by dead, mostly white guys. That literature can be about and for them and still do some sophisticated and exciting things. That it can be written by people who are still alive.

I’m not saying don’t read the classics or eschew the Fiction of the Dead, but throw a palate cleanser out there every once in awhile too. (Confession: I read every single “classic” on every high school reading list when I was a freshman, so I could spend the rest of my formative years reading Eduardo Galeano, Jeanette Winterson and, yes even, Kerouac, and basically whatever I wanted.) I know the very idea of The Canon has been controversial for some time, and continues to lose favor.* And yet it haunts us. It’s still alive and well in much of America and even in the ivory spirals. I give you those two small examples as exhibits A and B.

I will end now rather than flog on, but let me also say how ridiculous it is that we’re having these debates right now, during an indisputable golden age of literature for young adults. How crazycakes that most of these parents have no idea.** How much I hope all these books–these challenged books–are creating a new generation of readers who can lay these antiquated ideas in their graves. I’m not optimistic enough to believe it’s that simple, but the future gives me hope on this front.

Assuming there are still books in 20 years.***

*And I don’t even want to argue that we shouldn’t have some way of capturing the best of the best, because clearly we are list-making creatures and the aliens will pry our lists of great books from our tiny cold hands… but it shouldn’t be so centralized and inarguable or stuffy as what we’ve had in the past. The ripple effects are too severe. It should be a starting place. An idea of what’s of value that doesn’t pretend to be the result of a mathematical equation to yield the verdict X equals BEST/NOT BEST/TRASH. Don’t all us readers and writers know that our own personal canons are the ones that are most important to us? Let teens start rolling their own canons.

**Also increasingly not the case–my mother is in a book club made up of adult women coordinated by the h.s. school librarian that reads pretty much exclusively top-notch YA, based on what the kids are buzzing over.

***That was a JOKE.

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Gwenda Bond GWENDA BOND is working on a young adult novel. She has written for Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post Book World, Kirkus, and Strange Horizons, and has appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition. She also writes an advice column for Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet as everyone's Dear Aunt Gwenda. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband author Christopher Rowe, and their pets: Hemingway the Cat, Polydactyl, LLC; Miss Emma the Dog-Girl, CPA; and Puck the Puppy, INC. She prefers champagne to martinis, but hardly ever before noon. Find more at her blog, Shaken & Stirred.

35 responses to “Canon Fodder”

  1. Nice summation of something endlessly debated. Though I was a lit major, I fall on the other side of the Canon; I don’t really read anything more than twenty or thirty years old. I find Dickens and Twain and Poe extraordinarily boring for the most part, never liked Hemingway, and just re-read The Great Gatsby a few months back and found it was way worse than I remembered it. For my money, I’d rather read contemporary stuff, the work of my peers and colleagues; I can’t make the argument (nor even understand it) that those writers were the giants, that everything new pales by comparison. The other half of my background is science, after all, where the advancements of even twenty or thirty years ago, save some obvious major exceptions, are completely obsolete.

    There’s also a major disconnect between the literary establishment (for lack of a better word) and readership in general; one need look no further than the National Book Awards, the shortlist for which combined sold something like 25,000 copies. I’m not saying they’re not actually good books (I wouldn’t know, as none really struck my fancy/interest), just that nobody’s actually reading them.

    What’s ironic is the fact that the librarians were trying to keep Moore’s The Black Dossier out of circulation; here’s a graphic novel that seeks to confer relevance on exactly that Canon by exploring and expanding the stories contained therein. The women may as well have been trying to remove Twain, Wells, and Stoker from the shelves.

    It’s also worth noting it sounds like the main woman behind the whole thing sounds like she has symptoms of mental illness (getting people to pray over her while she read it? Not the mark of sanity, I don’t think). Which seems to demonstrate it does go beyond religion, as you note.

  2. JB says:

    Nice work! I wish I lived in a hundred-year-old house. I’m pretty sure my apartment just wrapped up puberty…

    Speaking of, that Earl Lee Watts guy looks like he needs to get laid.

    Have you read A Reader’s Manifesto? I’ve put a copy on hold earlier this afternoon. And then I read your essay. Timely!

    Cheers,
    JB

    • Gwenda Bond says:

      That guy is a FREAK SHOW, and not the good kind.

      We live on the north side, so it balances out. Our house was originally a doctor’s office; it has a pressed tin/tiled “waiting room” in front and the circuit box still labels the rooms “exam rooms.”

