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T O P I C     R E V I E W
Callipygous
Member # 2071
 - posted November 29, 2006 15:32
There are quite a few contenders for the title of the Great American Novel, but the earliest "great" American novel is widely held to be "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville. I put the word great in inverted commas because the book itself is almost completely unreadable. I read it myself in Morocco some time in the summer of 1972 (I think*). Seldom has any book that I have read been thrown across the room as often as "The Dick", as we came to call it, but I managed to finish it only because
  • I was with a good friend and we only had two books to read.
  • We would read a chapter each and then be very rude about it to each other.
  • We had the aid of Morocco's most famous export and
  • luckily the other book we had was "Middlemarch" by George Eliot which is probably my favourite 19c novel.
Anyone who has struggled with "Moby Dick", or James Joyce's "Ulysses", or any other unreadable masterpiece will enjoy this blog

This is completely unrelated (except that is is also about books), but I have a 9 year old son, and one of my greatest pleasures is reading him a bedtime story every night. We have of course read through all of Roald Dahl's children's books, and many of the other children's classics like E. B. White's "Charlotte's Web" and so on. However right now we are coming to the end of Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad trilogy, and I must say, we both couldn't have enjoyed it more. If you have geeklets of the right age, I highly recommend these three books. He is a very clever writer, with a geeky wit that reminds me slightly of Douglas Adams, and the story is a good adventure yarn with well drawn, likeable, funny characters and each book in the series is better than the previous one. Often in the morning when he comes down to breakfast, my son discusses the story with me and we giggle at some of the jokes. You can't ask for more than that.

* I think it was 1972. The record I remember hearing everywhere was Santana's "Abraxas".
 
The Famous Druid
Member # 1769
 - posted November 29, 2006 15:57
Not that I disagree with your assessment of Moby Dick, but the book has a special place in the hearts of Clan McDruid, as there's a family connection to the story.

The (fictional) whaling ship the Pequod is named in honour of the Pequot tribe from Connecticut. One of Mrs Druids ancestors was from that tribe, and went to sea as a whaler, eventually settling down in Australia, entering politics, and becoming (as far as we know) the only native american member of parliament in Australian history.
 
Callipygous
Member # 2071
 - posted November 29, 2006 17:01
Good Golly Druid, I too have Native American blood (about 1/16th I think) through this man's wife and another of my ancestors was this colonial feller, so I have much in common with Mrs Druid.

Should I be married to you too? [crazy]

PS That first link doesn't seem to be working right now, but this is another bio of my Canadian great great grandfather.
 
Xanthine
Member # 736
 - posted November 29, 2006 18:00
I've never dared Moby Dick. I'm not sure I want to do that to myself.

This is not English Lit, or American Lit, but this seemed like a suitable place to rant about War and Peace.

I read War and Peace once. I started out of curiousity and to please my parents (got a copy for Christmas). This is supposed to be the great Russian novel, a paragon of literature.

The only thing great about War and Peace was the size. I finished it out of sheer perverseness. I would. Not. Let. The. Paperweight. Defeat. Me. I seriously think the only reason it's held up so high is no one who has dared slog through it wants to admit how crappy it actually is. They want to be pretentious and act like it was a great novel and anyone who disagrees just isn't smart enough to get it.

Bull crap.

If you want good Russian literature, try Master and Margarita. That will blow your hair back.
 
Colonel Panic
Member # 1200
 - posted November 29, 2006 19:39
I really enjoy the writing of Mellville; tho I have to admit it he is more fun to read if he is not forced upon you by a schoolteacher. His way with religious allegory is delightful.

A couple of writers I find remarkable are Nabakov and Conrad, both of whom wrote novels in the English language even though it was not their native language. To write with such power and eloquence in a foreign tongue is astounding to me.

I can think of one politician in particular who could take a lesson from Conrad's seminal tome on courage, "Lord Jim," and re-enact its final dramatic passage ... imagine G.W. standing by the funeral pyre cocking a rifle and handing it ... ah my heart races!

My favorite writing of Conrad's is "Freya of the Seven Isles," it's a novella -- the perfect length for movie adaptation. I think Tom Cruise would make a great Captain Heemskirk.

"Nothing gives away more a man's secret disposition than the unguarded ring of his laugh." -- Conrad describing Heemskirk.

The great American Novel is usually attributed to "Huckleberry Finn."

For 20th century literature, Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" tops my list as a fitting description of America's view of both war and corporate life. And, heck, how many titles of novels end up as a new word?

For interesting writing, pick up the writings of Thomas Jefferson. It will put some humanity into your next reading of this nations' Declaration of Independance. Until I read his letters and essays I could not visualize that a living human being could such a document.

