Thursday, December 29, 2005

Apologia pro... er... book club... sua.

Why start a book club? One may well ask. And it's a good question. Well, here is the reason. Granted, I wasn't aware of this list when I started the club, but I was aware of the trends represented by the "readers picks." Our culture has become so literally stupid - literally - that Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard are found to have authored seven of the ten best novels of the century: an athiestic, minarchist philosopher with a talent for writing, Rand at least deserves a place in the list, granted... but Hubbard? He was a hack! In every way! I'd rather read a cereal box...

James Joyce gets seat number eleven?! He's the finest prose stylist who ever lived. I'd hardly stop short of physically fighting to defend that position. The man was an untouchable genius!

At least RandomHouse had somewhat better sense. At least the names at the top of their list are significantly noteworthy (although I personally feel that neither Lawrence, Koestler, or Huxley are quite as noteworthy as their position would indicate - still, they would only fall about a decade if anything, not completely off the list). Yet, the lower area of their list begins to show a little more politically-correct-mindedness than I think honest literary scholarship can afford.

I'll allow that the names on the "readers list" are those most familiar to our culture; but while Ayn Rand, L. Ron Hubbard, Toni Morrison, Steven King and even J.R.R. Tolkien are indeed deserving of special attention from a certain point of view, they do not represent the literary apex of the last century. Many of their writings may be around for a long time to come; many are in fact classics in their own right; and many are mentionable even more so for their social impact and prestige. Many, like Tolkien, are made "great" by their exalted message and profound communication of truth. But, when it comes down to it, novel writing is an art, a disciplined art like any other requiring great technical skill. Only rare geniuses master this art. Others may be geniuses in their own right and for their own reasons - their philosophy, their philology, or what have you - but when these geniuses write a novel imbued with the art of their own discipline, that does not make the novel a great novel, per se. Thus, even Tolkien, whom I love, while he wrote a great book and must be labeled a genius, ought not to be regarded necessarily as a great novelist.

The "readers list" was probably voted on by people who, sadly, have not even encountered the names that should populate such an inventory. Since it is such a battle simply to get students today to read, there is less of a focus on the value of what they read than there is on the fact that they do it at all. Hence the absence of Joyce, James, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Dreiser, Waugh, Conrad, Hemingway from that list... hence the presence of their names on my blog, and my goal of running a book club for the appreciation and proliferation of truly great literature.



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