I know, right? I make these promises like "in the next post we will hear more about bicycles", and then totally don't follow up. I may not know exactly what kind of shopper I am, but I know what kind of blogger I am: erratic, that's what. So, instead of telling you whatever I promised to do, I'm instead gonna write to you about books I consider classics.
Now, I'm quite the iconoclast when it comes to revered pieces of literature, and profess an intense dislike for some books considered classics in the Western Canon (you know what I'm talking about Paul Auster, Don Delillo and oh yeah, Mr. Fitzgerald, I am not a big fan of The Great Gatsby), but there are still places where my own personal canon intersects with the with literati approved lists of works.
1. The Definitive 1800s American: Henry David Thoreau. Walking, Civil Disobedience, and Walden scarcely need my approval.
(Bubbling under: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson.) (More in the mainstream: Herman Melville)
2. The Early 1900s visionary:
Jack London. From The Call Of The Wild, to Burning Daylight, his short stories and The Iron Heel, London has a place in my heart that could not be occupied by any other author (the place being Alaska). His observations of West's rugged individuals, his early science fiction dystopia, his prolific output, more than make up for the occasional unevenness of London's prose, and the breadth of his story-telling talent is unrivaled in American fiction of the era.
(Bubbling under: B. Traven, a shockingly similar author in many respects from prospecting tales, to the socialism.)
The iconoclast of the 20s and 30s:
Virginia Woolf. Though Woolf has been enjoying the limelight in the past decade, mostly thanks to exposure from the re-imagining author Michael Cunningham (a contemporary someone who's works leave me stone-cold) in form of the book and its adaptation The Hours,many Woolf neophytes have scarcely poured over Woolf's fiction beyond Mrs Dalloway, the book who's content Cunningham merges with his own. While in someways seeming almost like a product of the earlier era than the roaring 20s, Woolf was a truly modern writer, who experimented with form, narrative, and even the sexual politics of the far more rigid moral code of the time.
3.The golden era of American literature, 1930s-through 1950s and even the 1960s before the counter-cultural revolution in the world of..well everything, but also books.
Where do I begin? This is an unlikely mix, that will be highly unsatisfying for the purists, as it contains many a contradiction and odd turn.
Truman Capote. Never lived a finer short story writer than Mr. Capote. While many a novelist could claim to be more serious, intellectual, sophisticated, none could combine the beautiful wording, eloquence, emotional understanding and originality, not to mention flair, of our Truman.
Though he may now be remembered now for his flamboyance, his socialite behavior, the later works that did not quite add up (oh Answered Prayers why are you so awful?!) and his collaboration with a certain Andrew Warhola, I have faith that history will vindicate Truman Capote as the genius he was.
Let us not forget the talented Ms. McCullers, a frenemy of Truman's and a woman of extraordinary narrative powers and also a master of the short fiction as well as long. Carson McCullers' novels and tales from the South resonate with heart-wrenching authenticity and dare I say...balls. She is a literary friend worth making.
But that's not all, folks. Now I shall spin 180' degrees and declare a certain beat, a treasure of this era and far beyond. His finest works may have lain ahead of him still, but by 1960 young Gary Snyder had already written the poems that set his life's course. He remains one of the finest writers of our time, and so spans the decades from mid-20th century to this day.
The beats may have single-handedly began the counter culture we now identify as just plain culture, but they did so within the confines of their time. They were the predecessors of our modern consciousness.
(More in the mainstream: oddly and sadly Jack Kerouac.)
This choice conveniently carries us over to our next stop; the revolutionary years.
4. The 60s and 70s. Instead some of the usual suspects, I shall present you with Richard Brautigan, a deprived, beautiful mind. I only truly wish the The Abortion: A Historical Romance 1966 had been published in Finnish when I was in high school. Especially, since around that time I wrote my first film, about a magical bookstore.
(Also check out the original book covers. They rock, roll and tumble!)
Ms. Joan Didion may not need an introduction and may already be part of the mainstream canon, but she is so mesmerizing that we shall not hold this against her. If you have not read Slouching Towards Bethlehem yet, get away from your computer now and head to the public library. Please.
Now we enter the modern era, this end of times, our time, this moment.
5. 1979-right now (consequently the author's era of existence on Spaceship Earth).
So much is difficult to see without the 20-20 vision of hindsight. Will Jonathan Saffran Foier become a great American Novelist, or just a guy with a bit of a fetish for accents? Can anyone really tell Paul Auster's novels apart? Does David Mitchell actually have a singular voice as an author? And is Haruki Murakami going to stop giving me a headache?
Regardless, there are some author's who's future
greatness obscurity I am certain of (obscurity often, sadly implies a special beauty).
I've already clued you into Melanie Rae Thon, as a kind soft spoken, hard-hitting Annie Proulx, who's off-beat worlds are hard to leave once you've entered them.
Speaking of Annie Proulx and off-topic, while I am certain that Ms. Proulx will be canonized very shortly, I would like to add her to my own personal selection, as she is the author of multiple heart-breaking works of a staggering genius. The Shipping News is a modern classic. And don't even get me started on how I loved Brokeback Mountain long before ANYONE had ever heard of it. And had to put up with people raising their eyebrows when I ranted about it. It's so pathetically self-absorbed.
In the same breath I will add that while I, uncharacteristically, am not a huge fan of Housekeeping, I would fight to death for her Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, and thus firmly place Marylynne Robinson in my selection.
I have a whole post somewhere about John Sayles, not just the filmmaker who changed my life the way Oprah changed James Frey's (i.e. making me see the harsh light of day), but the author of many works so accomplished they make most modern American authors look like navel-gazing masturbators.
Tove Jansson. Enough said.
While she has only written two novels, I am going to venture into the world with the wild hope that she will continue in the stellar path of her second and name Nicole Krauss as a great author of our era. History may prove me wrong, but my heart remains pure and strong.
In the same thought pattern, I'd like to salute a future Nobel Laureate, and someone amazing who will not sink to obscurity: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. An author who's greatness I have come to admit only grudgingly (I read a very unpleasant essay by her in Bust magazine about five years ago, and held that against her for a long time.) she won me over with her no-holds-barred narrative style, that combines a flowing plot with beautiful internalization of characters. She is a joy to read.
(A slightly more mainstream choice: Siri Hustvedt)
These are my personal selections and just a fraction of those. They are mostly American, but so is increasingly our culture, and since I like to read authors in the original, English-speaking authors comprise much of my reading material. I will take recommendations for great authors all over the world. Just don't say Gabriel Garcia Marquez, please.
Actually I'd love just any old recommendations, arguments, rants and other ideas from ya'll.
Okay, after all this high-brow mumbojumbo I gots to go and watch Red Dwarf. I am a nerd and a dweeb.
(Ps. Maybe some of these great authors could teach me how not to write an increasingly convoluted sentence.)
Edit: Way to remember a name of a favorite book wrong. Thanks Keeper Of The Ash Trees.