The Ethical Exhibitionist has tagged me. Here are the questions:
1. What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)?
2. What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)?
3. Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)?
4. Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)?
5. **Bonus** Why do you think certain books become classics?
Here are my answers:
1. In my freshman philosophy class I had to read Mark Twain’s essay “Letters From the Earth, Letter from Satan.” It turned out to be one of the funniest and most though-provoking essays I’ve ever read. It’s a complaint to God from Satan, similar to Milton — an argument from evil — but without all the heavy-handed theodicy Milton spruces up Paradise Lost with. It began helping me change my mind about the existence of a Supreme Being.
2. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is a noxious, humorless autobiographical novel. It’s especially horrible and whiny when compared to William Styron’s Darkness Visible, a clear-headed reflection of the madness that is depression.
3. I think Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time should be added to the list of classics. It is the first memoir that I’ve read to turn me on to the memoir as a literary form, even though I had read several memoirs and autobiographies before reading Conroy. Conroy’s clear, spare prose makes his unflinching look at his coming of age without a father a worthwhile read. It also lacks the “feel sorry for me” self pity that seems to invade contemporary memoir. I would also like to add a regional classic, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. Having grown up in rural Texas, I feel as if McMurtry had been peeping into my world, even though the novel was published two years before I was born.
4. Could someone explain the appeal of William Gaddis’ The Recognitions? It seems to be a darling of writers like Franzen, Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace, and seems to be considered a classic of modernism or postmodernism. I like some experimental fiction, but why does experimental fiction seem always to run to 900 pages? The two attempts that I’ve made to read this monster, it has seemed to be prententious and intimidating. Cast it out. Cast it out now. Also cast out Kerouac. How did Kerouac ever turn on a whole generation?
5. Certainly other writers make classics. Some writers find inspiration in The Recognitions. Others find it in Conroy’s Stop-Time, appreciating its simplicity and lack of sentimentality. Scholars and critics and teachers also contribute to canon-making. Somewhere in that mix are the rest of us who read a book or several books and find they speak to us personally, while at the same time pondering universal dilemmas.
Now, let’s see, who can I tag? Helen, Matt, the llama. Anyone else who wants to play along.