Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Contest Winners and More Book Lists

What a great list of recommendations! Many of them I had never even heard of before, and only a handful of them are books I've read. I am going to list everything here*, if only so that I have it to reference back to later this year. I'll keep track of my progress on one of my sidebars. If you are interested in what I'm reading, just scroll down a bit. I've been invited to Goodreads by several of you, thank you very much, and I'm just not sure I'm ready to make the jump to one more social networking site.

Poisonwood Bible, Gilead, Into the Wild, East of Eden, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Kite Runner, Princess Academy and Housekeeping have been taken off the list, as they are the few selections I've already read. The two books selected according the BCS formula of ranking, and with full consideration to my one year plus one quarter of calculus, are the following:

The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment that Transformed Their Lives (suggested by Genjunky and written by Cheryl Jarvis)

I have very high hopes for this one. Before the very bright and wonderful Genjunky decided to stay home and raise her three boys, she taught AP English.

A Short History of Nearly Everything (suggested by Desmama and written by Bill Bryson)

I also have great expectations here. Desmama is a book editor by profession, and continues to work part time while raising her three lovely daughters.

It is interesting to note that in a list made up of mostly fiction, my two selections are not. It is good, however, as I really need a trusted recommendation to pick up anything non-fiction. I like to think that I don't read merely for escape, but my typical reading list says otherwise. To claim your ten dollar Amazon prizes, ladies, just fire me off an e-mail with your addresses. I know, I know, it isn't free cupcakes or a pedicure or a fabulous dress from the Shabby Apple a la Seriously So Blessed, but you also didn't have to compete against 1500 desperate housewives in order to win.

Now for the part where you get to comment.

Janssen e-mailed recently to say that she wanted to read more classics. (Though when that lovely lass will get MORE time to read is beyond me. I'm already convinced that she doesn't sleep.) To that end, she wanted recommendations. I fired her off my list divided by both modern American and older American classics, and then a third list with everything else on it. For my highly non-academic divisions, I explained myself as follows:

"My definition of a classic is something that is lasting, or has potential to be. This doesn't necessarily eliminate any book that makes reference to the culture of the time, but thematically it has to be enduring, universal. Old classics are such because their authors are dead or the historical period is before modernist lit, modern classics have living authors or situations still very relevant to us currently--maybe post-depression issues? Unfortunately the cannon, because it often takes time to see which books will survive and which will not, is full of dead white males. There is much argument in academia regarding broadening the definition of classic. Many secondary English teachers have already done this on their own--they just want the kids to get connected to the literature, regardless of what it is.

In some cases, the academic establishment catches up to the popular movements. For example, in the last few years, a whole group of legitimate professors have come forward with extensive research and writing on the Harry Potter series, publishing papers, etc. and connecting Rowling's masterworks to the Gothic tradition. Fascinating stuff."

The question becomes, is the cannon what people actually read and the literature that is used to shape our time, or is it the literature that people should read? Should it be both to truly be classic?
I am not going to provide the list here, because I want you to add your own ideas to our definition as well as make suggestions for what should be on that list. If this goes well, perhaps we can make our own list about what the "classics" are without regard to dead white men.

*Non-winning though still wonderful suggestions for 2010--Possesson: A Romance; The Historian; The Fortune Cookie Chronicles; the Fablehaven series; These is My Words; The Geography of Bliss; Caramelo; Death Comes for the Archbishop; The Hunger Games; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society; Outliers; Cutting for Stone; Brothers K; Headlong; A Confederacy of Dunces; A String in the Harp; The Book Thief; The Wednesday Wars; The Help; Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell; The City and the City; I'm a Stranger Here Myself; The Hidden Christ; The Help


Yankee Girl said...

Both. Classics are (in my opinion) accessible, reflect and shape us/our time, and should be read because of quality and subject. Books are classics if they made/make an impression in their time period and continue to be read, re-read, and discussed--I think that re-read and discussed is the true and final key.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is an excellent example of a classic that fits all of the above.

Of course all this really just echos what you have already so wonderfully said.

My favorite classic that I read last year: The Count of Monte Cristo.

My Library has booklets that they hand out containing lists of recommended classics (broken down by time periods--the last book being published in 2006), sci fi, fantasy, etc. that I try to include in my yearly reading but I can't wait to see what books are mentioned by your lovely readers.

Melanie said...

I think the cannon should be expanded. My (partial) definition of a classic is something that has a lasting impact on society. Harry Potter's influence cannot be denied, and I'm guessing that it will not be short-lived, so by this definition it definitely makes it into the cannon.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Hm . . . I'm seeing a bit of a trend already. By the "impact on society" standard, we must also include Twilight. You can hardly escape the power that monsters have had on pop culture in the last few years, with little sign of the trend slowing. Meyer's books have spawned a slough of knock-offs and tv shows. Do we say that her's aren't the classics because they weren't FIRST? What are the thoughts there?

Mad Hadder said...

I refuse to live in a world in which the Twilight books are considered classics.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Just playing devil's advocate, Mad Hadder (welcome, by the way, I don't think I've seen you comment here before; I obviously struck a chord). Melanie and Yankee Girl were both clear that popularity and cultural influence are only PART of the formula.

Janssen said...

I know, I know, it isn't free cupcakes or a pedicure or a fabulous dress from the Shabby Apple a la Seriously So Blessed, but you also didn't have to compete against 1500 desperate housewives in order to win.

Another point in your contest's favor is that you don't have to read Seriously So Blessed, either. Is it heresy to admit that, as a LDS married blogger, I loathe that blog with the fire of a thousand suns? So be it.

At some point, you really must read Wednesday Wars. That book is so terrific. Great list.

heidikins said...

A) Is it a faux pas to request your Classics List?

B) Please bless Twilight is not a classic...ever.

C) I also have issues with SSB

and D) (arguably the most pertinent to this post) I read a Bill Bryson book last month and hated it. Absolutely hated it...and it was on a subject (Shakespeare) that I love and adore and geek-out about regularly. I have ordered a second, highly recommended Bryson if that goes well I may be tackling your second pick. I'll let you know.


heidikins said...

Also--I think "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (Betty Smith), "Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton) and "Angela's Ashes" (Frank McCourt) are must-read's for any well-read (or moderately well-read) adult. Those are classics to me.


Yankee Girl said...

Classics are read, re-read, and discussed (and that discussion must go beyond team Jacob and team Edward).

I agree with Janssen: you must read The Wednesday Wars.

Amy Sorensen said...

Hi. I followed Janssen's link because I wanted to read your list but found myself just reading your blog!

If Twilight is a classic then I must remove my eyeballs and never read again. I don't think that all classics immediately spark discussion in their social spheres. Plenty don't become popular until the author is dead. For me, it is a combination of 1---good writing (and just like that, voila, abracadabra, Twilight is off the list!) and ideas/themes/concepts that resonate. To stand the test of time and become a classic a book must have human issues that are also classics...the struggles that remain despite the setting or the time that produced the work.

I know it is written by a dead white guy, but my favorite, favorite classic is Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Holy cow I love that book. On a more modern bent: The Bell Jar.

Also, I am consistently bugged the poetry isn't ever on the classics list. Shakespeare always makes it even when the rest of the list is fiction, but I say you haven't lived (literature-wise) if you haven't read Rosetti's Goblin Market, or Keats' Eve of St. Agnes (dwg again, but really: ANYTHING by Keats!), or Anne Bradstreet or...well, enough.

(Hope you don't mind an exceedingly long comment from a complete stranger.