Originally Posted by DocHolliday
Jong, I'm glad you decided to contribute. It's always good to see a diversity of opinion, even when that opinion differs with mine. But I have to say, we're on opposite ends of this one. To me, it seems a bit ironic that you're suggesting the classics don't date well while recommending Eggers, et al, a movement that, to me, already seems very dated. McSweeney's, too, strikes me as of a moment that has passed. I liked it four years ago. Maybe I'm just fickle.
As for readability, there's not a classic on my list that I didn't relate to directly or consider a fun, enjoyable read. The only one I found to be hard work was "Moby-Dick," which takes effort but offers huge rewards. Perhaps what "Moby-Dick" accomplishes has been done better by a modern author, but I find that difficult to believe. And I don't believe anyone here has suggested that the classics should be read just because they're "classics." I know I -- and I assume everyone else -- listed books they found entertaining/engaging/illuminating/personally compelling. That alone seems like a strong testiment to their continuing relevance.
I'd be curious to hear more specifics from you, Jong. I don't mean to go on the attack here, just genuinely interested in engaging the topic.
My name is Jonathan Glover.
Hmm...as for McSweeney's, I tend to ignore the movement it's associated with. The writing is amazing, and in my mind that's timeless in itself. It's not as if it's thematically consistent, unless you count the Icelandic issue (has little to do with the prose) and the comics issue. I never really understood the McSweeney's hate, just assumed it was cynical backlash, as what the quarterly is supposed to represent to various sects and the dearth of great and varied writing that comes out of the mag seems to me like it has to be totally unrelated. Unless McSweeney's represents some all-encompassing modernist abyss. If the best writers on the planet are constantly found canoodling with McSweeney's (Chabon, Vonnegut, Murakami, Boyle, Updike, mainstream intelli-comic extraordinaire Neil Gaiman) , I don't see how that could be a bad thing.
I detest Moby Dick. In my mind it's a really abrasive read and definitive proof Melville wasn't as talented as a lot of mothball literati make him out to be. Yes, I said it (I've seen all the Hermie love in this thread).
I don't think a lot of books have touched upon the man vs. nature motif as profoundly, and it's a pretty complex work, but I just don't think it's a good read, and ultimately, though it may sound vapid, that's what is most important. Hope that doesn't offend you, just my opinion.
And I was just shocked at the lack of contemporary fiction in most suggestions (hell, I didn't see much that wasn't more than 40 years old); it seemed like a lot of posturing rabble-rabble (as someone who reads a novel every two days, I can't imagine reading a lot of the aforementioned books for enjoyment; after all the brilliant modern fiction I've read, a lot of it is just so stale). If you're trying to get someone to read, the classics may seem like stepping stones to more advanced lit, but ultimately I think they can immediately turn someone off. I saw the list and my mind went, re: Covert Curriculum of Mediocrity via Public Education. Plus, I think most of it is counter-evolutionary to a lot of stuff that came out of the Orient (mainly China and Japan) in the 1800s and 1900s. Mao Dun has ultimately done more for realist lit than any American author. The stuff reads better, also, with solid translations.
Like I said, not trying to invalidate anyone's opinion, it just seemed like a choral response of the usual suspects. I think a lot of these serve as better study material for a burgeoning author or student of literature, not enjoyable reading for someone looking for an acorn.