Tag Archives: American literature

Of Mice and Men: Meh; Or, How to Rate a Classic

Okay, okay, I’m not doing well at vacationing. Whatever. More guest posts to come and I’m not reading anything but magazines right now (!), so this is really and truly the last post from me for a few weeks. Plus Of Mice and Men is a novella and takes a couple of hours to read, so there.

Read it for book club and we had a decent discussion of the representation of women, the moral messages of the novel (life is suffering, individual ambition is foolish, mercy and justice are tricky) and the origins of the title (from the Burns poem, and not – as I thought – a message about the equivalence of mice and men in the order of the universe (OR IS IT…). And then the discussion turned to how you rate (or recommend) a ‘classic.’ (In our book club we each rate the novel on a scale from one to ten). Is a novel like this one – so tight, so well wrought, so contained and yet impactful – exempt from such reviews? Should we just take as stiuplated that if a novel has endured and continues to offer such rich readings that it is as a matter of course worth reading and recommending?  

I concluded that I wouldn’t recommend this one, not because it had any faults or was in any way objectionable to read (though the representation of women did raise some questions), but… why not? I guess for me it felt stodgy and slow and entirely concerned with being an impactful piece of literature (I’m loathe to consider it, but I suspect if I returned to my – once favourite – East of Eden I’d find the same to be true). It makes a great novel to teach literary ideas, or to strucutre a Unitarian sermon, but it falls short – for me – of inviting a novel perspective, or — and this is silly — being that much fun. 

That said, it does provoke unconsidered questions and is masterfully crafted. So I’m hardly going to say don’t read it. More I’m curious how you approach classic works: do you take for granted that they are excellent? Do you find yourself predisposed to a positive reading because you ‘ought’ to be? 

Leave a comment

Filed under American literature, Book Club, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction

My Name Is Lucy Barton: In which I retract my claim about writers in New York.

My+Name+is+Lucy+Barton

I deserved this book. After all my whinging about how all books set in New York about writers were/are terrible, I read Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton and find myself retracting that outrageous and essentializing claim. Instead let’s agree that almost all books set in New York about writers are terrible – one exception is this one. Which is terrific. Really. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under American literature, Fiction

The Nix: This 600 page novel is 400 pages too long.

nix_cover_final_side.jpg

A lot of people liked Nathan Hill’s The Nix. And there are a lot of reasons to like it. There are moments of laugh out loud humour; the writing is sharp and immersive; the range of fully realized characters is impressive; it has something to say about American political activism, partisan politics and the role of an impartial judiciary (*cough* nothing relevant about those themes).  Some of the scenes of academic life (and the corollary days spent absorbed by video games) resonated pitch-perfect. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under American literature, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction, Funny, New York Times Notable

Behold the Dreamers: We need fiction today. (and every day)

dreamers.jpeg

You’ll enjoy Behold the Dreamers. Except for the references to the coming Obama presidency and how it has the potential to turn around Wall Street and rekindle the American dream. That part you’ll find a painful reminder of where we are in the American political-civic moment. But if you can put aside your current historic moment (ha) and slip into the novel’s time period – just before, during and after the financial collapse of 2008 – you’ll find yourself in a fully realized, fully human exploration of income inequality, privilege, race and nationality in America. And occasionally laughing about it. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under American literature, Fiction, Funny, New York Times Notable