      I remember reading a piece by the author in the Atlantic–I’m one of those people who believe that the modernist exodus away from omniscient viewpoint (and then later minimalism) largely shoved pure storytelling into the genres and it’s only now coming back to mainstream literary fiction in the past couple of decades (outside translated work). I’m also a huge believer that there’s brilliant work all over the place and a lot of mediocre stuff too, some of which is inordinately praised. (!)

      G

  3. Matt says:

    A good book is a good book is a good book. Doesn’t matter if it was written one year ago or one hundred. For my money, The Left Hand of Darkness is just as socially relevent as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and I’ve included both on course syllabi in the past.

    For the record, Alan Moore actually is a wizard.

    • Gwenda Bond says:

      YES. Re: Huck Finn, you might be interested in taking a look at Alan DeNiro’s new and first novel Total Oblivion, More or Less–it mirrors Huck’s journey, but across a post-apocalyptic America overrun by barbarians. Love Le Guin.

      (I know, although he seems to prefer the term magician…)

  4. I don’t get the whole idea of ‘If it’s old, it’s better/worthier/more valuable’. Never did. Or the reverse argument. Shouldn’t merit come down to content?

    • Gwenda Bond says:

      It should, and people who are teaching should be conversant with what’s going on today and comfortable making their own decisions about what’s valuable to their students. Then you see a teacher like this get into trouble (and there are plenty more, and librarians) for trying to bring newer books into the classroom and you understand the incredibly sad reasons so many people play it safe. It seems to me there is plenty of room for older stuff and contemporary work.

  5. Greg Olear says:

    1. Love the title.
    2. Gwenda Bond is an awesome name.

    And now, to the matter at hand:

    You know how if you watch a movie from the 40s, the acting is (generally) really lousy, because the characters all trip over the words and affect these weird accents? Those movies reflect what people looked for in entertainment at the time…the themes, mores, jokes, and most of all the pacing is slightly off. I feel like Melville was the first modern novelist, and most of the stuff written before Hemingway/Fitzgerald/Joyce reads like those old movies. Which isn’t to say Dickens and Austen aren’t worthwhile; just that I don’t enjoy them as much.

    “Nowadays we sit through Shakespeare to recognize the quotations.” – Wilde

    • Gwenda Bond says:

      Thank you for 1 and 2. I definitely feel that way about some movies from the 40s, but the best screwball films of the thirties and very early forties are shockingly modern and appealing to me–they seem more progressive in so many ways from any of the romantic comedies made NOW. But, yes, I take your overall point.

      Certainly, older works like anything else are subjective in their appeal. I do believe that students should have to read some books in common and understand the basic progression of literary movements and styles over time, but it seems as if there should be more room left to accommodate the students who love Austen _and_ the ones who love Fitzgerald, and why not throw John Green into the mix too? Or, god forbid, a fantasy novel.

  6. D.R. Haney says:

    I agree with you about screwball comedies, Gwenda, and I agree with your argument overall, though I see a consuming interest in fantasy these days that obliterates almost everything else, which I find troubling. Meantime, I’m not sure what it adds, if anything, but in reading your post, I was reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s essay “Total Effect and the Eighth Grade,” which was published in 1963. Here’s one passage that, looking at the essay again, catches my eye:

    “Ours is the first age in history which has asked the child what he would tolerate learning, but that is a part of the problem with which I am not equipped to handle. […] In other ages the attention of children was held by Homer and Virgil, among others, but, by the reverse evolutionary process, that is no longer possible; our children are too stupid now to enter the past imaginatively. No one asks the student if algebra pleases him or if he finds it satisfactory that some French verbs are irregular, but if he prefers Hersey to Hawthorne, his taste must prevail.”

    And here’s the conclusion:

    “In our fractured culture, we cannot agree on morals; we cannot even agree that moral matters should come before literary ones when there is a conflict between them. All this is another reason why the high schools would do well to return to their proper business of preparing foundations. Whether in the senior year students should be assigned modern novelists should depend on their parents’ consent and on what they have already read and understood.

    The high-school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. He will teach literature, not social studies or little lessons in democracy or the customs of many lands.

    And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.”

    • Greg Olear says:

      Yeah. What she said!

      Also: I’m talking only about the acting of those early films, not the films themselves. But there are exceptions, of course. For example, Cary Grant and George Clooney could switch places, and we wouldn’t really notice (other than CG was a Republican).

