Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Day Today 07/07/2007

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

BIRTHDAY!



Happy Birthday little fellow - one year old today


BEAUTY!


After yesterday's disaster, I came across Alexander Nehamas, who was much more enlightening. Here we learn that To find something beautiful is to believe that making it a larger part of our life is worthwhile, that our life will be better if we spend part of it with that work. Which seems fair enough. But what use is it? Harold Bloom points out that immersing ourselves in beautiful literature will not make one a better or a worse person, a more useful or more harmful citizen., and here Theodore Dalrymple likewise notes that it is possible for a man with the roughest manners to have a heart of gold and wonders why is it that well-read people do not behave conspicuously better than those who have never read a book in their lives?

Whilst I search for the answer to that one, Bloom, through Nehamas, has thrust another problem before me. That of immersing myself deeply in the Canon [of Western / English literature]. I took English at high school through to seventh form but the curriculum was mercifully free of anything to do with English whatsoever - quite a feat to pull off over five years.

Now, I would like to find out about great writers and even poets (I was scarred for years by the shit Ted Hughes) but have absolutely no idea where to start. All I have are names, Wodehouse, Keats, Larkin, Dickens, Hemmingway and so forth. What should I read?

10 comments:

Apathy Jack said...

Firstly; thanks for posting that Dalrymple article. I was vacillating over buying a books of his essays, but that made my mind up. (I'm going to, just so there's no confusion.)

Secondly; I read what people would consider classics in high school. I read The God Boy in sixth form. I hated it. I subsequently reread it in my mid-twenties and thought it was so good I should teach it. I did. The children hated it.

In seventh form I read The Wasteland, which I hated with a profound passion. Reading it a year or so ago, I now recognise it for the true technical master piece that it is.

I still hate it, but it's technical proficiency is to be admired.

I was also forced to read Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Well, at least the first half - I simply couldn't finish the damned thing, and it was only a smidge over a hundred pages.

I still haven't read that one, nor any other Conrad.

The problem is that a lot of the so-called classics really aren't suitable for people who haven't read particularly widely and are more interested in girls/boys/cars/television/etc. (And for those who are about to tell me that they read widely in high school; are you sure? I read many dozens of books a year in high school, but they were almost always science fiction. If you really did read widely, rather than just a lot, good on you, but you're the exception, not the rule.)

I remember a uni paper along the lines of "Introduction to Victorian literature." The first text we read was Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. While I didn't hate it, I thought it was pretty tedious, and wondered why we were reading something written in the twentieth century for this paper.

Some time later, having read more Victorian-era novels than most right-thinking people, I reread Arcadia and realised that it was an exceptionally funny satire of Jane Austen and her ilk. Of course, I hadn't gotten the jokes, because I hadn't, when I first read it, been exposed to the specific literature that it was riffing off.

The "classics" are a mixed bunch, some of which deserve their reputation, some of which certainly don't, but people are, in my opinion, wrong-headed about their approach to them. One shouldn't try to teach a teenager to love literature by forcing Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre into the brain of seventeen year olds (I've tried teaching both texts, and can think of few less productive ways to spent a term), rather, one should instill a love of reading into people (any of the books on this list are good places to start, just in case anyone was wondering - almost all have been lent to my students at some point) and then let them find their way to the "classics" when they're ready and in the right mood.

I mean, sure that's just my opinion, but it's better than everyone else's...

Josh said...

Books give you cancer -- that's why I never touch the things. It's also why Apathy Jack's Civil Union present to Arna and me was the final proof I needed that he has been trying kill me alll along...

Apathy Jack said...

Of course I was trying to kill you at the Civil Union, but I was trying to do that by putting poison in the cupcakes. Sadly, I mixed my vial of poison with my vial of deliciousness, so it all went wrong. (It went even more wrong the next morning, when I thought "What should I have for breakfast? I know, I'll have some delicious, delicious pancakes!" and had to find someone to suck out the poison...

And because of the dodgy editing functions here, the html was eaten out of my first reply - when I said "the books on this list", I was of course, referring to this list - fine choices all.

HORansome said...

I can heartily recommend Wodehouse if you enjoy comedy. My personal favourites are the 'Jeeves and Wooster' stories, if only because Bertie Wooster is a near perfect narrator. Because Wodehouse steadfastly refused to age Bertie as time and society changed they remain timeless in a very odd fashion.

Paul said...

Poets? But you hate poetry. Does this have something to do with girls?

Try Larkin. He doesn't do all that pastoral stuff. High Windows is a good place to start. Or get a copy of Palgrave's Golden Treasury for the classics.

Don't listen to Jack about Conrad.

Eric Olthwaite said...

"Firstly; thanks for posting that Dalrymple article. I was vacillating over buying a books of his essays, but that made my mind up. (I'm going to, just so there's no confusion.)"

You mean "Life at the Bottom: The World View that makes the Underclass" - excellent read. Everyoe should buy it.

I think I am going through what you went through with the Classics regarding poetry. I did Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and hated it and thus all poetry thinking the whole genre talentless and indulgent. Now I'm interested in dipping my toes in. Paul mentions Larkin (the second to do so to me) so I shall start there. And Wodehouse.

Also, a love of reading is absolutely what students need, unfortunately I doubt the English curriculam can provide that. It is either Shakespeare that no-one likes or can understand because it is not written in English, or mind-numbing inane assignments.

My love of reading was instilled before school and was independent of it. I also had an excellet English teacher in Form 3 and Form 6 who got me reading some great works independently (Dickens for starters), not unlike yourself Jack with your lending of books to students.

And Paul, yes and no :-) my interest in poetry is more a sign of maturing tastes (as explained above) than anything to do with girls - but I'm sure it will help.

Anonymous said...

Poetry is balls. The reason for this is that much is crap, and I'm a fussy bint. I really enjoy poetry, but only sometimes and only by some people. Even then, I don't even like most of the poetry by poets that I do like. Harumph. I do, however, fancy a few contemporary NZ poets, such as Glen Colquhoun or Karlo Mila. I would also suggest a gentleman by the name of Shane Koyczan who many rhapsodised over after seeing him at the readers and writers festival recently. Have fun. Arna

Josh said...

It went even more wrong the next morning, when I thought "What should I have for breakfast? I know, I'll have some delicious, delicious pancakes!" and had to find someone to suck out the poison...

It amazes me that Nat still falls for that "suck out the poison" line.

Paul said...

Most poetry is crap, but then most art of any genre is crap. Poetry gets beaten up because we all tried writing it to express our innermost feelings, when we had spots.

Apathy Jack said...

You mean "Life at the Bottom: The World View that makes the Underclass"

Nope, I mean "Our Culture - what's left of it".

Rant on poetry to follow.