Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Way We Read Now

Adam Kirsch, the WSJ author discussing America's 100 favorite works of fiction discerns that what Americans like is plot, rather than character or fine writing.  That certainly describes me. I read Tom Wolfe and am so impressed by his characters, his telling descriptions, and his turns of phrase - but I never finish his novels. I did quibble with the article only slightly.  He expressed a little surprise that 23 of the books were from the 21st C, and 60 from the 20th, leaving only 17 for "3,000 years of world literature." Pamela was the first novel in English, and Tom Jones the first major one, published about a decade later, mid-18th C. (Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, which came earlier, makes the list by being retroactively defined as a novel.) There had been earlier efforts in Spain and France, but there just weren't that many to choose from before 1900.

Kirsch does know this, as he makes reference late in the essay to the idea that the novel is a form that can even fight against plotting and story. 

As expected, I cheered at some which made the list which I did not think would be so favored, and sniffed at others I thought unworthy.


Sam L. said...

Since it's in the WSJ and behind the pay line, I have no more to say.

james said...

Naturally, if I can appreciate a book, it is worth appreciating. If I can't, maybe I can take somebody else's word for its value, if I'm in a generous mood.

Wrt Tom Wolfe, I did finish The Right Stuff, but that's not quite a novel. Everybody said My Name is Charlotte Simmons was the book to read about modern college life, but I bogged down hard in chapter 2 and returned it to the library.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Sam L - very strange for me. Sometimes it allows me in and sometimes it doesn't.

With WaPo, there are mirror sites that will let you in if you search for the first sentence.

Sam L. said...

Thanks, AVI; I found it. I've read Tom Sawyer, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, And Then There Were None, Catch-22 (2 times; the first time was only the first 5 chapters, so doesn't count), and six more, None from the last 25.

Murph said...

Sam L., "" is your friend.

RichardJohnson said...

Murph, thank you. Does Outline do this for all WSJ articles?

Texan99 said...

I was doing OK until about 2/3 of the way through, then there were an awful of books I either wouldn't dream of reading, or had never heard of. Some, like The Da Vinci Code, The Handmaid's Tale, and even Harry Potter, I know only from the movies that were made from them, because I found the books unreadable even if the movies were a rough sort of fun. Actually, I quite like the Harry Potter movies, just can't make it through a single paragraph of the books.

Donna B. said...

I was surprised that I'd read so many of the books on the list. The Harry Potter books I read along with my granddaughter. The Da Vinci Code is forgettable, but I read it. As for Tom Clancy books, I'm glad Hunt for Red October is the choice. It's his best and the movie is one of my favorites. The Stand is one of Stephen King's worst books. Seriously... Cujo, even Christine is better.

Outlander... now there I'm sucked in almost completely. I get irritated with the acupuncture BS... how she can write that along with growing penicillin jerks me out of the story and annoys me. I haven't watched the TV episodes because the actor portraying Jamie looks like a wimp compared to the Jamie in my head. Maybe I should try to watch. After all, Tom Cruise did manage to not too badly disappoint me portraying Jack Reacher.

And that brings me to my confession - I've read all of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels and none of them made this list. I'm a literary failure. Oh well.

Texan99 said...

I enjoyed many Reacher tales until I got to one that whined too much about how mean society was to military deserters. You might enjoy the Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais or the John Wells series by Alex Berenson, if you're as drawn as I am to the lone-detective-enforcer-guy-dusts-it-up-with-evildoers genre.

I enjoy Stephen King to a surprising degree and have to admit that "The Stand" is like catnip to me. I also thoroughly enjoyed Salem's Lot and The Dead Zone. Also a bit of a Dean Koontz fan, and "The Watchers" is as entertaining as they come, especially for dog lovers.

I read all of the Outlander series. It's not too badly written, though the plotting is often a mess. I sort of lost interest in the TV series. If men read this series at all, I've heard they wonder how in the world a woman can imagine that a man's internal life is remotely like that. It's a familiar sensation, obviously. This is pure wish-fulfillment fiction: "Modern woman marries an action hero from a romance novel and camps out with him forever."

You can see I'm a sucker for sci-fi and speculative fiction. I would have included one of the Ursula LeGuin classics, probably "The Left Hand of Darkness," not because it's undying literature but because it's a novel that rewards me every time I re-read it. I take that to be the gold standard of a list of popular favorites.