CP
 
GMx
Member # 1523
 - posted November 29, 2006 21:32
Although it's not a novel, but a short story, I absolutely love Melville's Bartleby The Scrivener. Very Surreal.
 
nerdwithnofriends
Member # 3773
 - posted November 29, 2006 22:08
quote:
Originally posted by Xanthine:
I've never dared Moby Dick. I'm not sure I want to do that to myself.

This is not English Lit, or American Lit, but this seemed like a suitable place to rant about War and Peace.

I read War and Peace once. I started out of curiousity and to please my parents (got a copy for Christmas). This is supposed to be the great Russian novel, a paragon of literature.

The only thing great about War and Peace was the size. I finished it out of sheer perverseness. I would. Not. Let. The. Paperweight. Defeat. Me. I seriously think the only reason it's held up so high is no one who has dared slog through it wants to admit how crappy it actually is. They want to be pretentious and act like it was a great novel and anyone who disagrees just isn't smart enough to get it.

Bull crap.

If you want good Russian literature, try Master and Margarita. That will blow your hair back.

I read Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment in highschool and thought it was really good. I'd recommend it to anybody who hasn't read it already.

As far as a lot of good 'American Lit' goes, I'd say that some science fiction bears looking at. My favourite authors are, in order of preference, Zelazny, Card, and Heinlein. Obviously their writings aren't major literary masterpieces, but they do pose some significant questions to the reader. Just a thought.
 
Xanthine
Member # 736
 - posted November 29, 2006 22:35
My boyfriend said the same thing. Except his copy of Crime and Punishment is in Serbian.
 
littlefish
Member # 966
 - posted November 30, 2006 01:08
quote:
I read Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment in highschool and thought it was really good. I'd recommend it to anybody who hasn't read it already.

I tried to read crime and punishment in High school and failed miserably. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wasn't prepared for a slog. However, the worst book I have ever (started to) read was Ulysses. For the sake of all that is holy, the book is total and utter dross. I got through the first few chapters, which were incoherent ramblings about what to have for breakfast. Dull, dull, DULL!

Those two books are the only two that I can remember starting, but not finishing in my life. Moby Dick wasn't that bad, Frankenstein was a bit heavy going. I even managed the Divine Comedy, which was a struggle. Nabakov rocks, and anyone who has never read Lolita should run, not walk to their local library or bookstore. Heller's catch 22 is also a great read.
 
Demosthenes
Member # 530
 - posted November 30, 2006 08:06
quote:
Originally posted by GMx:
Although it's not a novel, but a short story, I absolutely love Melville's Bartleby The Scrivener. Very Surreal.

It's the only Melville I've ever enjoyed.

Crispin Glover played Bartleby in the movie adaptation, too. [thumbsup]
 
garlicguy
Member # 3166
 - posted November 30, 2006 10:41
We had to read Melville in High School and I did not enjoy any of his works, (including Moby Dick) at the time. James Joyce? I totally don't get that there is great writing that came from his pen either.

Eliot's works are thoroughly enjoyable, but my favorite English authors of novels would be, Tolkein, Dickens, Lewis and Chesterton, (though the order of preference might vary on any given day).

Catch-22 as well as We Bombed in New Haven by Joseph Heller are top notch from the American Novels as is everything ever written by Kenneth Roberts such as Oliver Wiswell, A Rable in Arms, Lydia Bailey to name a few. (Kenneth Roberts bio brief.) Not only is his work well-written and enjoyable, his historical novels bring out the flavor of times in ways that help one to gain a rich perspective of the events in those days, including the American Revolution, etc. Thoreau's Walden is the best personal philosophy exposé I've ever stumbled across. While considering American novelists, James Fennimore Cooper's Deerslayer series are still a terrific read and also historically enlightening, but they are more typically enjoyable for males than females.

As for the Russians, Dostoevsky rises head and shoulders above Tolstoy.
I would put The Brothers Karamazov equal to any novel I have ever enjoyed and Crime and Punishment would be right there with it.
I've given Tolstoy's War and Peace a second reading and found that I really did appreciate it much more the second time. But I'll never read it again. His Anna Karenina was a much easier and more satisfying read for some reason.

Oddly enough, Mahatma Ghandi credited three authors with inspiring his philosophy of life for which he is so well remembered: Henry Thoreau - Walden, Dostoevsky -C & P, and Tolstoy.

There is little written these days, in the way of novels, that I find worthy of spending much time with.
 
Xanthine
Member # 736
 - posted November 30, 2006 10:57
Catch-22 is great.