    • Gwenda Bond says:

      I half agree with her — one of the other things that infuriated me in the Montgomery County piece was a parent pushing for an “opt out” option. The children of parents who would sign a form opting their kid out of a book the teacher wants them to read? The exact kids who have the most to gain from being forced to read what’s assigned and run up against new ideas and emotions that they have to calibrate against. I do not believe that the decision should be left up to the students because we all know most of them would only choose the shortest books available. (Seriously.)

      That’s why I’m not saying the classroom should be entirely about contemporary fiction, but I just feel that much as I adore Flannery O’Connor, what she’s proposing is clinging to the canon and history too tightly. I am all for foundational texts, but there are a lot other other issues to consider–for one thing, the kids being exposed to Homer and Virgil she references? Were mostly not from low socio-economic backgrounds. We have a different system of education now than through most of history, and that means adaptation. I do believe it’s our job to refine our methods for the best way to teach all the kids in the classroom; although clearly we’re still failing that test in many respects.

      If kids don’t have the necessary foundations to engage with new fiction by the time they hit the upper grades of high school? We’re in trouble anyway.

  7. Becky says:

    Of course, on the other end of this is a class I have now–“American Poetry Since 1900.” I dare you guess, or try to guess, at least one poet featured on the syllabus.

    You will not be able to.

    Because like those who think all literature must be old and dead-white-guy-ish, there is a contingent of patricidal professors who, perhaps after some bad experience with a professor romance or a dysfunctional relationship with their own fathers, are hell bent on doing everything they can to AVOID talking about the Canon.

    This particular professor refuses to respond to any comment I make that features T.S. Eliot, for example, and though the books she’s teaching are every bit as old as those she’s sort of vengefully NOT teaching, she is convinced that what she is doing has some progressive, innovative value, simply because it is not the norm. And of course, because she agrees with them politically or approves of them ethnically.

    Some of them are fine. Some of them are great. Most of them never have any hope of taking the Waste Land or Cantos’ place in the English Language canon, not because of the anglo-hetero-democrato-normative nature of the patriarchal academy but because they just aren’t that good to begin with.

    So, I guess, in the end, I agree. Mix it up. But I think the world is not without educators who would just as soon wipe the standing canon off the face of the earth for their own political and personal reasons, regardless of the worth or importance of the works in question.

    • Gwenda Bond says:

      Yes, overcorrection is definitely not the answer. The work of the past should bump up against contemporary work, because–hello–they’re in conversation with each other.

      • Becky says:

        I keep pushing that in my class, which is how I keep coming up with comments about T.S. Eliot for the professor to ignore.

        Relentlessness being an essential part of my personality, though, my final paper will compare Theresa Cha’s “Dictee” to “The Waste Land,” just to prove a point. And to be aggravating.

  8. Okay, I’ve commented twice already and they haven’t shown up! Don’t want to repeat in case they both reappear at some point. But two things to say: 1. Welcome Gwenda–thanks for this post! 2. Duke, great Flannery O’Connor quote. Love her and think we call can learn everything we need to know about writing a short story by simply reading Flannery’s stories.

    • Gwenda Bond says:

      Thanks for the welcome! I do love Flannery O’Connor, though I also kind of wish I hadn’t read Brad Gooch’s biography of her, as it makes her more problematic.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I’ve had a similar problem with comments at times, Jessica, so I know whereof you speak (write). And, yes, Flannery O’Connor was a master of the short story, and her remarks on writing stories, in her letters and essays, are very instructive. They’ve stayed with me, which is why this particular essay came so quickly to mind, though I probably only read it in its entirety once.

        I haven’t read the Gooch biography, Gwenda, but I’d be curious as to how it makes O’Connor more problematic. Do you mean characterologically? It seems to me that most biographies, of writers anyway, have that effect. Anyway, though I haven’t read the Gooch book, I’ve heard that it itself is problematic.

        • Gwenda Bond says:

          Yes, adore her work. As for the biography, I pretty much agree 100 percent with Maud Newton’s take on it for NPR (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102500858), so I won’t rehash but just toss out a link. But it’s well worth reading if you’re a fan.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Haste makes for repetition; I now see that I twice said I hadn’t read the Gooch book. Meantime, I failed to respond to your comment in reply to my own.

