"A book is never a masterpiece: it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man."
"Do not suppose, however, that I intend to urge a diet of classics on anybody. I have seen such diets at work. I have known people who have actually read all, or almost all, the guaranteed Hundred Best Books. God save us from reading nothing but the best."
"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read."
I like these quotes most because I don't necessarily agree with them. I do believe a book becomes a masterpiece but don't believe that an author's death is a necessary ingredient. I agree wholeheartedly that reading tastes should range wide and be varied, but the classics can offer that as well. I myself don't read a strict diet of the classics, but I wouldn't frown upon someone who did. And lastly, I disagree with Mr. Twain on his assumption that nobody wants to read the classics. I believe we think we don't want to read them. That was certainly the case with the book I chose to read for our meeting, Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
I decided to read it after hearing an author, Nathaniel Philbrick, talk about his experiences as the disgruntled son of a Melville scholar. He refused to read anything by Melville on general teenage and young adult principles, then ended up really loving the work on its own merits when he finally got around to it as a more mature reader. I decided to give it a try and can honestly say I had a similar experience.
I don't believe I would have ever managed to finish it as a hurried, distracted undergraduate, but as a fairly well read 30-something, it was beautiful and harsh and wonderfully dated all at the same time. Several others who were re-reading something from their own school days had the same impression. It was a vastly different read when viewed through the lens of life experience. I believe that is why the classics are the classics and I look forward to seeing what new classics rise to the top over the course of my life.
Were any of the books listed below among YOUR required reading in school? What did you read during school that you loved? Were there any books you didn't care for at the time but would like to re-visit now?
Our Town by Thornton WilderOur Town was first produced and published in 1938 to wide acclaim. This Pulitzer Prize–winning drama of life in the town of Grover's Corners, an allegorical representation of all life, has become a classic. It is Thornton Wilder's most renowned and most frequently performed play.
In general discussion, we talk briefly about another book by Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey."On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below." With this celebrated sentence, Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world. By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper seeks to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His study leads to his own death -- and to the author's timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.
The Pearl by John SteinbeckKino is a desperately poor Mexican-pearl diver. When he finds 'The Pearl of the World' he believes that his life will be magically transformed. Obsessed by his dreams, Kino is blind to the greed, fear and even violence the pearl arouses in his neighbours - and himself. This is a haunting and timeless tale of wealth and the evil it can bring.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John SteinbeckWith his dog Charley, John Steinbeck set out in his truck to explore and experience America in the 1960s. As he talked with all kinds of people, he sadly noted the passing of region speech, fell in love with Montana, and was appalled by racism in New Orleans.
In general discussion, Steinbeck was a heavy hitter. We also talked about two of his other novels:
The Red Pony
Young Jody Tiflin lives on his father's California ranch. He is thrilled when his father gives him a red pony, and later promises him the colt of a bay mare. Both these gifts bring joy to Jodi's life - but tragedy soon follows. As Jodi begins to learn the harsh lessons of life and death, he starts to understand what growing-up and becoming an adult really means.
And of course, for epic struggles, there's always Hemingway too.
Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal -- a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Lolita by Vladimir NabokovAwe and exhiliration--along with heartbreak and mordant wit--abound in Lolita, Nabokov's most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love--love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.
In general discussion, the audio version of another of Nabokov's novels, Pnin, was mentioned. We almost unanimously decided we wanted to see the 1962 movie adaptation of Lolita. Plus, did you know that Nabokov was an amateur butterfly expert? Butterflies were all the time popping up in Pnin and in Lolita, quite possibly in all of his other works as well.
Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. MontgomeryThis is Lucy Montgomery's last book of the Anne series. Gilbert has become a doctor and now Anne has a wedding day set. Anne has found her "House of Dreams" and decides to leave Green Gables. The story is filled with a cast of quirky small town characters sure to delight.
Don't let the "Anne of Green Gables" moniker fool you. Some other great classics are quoted and/or referenced in this rather sweet and lighthearted work: James Joyce's Ulysses, the works of Robert & Elizabeth Browning, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar." Classics within classics!
What a treat! One reader brought in a vintage (1950's) oversize New Basic Readers edition of Sally, Dick, and Jane! Boy, did that bring back memories for us all. I remember clearly the delight I felt when I got my first reader in elementary school and could read the adventures of that happy little trio all by myself, without help. Thanks MFJ!
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (The audio edition narrated by William Hootkins is spectacularly done!)A masterpiece of storytelling and symbolic realism, this thrilling adventure and epic saga pits Ahab, a brooding sea captain, against the great white whale that crippled him. More than just the tale of a hair-raising voyage, Melville's riveting story passionately probes man's soul. A literary classic first published in 1851, Moby Dick represents the ultimate human struggle.
What are YOU reading?