I read Walden. It was a slog, to be honest. Parts were nice, but that chapter on economy just went on forever, and he went on and on about his beans. I read Walden because they shoved some essay by Emerson down my throat when I was in HS, and then the teacher, in a moment of mercy, said that of the Transcendentalists Thoreau was probably the easiest to handle. So I went and read Walden. Of my own volition. And then my English teacher told me I was insane to do that to myself, but it really wasn't that bad and I've been sucking the marrow out of life ever since. It was one of those books that, if you make it rhrough, you're not going to escape unchanged. Even if you don't get all of it (and I'm sure I missed huge chunks of it) you still change.
 
GMx
Member # 1523
 - posted November 30, 2006 11:06
quote:
Originally posted by Demosthenes:
quote:
Originally posted by GMx:
Although it's not a novel, but a short story, I absolutely love Melville's Bartleby The Scrivener. Very Surreal.

It's the only Melville I've ever enjoyed.

Crispin Glover played Bartleby in the movie adaptation, too. [thumbsup]

I never saw the movie, but it sounds like they really screwed it up. I would have kept the story in the 19th century. But then I like that kind of dark, Victorian stuff.

Another novellette I like is Stephen Crane's "Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets". It really depicts the whole Bowery-Lower East Side culture of the time realistically.
 
garlicguy
Member # 3166
 - posted November 30, 2006 11:19
quote:
Originally posted by Callipygous:


Should I be married to you too? [crazy]


Undoubtedly.


PS That first link doesn't seem to be working right now, but this is another bio of my Canadian great great grandfather.

"Work helped Finan McDonald extend the trade into the Flathead country (Mont.); and when the express arrived in late October 1824 Work went with Governor George Simpson* "

The above qoute is from the bio of your ancestor, Calli. I live about 12 miles from the MacDonald trading post that Finian and John built. The original warehouse building still stands and there is a grassroots movement locally to rebuild/restore the entire post. Small world indeed!


gg

Calli: PM me if you'd like a picture and historical information - this county is loaded with info on such places as that.
 
Demosthenes
Member # 530
 - posted November 30, 2006 13:20
quote:
Originally posted by GMx:
I never saw the movie, but it sounds like they really screwed it up. I would have kept the story in the 19th century. But then I like that kind of dark, Victorian stuff.

They ported it to a modern cube farm almost seamlessly...pretty hard to screw up, considering the themes of the story are pretty much timeless. (Having Crispin Glover star didn't hurt, either.)
 
garlicguy
Member # 3166
 - posted December 04, 2006 08:15
Calli: I happened to re-read your opening post to this thread and, since it seems what you are (were?) looking for would be some nominations for great American novels, thought I would add a couple such authors.

I would still include Roberts and Cooper, then add Hemingway and Steinbeck. Both of these latter entries were prolific writers and their works include both long and short novels. As a kid I read everything Steinbeck ever wrote and I believe his descriptive prose reveals a distinctly American perspective on America, probably best detailed in Travels With Charlie, which is more of a reflective journal.
 
Callipygous
Member # 2071
 - posted December 04, 2006 16:59
Thanks gg an interesting list. Perhaps it is a mistake trying to find the Great American Novel or even a series of them. I have enjoyed most of these writers, and would include Fitzgerald too, as Gatsby is an almost perfect piece of writing. I think if I had to go with one writer however, I would take CP's conventional choice of Mark Twain, if only because so many themes that have recurred in American novels seemed to have been first expressed by him. There is a line that you can trace back to him from all sorts of writers including ones as unlikely as Kerouac, and from that arguably even to the whole road movie genre. I don't know who my favourite American writer is, as it changes according to my mood, but I would not want to exclude the best US crime fiction from the list either. In particular Patricia Highsmith's best novels are brilliant as well as compulsive.
 
maximile
Member # 3446
 - posted December 04, 2006 19:34
quote:
Originally posted by Callipygous:
This is completely unrelated (except that is is also about books), but I have a 9 year old son, and one of my greatest pleasures is reading him a bedtime story every night. We have of course read through all of Roald Dahl's children's books, and many of the other children's classics like E. B. White's "Charlotte's Web" and so on. However right now we are coming to the end of Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad trilogy, and I must say, we both couldn't have enjoyed it more. If you have geeklets of the right age, I highly recommend these three books. He is a very clever writer, with a geeky wit that reminds me slightly of Douglas Adams, and the story is a good adventure yarn with well drawn, likeable, funny characters and each book in the series is better than the previous one. Often in the morning when he comes down to breakfast, my son discusses the story with me and we giggle at some of the jokes. You can't ask for more than that.

My dad read the Bromeliad trilogy with me. [Smile] I've read them many times since then.

The great American novels that I enjoyed the most are probably Slaughterhouse 5, The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. (Actually, does Slaughterhouse 5 count as great? Or is it only Catch-22?)

My absolute favourite American novels, which I imagine in time might become considered great, are by John Irving. The Hotel New Hampshire is such a great story; it's my favourite book by far.
 




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