          The subject of your piece is far from what I’d regard as my area of expertise, so I’m not sure what you mean when you say that we have a different system of education now than through most of history. Are you referring to the presence of computers? Of overcrowded classrooms and new methods of reaching them? Of course, kids these days are walking power stations, what with their constant exposure to technology, and that shortens attention spans and makes virtually everything, aside from the two seconds of a song played on an iPod before it’s been preempted in favor of two seconds of another song, “bo-ring” — but if the system has changed, or must be changed, in order to accommodate them, I question the degree. Likewise a student’s low socio-economic background. I know this wasn’t what you had in mind, but I think it’s condescending to assume that a child of one background is less equipped to handle any subject than another, which for me raises the specter of the old “girls aren’t good at math and science,” not to mention “Ebonics is necessary because African-Americans aren’t faring well in English.”

          In fact, I think the system has changed far less than the students, but even where it’s moved to meet them, it could never be enough. American teenagers think they have a right to be entertained at every turn, and it’s a victory for a single student ever to have read a single book.

          I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the public-school system was widely admired, since it was administered to some degree by staff members and graduates of UVa; and when I was in high school, we were assigned mostly twentieth-century lit (“Of Mice and Men” and “A Farewell to Arms,” for instance), with a healthy dose of YA novels (“The Pigman” is the only title that comes immediately to mind). Even so, the system was later amended, with an even greater emphasis on kid-friendly material, because the dropout rate had accelerated. This is what I was told by my high-school history teacher, with whom I’m still in touch; he gave up teaching due to his many frustrations with the school board, and with the students themselves. It reached a point where he was barely assigning any reading material at all; class was almost exclusively an audio-visual experience and games designed to make learning fun, and yet on the day before a test, after weeks of prepping kids by the most entertaining means possible, he would go over the material yet again, only to have students raise their hands with: “Did Robert E. Lee fight for the South?”

          This guy was one of the best teachers I ever had, incidentally, and I daresay others regarded him as I did; and he finally, as I say, quit in frustration.

          I personally think it doesn’t much matter what’s taught at this point, or how it’s taught; American intelligentsia is soon to be an oxymoron, if it isn’t already.

  9. Tony Esposito says:

    I tend to agree with Becky on this issue. The Western Canon, as Harold Bloom called it, has been receding from its dominant position in American universities long before Bloom wrote the book defending it in 1995. On the other hand, it is always disconcerting when a book is banned. But, if I am reading Gwenda’s piece correctly, I disagree and would say that the Canon, provided the teacher doesn’t put most of the class to sleep, does, in fact, prepare students for college in a way that most anything else does not. Part of the reason these books are classics is that they are connected to the source and chain of thought and reason that has become Western Civilization, flaws and triumphs combined. And of course so much else that is still taught in the core curriculum of colleges and universities is by necessity equally connected to this history. So, as long as colleges teach what they teach, the Canon exercises the mind best. Besides, no one is saying the children of this corner of Kentucky can’t read fantasy or graphic novels; they’ll just have to do it on there own time. And your professor friend, Gwenda, who doesn’t want “to sort through the clutter and volume of books being published to determine what is worth reading.” Isn’t that his prerogative? You said he was nonetheless an “extremely nice man.” What more could you want from him?

    • Gwenda Bond says:

      I think you’re confusing some of the issues here — the graphic novel issue involves a public library, so the student _was_ trying to read the book on her own time, and none of the novels that have been removed from the classroom and book club at Montgomery County high school are “fantasy” novels, with the possible exception of Neil Shusterman’s Unwind (dystopian SF in the vein of Margaret Atwood). I don’t quite see your case that the canon exercises the mind best, nor do I agree with most of Bloom’s arguments.

      Also, he wasn’t my “professor friend,” he was my professor. I believe that someone who is going to teach English classes to undergraduates should have at least a passing familiarity with current literature, and not dismiss it out of hand.

      • Tony Esposito says:

        Gwenda, I read your piece again and, you’re right, I must still be confused. You wrote, “women lost their jobs for way overstepping their bounds and preventing a graphic novel from circulating.” I took this to mean that the women (in the public library) prevented a graphic novel from circulating and lost their job for it but that the graphic novels remain in the library only now they have been moved away from the teen section. You pointed to a second case: “where books are being kept out of a high school’s classroom and book club is the more disturbing (case).” This is where I thought you were disturbed by the fact that graphic novels were being kept out of the classroom. (I agree with you that they should probably be on a book club list.) Then: “There are people who are concerned for the teacher who introduced the books into the classroom’s job.” If this means that the teacher in question might lose his job, I agree with you again – he should not.

        But dissecting is not my intention. I just wanted to return the favor of a reply.

