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26 August 2009

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Thank you for this post! It's done my literary conscience good. I've always felt like a rube because I just could not appreciate the last 1/3 of Lolita. I really liked most of it, but toward the end, I was screaming, "Stop being Nabakov! Just tell me the story!" Now I know it isn't just me. Thanks.

As for James and Faulkner, I found their less famous works (The Turn of the Screw and Sanctuary, respectively)to be much more enjoyable than their more famous titles.

I'll have to look out for this book, and the "Naughty Bits" one too--both sound right up my alley.

I feel the same way the author did about "Lolita". I skimmed through the last third of the book and even now am not really sure how it all ended.

Sarah L.,
Yes, I think we all need to cut ourselves some slack on the classics once in a while. I particularly enjoyed this guy's take on the books because, even when he wasn't crazy about them, he didn't totally dismiss them, just suggested ways to read the parts of them that were good. Seemed a very positive way to recognize that even the "classics" are still just books. (And I forgot about "Turn of the Screw"--I loved that! So mark me down on one book for Henry James, yay!)

Valerie,
Yes, I think I might look into "Naughty Bits" as well. Talk about a timesaver when you're looking for all of literature's juicy moments, huh?

Yeah, Lolita, I remember finding it interesting but I read it so long ago I honestly can't remember anything about it! Sad. Maybe I'll just re-read the first third, as this guy suggests.

...Skip? Vhat ees zis... skip? I am not sure I know zees verd.

Ah, "skip," the most beautiful word in any college student's vocabulary. Skip lecture, skip chapters, skip cleaning the dorm room...how I miss those days! I love zees verd skip.

Sigh. I'm having enough trouble just reading books. Reading books about books . . . that registration page is not up yet.

Sarah,
Sometimes I get sidetracked. The biggest problem with "books about books" is how they make my TBR list grow out of control. This one actually put me in the mood to try Dante's Inferno. So yes, I'm running out of time too! (I think the author of this book realizes that too, hence his suggestion to skip parts of these classics.)

I stopped reading this when you mentioned Faulkner--one of my favorite authors. What's wrong with Faulkner?

Ah, I get "Beowulf on the Beach." This is like Cliffs Notes, but without all that symbolism/themes/allusions stuff we all hated in English 101.

I'm in a snarky mood.

Hey, Snarky B,
May I call you Snarky B? No, only my friends may call me Snarky B. (Have you seen Matt Stone's and Trey Parker's totally weird movie Baseketball? You'll get the quote above if you have, otherwise, do rent it.)

Brandon, bring the snark. We can takes it as well as dish it out here at CR. Now, the rather fun thing about Beowulf on the Beach is that Murnighan doesn't so much take a swipe at all of these classics as he make suggestions for reading them a bit more easily. He says very important things about Faulkner--like that The Sound and the Fury may not be the best place to start, because it can be challenging, and it starts slow, but that other novels of his are quite good and might serve as a better entrance point for his works. Now that's important because, as we all know, pretty much the only people who have touched Faulkner in the last five years have done so because they are Oprah club readers. In a way he's taking Faulkner back from those masses, and I have to appreciate that.

I don't know that anything's wrong with Faulkner. I do know that I was stymied by The S and the F, but I may get one of his other works now. And of course Faulkner would be one of your faves, you pomo reader, you. Wouldn't you say he's rather postmodern, even though he was writing much earlier than most postmodern authors?

Oh, Cliffs notes are no fun. Cliffs notes are just like English class. Rip a book apart, but never talk about it honestly. Not that you can't ever learn about symbolism, etc., but learning it just to spit it out on standardized tests is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Hm, you're snarky and I'm angry. How could we make use of all this good negative energy?

p.s. Now, this author did also say you can skip parts of Jane Austen, which, as an Austen partisan, I disagree with. But I'm willing to overlook it for the greater good. Can you do the same with Faulkner?

I don't know that I'd classify Faulkner as pomo. That's stretching it. Experimental, yes, but maybe not pomo. (I'd say he's more gothic than anything else. His stuff is really dark.) Pomo is largely materialistic. You could say it's style over substance, but that's the point of it. American Psycho = pomo. Using that as a pointer, F. isn't really pomo.

I agree that TS&TF isn't the best place to start. It's a really weird, disorienting book. I'd start with As I Lay Dying.

Brandon,
Okay, you might (do) have me there. I admit I am not very fluent with what is and what isn't postmodern lit, and what that term actually means. I really should stop using my homegrown inner labeller of "I don't understand it at all"=pomo.

Did experimental lead to pomo?

Thanks for the suggestion on As I Lay Dying. I still do want to read A Faulkner, I just don't think it can be TS&TF.

I'm very curious about this book now. I thought it was about how literature is great, not about what to skip in it. I'd suggest that Lolita (which I haven't yet read) is probably not about plot but about the writing and development. I don't think skipping around in books really helps one become a better reader. Why read a classic in the first place if you're going to skip parts of it? I guess I'm just a "read a book in full" reader myself.

Rebecca,
I would check this book out, if I were you; I do still think it comes down strongly on the side of "literature is great." (The guy does have a Ph.D., and you just don't study anything you don't love for how long it takes to get one of those.)

I salute your habit of reading in full. We each have our own styles, and these types of "how to read" books will appeal to us each in our own way. Although I love reading books in full and re-reading books that I really love, I am very much a skipper and will always be. (Although my type of skipping would be to read the last third of Lolita much faster--and probably miss a few of the events and a bit of the language--just to get to the end.)

I mainly liked this guy's attitude that the classics should still be engaged with and read like everyday books--that you didn't need to exhaustively study and understand them to get a little something out of them. I think there's lots of ways for each of us to become "better readers," but we don't all have to get there the same way. I, for one, would always say it's better to have a go at a classic and then decide you don't want to continue or finish it than never to start one at all. But that's just me.

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