Thursday, March 26, 2009

To Be Honest

This is where I do my best reading...

You know, I have a degree in English Literary Studies. But I earned it from HSU, which is all about deviating from the canon and reading the works of the under-represented.

For the longest time, I worried about this. Seriously, I graduated without ever having read any Shakespeare at all in school.

By the time it was over, however, I did realize I had gotten the skills to read anything at all and tease out several layers of deeper meaning. But I still think a few classics would not have gone amiss.

I found a list, compiled by Time Magazine, of the top 100 novels of all time, and just out of curiosity, I have reduced it down to the ones I've read.

1. Animal Farm, George Orwell
2. Atonement, Ian McEwan (and saw the film)
3. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood (I'm a huge Atwood fan)
4. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder (high school; remember nothing about it.)
5. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
6. The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles
7. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (and seen the film, of course)
8. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (ditto the film)
10. Naked Lunch, William Buroughs (not that I liked it)
11. 1984, George Orwell
12. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
14. Possession, A.S. Byatt
15. Rabbit, Run, John Updike (not that I liked it...)
16. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut (high school)
17. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
18. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
19. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (I recommend this: It's the Jane Eyre story but told from the point of view of the crazy wife in the attic, Bertha)

Saw the film: does this count?
1. Brideshead Revisited
2. A Clockwork Orange
3. Lord of the Rings (I only actually read The Hobbit)
4. A Passage to India

Having it on the shelf and intending to read it doesn't really count, but I have The Confessions of Nat Turner, Tropic of Cancer and Gravity's Rainbow.

The most interesting detail here is that, with the exception of Things Fall Apart, I read none of them while studying literature at HSU.

I did, however, read Herman Melville, whom I adore and admire, and I have to wonder why nothing of his made the top 100 list?

A magna cum laude Literary Studies student from HSU has only read 19 of the top 100 novels. So what is to be made of this? A critique of HSU's reading materials, of Time Magazine's list, or of my lackadaisical reading?

And by the way, when grad school is finally over and I can read for pleasure again, I do intend to get to a few more on the list. And if I were to produce such a list of great novels, it would look different.

What's your view on this?


Anonymous said...

I can't believe it. No Charles Dickens novels? I am utterly at a loss for words!

Kym said...

First I agree with Anon. What about Bronte sisters and any list that excludes Austen isn't worth a bucket of warm spit. I know, I know they said from 1923 to the present--the modern age but why bother. And, if that why not Snow Falling on Cedar and the Remains of the Day and Cold Mountain and The World According to Garp (novels with a sense of humor are missing off this list) About a Boy and some many others that are crying to be noticed. White Banners...

Second, I graduated from Berkeley in English and ....I've only read 20 of those on the list too--not one of which (except the Wide Sargasso Sea) was on a reading list in one of my college classrooms. I did however get thoroughly grounded in Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dante there.

I say piffle on the list (and just a little nudge from a Lord of the Rings fan--the Hobbit and LotR are much different--though the Hobbit is the better piece--the story is way more compelling.)

Indie said...

OK, I feel better now. Cold Mountain should be on the list as should God of Small Things. I never knew About a Boy was a novel! Love the movie. And no Dickens, that really is an oversight.

Maybe I'll make a list of the works I DID study at HSU.

Anonymous said...

Are Germans uneducated? Or did I just not attend a school which taught higher education, like literacy and stuff like that? Or am I plain ignorant? Frankly... haven't read any of them listed books at all! Saw the movies to 7, 8 and 13 and Clockwork Orange (what a STUPID movie *yuk*). And when I'm ever gonna be able to read anything again, I for sure will choose books I'm interested in. Literature it won't be! Sorry to say K. you got a 'stupid' friend here across the ocean. R.

Indie said...

R, don't be silly! We are critiquing the heck out of this list. There has to be a better list somewhere...If not, we will make one up.

Eureka Poz said...

I did some serious reading on my own when I was in high school. Then in college I was too busy to read anything except those novels that were assigned.

I didn't start reading seriously (and reading serious things) until after I had been teaching for a few years. I think that's because I never really understood literature until after I had taught it.

I pulled up Time's list a couple of months back. It steered me to Blood Meridian and The Big Sleep, but I was disappointed with Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Plus, where IS Charles Dickens?

....and Shipping News is one of the best novels I have ever read. Where is it?

Renee said...

I think it's the list that's lacking. I've read 12 of the books on it, and most of them are different than yours, and I read them in high school or jr. high.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question. Believe me, I need some help.

One of my very favorite movies is "Captains Courageous" which stars Freddie Bartholomew as Harvey Cheyne, Spencer Tracy as Manuel Fidello, Lionel Barrymore as Captain Disko Troop, Melvyn Douglas as Frank Burton Cheyne, Charley Grapewin as Uncle Salters, Mickey Rooney as Dan Troop, and John Carradine as Long Jack.

The movie is magnificent.

But when I read the book upon which the movie is based ("Captains Courageous" by Rudyard Kipling), I was shocked.

Kipling's prose is not only impenetrable, but what little meaning I can pull from it makes it appear to have nothing at all to do with the wonderful characters and compelling plot of the movie!

It seems as if the screenwriters deserve the credit for turning Kipling's pig's ear into a silk purser (or however that saying goes!)

Those screenwriters are: John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly, and Dale Van Every.

Now here is my question. Has anyone ever read Kipling's "Captains Courageous" from the front to the back? And if so, what was that all about?

steviewren said...

I've been on a personal self improvement kick for a couple of years. Every so often I pick up a classic at the library and listen to it. (I do most of my reading while commuting to work and back) This year I read Lolita, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Around the World in Eighty Days...maybe that's all that could be considered classic. I keep meaning to keep better records of what I read and when. I tried reading Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court but just couldn't stick with it. I did love his Puddin Head Wilson. Oh yeah, I also read A Lesson Before Dying.

Great topic. My two cents about education is that we should all be required to read the classics.

Indie said...

Eureka Poz, I agree, where is The Shipping News?

Renee, I agree with you too: It's a faulty list.

Anonymous, I can't help you because I never read or saw Captains Courageous. But perhaps another reader can?

Steviewren, I haven't read any of those on your list either. Conclusions: I am a poor excuse for a literature major.

And have I added how much I like the book I am currently reading? The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg.

beachcomber said...

As a girl who did her high schoolin' in the 70's, I was NEVER required to read one of those on the list. I never realized what I had missed out on (and how many Jeopardy questions I could have answered). Thankfully, I've had the opportunity to pick at a few that my kids brought home (loved To Kill A Mockingbird, didn't enjoy Of Mice and Men...)and have collected a few more to read when I have the opportunity. This will be a good bunch of comments to keep when I shop for what I've missed.