        As for Harold Bloom and the Western Canon, he is more than just passionate on this subject but he would have no interest in trying to convince you otherwise. You’re entitled to your opinion.

        And your English professor: he teaches the curriculum. I don’t know what the course was exactly but unless it was “Franzen, Foer and Foster Wallace: Why Should We Care,” then I don’t agree that he should have a “passing familiarity” of their work – in the classroom, anyway. You said he wasn’t a friend so, again, why should you care? In any case, thanks for taking the time to respond and good luck with your contributions to TNB. I enjoy reading much of what appears here.

        • Gwenda Bond says:

          Sorry if I sounded cross there–just pressed for time. I think maybe we’re interpreting things differently (I trusted that anyone who wanted more details on the cases could read the articles). Clearly both situations are concerning to me. My argument is that pretending that only historically pre-approved Literature, capital L, is of value in the classroom implies that this is also the case outside it and doesn’t serve anyone well in the long run. It’s that idea I see at the root of both cases.

          As for the professor, it bothered me because he was teaching courses on literature–including to me–without acknowledging that the conversation of literature continued after 1900. It seems to me a thin way to teach the subject, and particularly dangerous for someone who at least partially has the job of demonstrating the relevance of literature and analyzing it. If no literature written after 1900 is particularly relevant in this guy’s view, then doesn’t that undercut the concept that any of it is?

          You’ll see from my post that I think classics and the canon have their place and am not arguing they be dismissed entirely; I’m simply arguing that engaging with contemporary work is just as important as engaging with the work of the long dead. And knowing the problematic areas of the canon is equally important.

  10. Marni Grossman says:

    I was lucky enough to go to a high school that gave us the opportunity to study “the classics” but also to read contemporary novels. To read, in other words, things written by women and people of color.

    We read Shakespeare, of course. But we also read Sherman Alexie and Wendy Wasserstein. And somehow we all made it to college. Imagine.

    In other words, I agree with you wholeheartedly and have actually contributed nothing new to this discussion.

  11. Of course, I agree with you wholeheartedly, but what really struck me as genius about your article is that you refused to be sucked onto the treacherous ground of arguing with these people on religious or moral issues. A mistake too many of us make (me included). The idea that these wackos use the canon to back up their censorship is troubling at best and, I think, reveals a deeper problem with how and why these works are chosen to represent all of literature. I won’t even get into the fact that the canon is overwhelmingly white, male, straight, Western, etc. As you point out, using the canon gives these censors a legitimacy and a sort of end-run around the larger issue of censorship. Because that’s what we’re really talking about here, censorship in the name of fundamentalist Christianity and protecting the children and the canon is a terrible and perfect ally.

    Wow, I got off on a rant/tangent. Just meant to say, great article!

  12. Paul Clayton says:

    Welcome Gwenda, I enjoyed your post. Maybe this modern life just doesn’t allow us enough time and leisure to ‘get into’ the canon. But, old, not quite dead yet white male that I am, I do appreciate the classics and am taking my time, what little I have, to go through ’em. I recently read Morrison’s Beloved and enjoyed it immensely. I tend to read mostly male writers. I remember attending a writers conference and the sister of the second wife (something like that) of Steinbeck had written a bio of him and was speaking. She said that she believed many of the classics are no longer approachable by us moderns and perhaps she’s right. And of course some contemporary writer is the yet unrecognized future member of the canon. I’m racking my brains to think of a contemporary novel I’ve read and I can’t think of any famous ones, mostly works of writers I know of personally. Funny you mentioned Cormac McCarthy. I hadn’t heard of him until I rented a DVD of the the latest movie (too violent). Then I read a few reviews and picked up All The Pretty Horses in the used book store and can’t put it down. It’s Faulkner’s Yoknapawhatever county, the southern part, and The Sun Also Rises, all in one. This is funny because I’ve been feeling really great about finally finding a contemporary writer I really like and then I read your post.

    Well, I know that every older person believes the world they inhabited in their prime is the only real world, and the phoney baloney one that’s coming on is for wimps, but I still can’t help but lament the passing of an era when people had more time, more patience, better educations (sorry, but as a parent who has watched his kids go through the CA public schools; they aren’t getting the same quality education that we received), way fewer distractions, more personal associations, in the real world vs the virtual, etc. Wow, this last para has ‘old fogey’ all over it.

    But, seriously, please recommend a good contemporary novel for me. I would appreciate it.

    Best!

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