1. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Bad Lit 2...What Makes Good lit?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Nee, Mar 23, 2013.

    Is it merely which pile you pull your next read out of? I know for me I almost never read any of the crap that they pint on the back cover or in the sleeves--don't read "about the Author" or any critics take on it. I don't care what it's "about" I read the first few paragraphs. That tells me all I need to know about the writers ability and if it will keep me reading. And most of the time it works. I rarely feel the need to throw the damn book across the room anymore. Not that every novel I read rises to the level of fine art, but most are decent enough reads.

    So what novels do you feel are "Great Works of Art" and why do you think they are.
     
  2. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    This will surely be wide topic for the forum with much debate and I am sure there'll be a huge amount of people giving their opinion what classifies as 'great works of art' but for me personally I am yet to find a author's work I deem as being a great work of art. I'm still looking is my answer.
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The Girl in the Photograph by Lygia Fagundes Telles.
    The story is unremarkable - three girls during a political upheavel in 60's Brazil - but the
    prose, the language makes the story beautiful even haunting. For me that's a work
    of art. Ordinary becomes extraordinary.
    On the flip side I like the corny A Merrit old sci-fi books - his descriptions are out of this
    world. Every word is like a brush stroke in my mind.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Good lit doesn't suck.

    If what constitutes good vs bad lit could be pinned down to a simple definition, every hack would find a way to churn it out. There's almost a Heisenberg quality to such matters. The more closely you try to examine it, the fuzzier it gets. So basically, what I said, tongue in cheek, in the first sentence is actually pretty close to the mark. Good lit is largely defined by the lack of poor writing, whether it be shallow characterization, pointless rambling passages, poor modulation of pace, etc.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually love reading all of those things. Of course, I do still hope for an intriguing beginning. I rarely want to 'throw the book across the room' or put it into an industrial shredder. When I do, it's almost always because I haven't really 'chosen' the book myself -- usually it was a book club selection. (I know I could choose not to read selections I don't like, but I'm very dedicated to my book club and have a big thing about attending every book club meeting, and want to have read the book if I attend. It can be great fun to eviscerate the book if I found it extremely lacking in merit.) Plus, I always feel I've gained something, even if it was a book I wouldn't have otherwise read (especially then), and even if I disliked it.

    I've also encountered a few books where the first few chapters were very good, but then the book loses its way. So for me, I haven't found merely reading the first few paragraphs the most reliable method of guessing how much I'll like the book.

    As far as which novels are "Great Works of Art" -- that's a tough question. I'm not sure I'd characterize any book as such. My standard is how much the book made me think and how much stays with me for a long time after I finish. I need to have learned something or think about things in a new way. The relatively recent novels that come to mind are Khaled Hosseini's first two novels. (He has a third coming out soon. I'm interested to read it -- I hope it lives up to his first two.)
     
  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't need a book to be a great work of art, I just need it to be enjoyable to read. Sometimes an enjoyable-to-read books stays with me and means something; sometimes it's forgotten by the time I'm three pages into the next book. I can rarely predict which it's going to be.

    For predicting whether a book is going to be enjoyable, I use the "first paragraph test." And to some extent a "first line test." It's shallow, and I don't care.

    I can try to justify it - I can argue that an author who creates a truly engaging first paragraph is an author with an attention to detail and a grasp on reader psychology, and that if he can succeed in those areas at a difficult point like the opening, he's more likely to succeed throughout the book. Someone else can argue that anybody can create an engaging first paragraph and it's not evidence that he can keep up the quality throughout the book. We'd both be right.

    I just looked through some books, and rediscovered the first line of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

    There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

    How could a book that starts with that line possibly fail to be good?
     
  7. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Nineteen Eigthy-Four is a great novel, Burmese Days is just a good one. Why? Orwell is the least pretentious writer who is, or should be, in the great names of the canon. So, yeah, answer that and you will have a good way of grading things. Why is Shakespeare still read and studied? And it isn't because he's old or hard, that line of thinking is lazy.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    That's an interesting question, especially when considering novels that were written a few years apart (so that the author's style probably didn't change much, although this point could be argued). For example, Faulkner published The Sound and the Fury in October, 1929, and published Sanctuary in February, 1931. The Sound and the Fury is considered one of the greatest American novels, whereas the casual reader of Faulkner has probably never even heard of Sanctuary. I don't think his writing style changed much, so I think it really boils down to the message conveyed by a novel (or the interpretation of it). Of course, people in academia have a bigger say in which novels should be part of the cannon and which ones shouldn't be. So novels that tend to get discussed more (either because of their subject matter or style or whatever) will probably have a better chance of being included in the canon.

    To answer the question more directly, I do think current events and politics influence a book's or writer's popularity. For example, the US has lost a lot of its influence in South America. Because of that, there has been a noticeable drop in the popularity of South American writers in the US. The writers that are still popular (Garcia Marquez, Neruda, Vargas Llosa) have all won the Nobel. I know the government awards a lot of grants to translators, so I'm certain foreign policy does dictate to a certain extent which writers get translated and which don't. Of course, this is all a theory, but it makes sense to me. As another example, there is evidence to suggest that US and British intelligence officers helped the Nobel committee get a Russian edition of Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, who was not very well liked by the Soviet government.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It may also be that The Sound and the Fury shook people up with its originality (of style, subject matter, or whatever), and Sanctuary just came across as the same thing all over again. Same old, same old. Preference is usually given to whatever came first, all other things being equal.

    That happened to Hemingway. His first two novels, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms (neglecting the Sherwood Anderson parody, The Torrents of Spring) are regarded as great. Much of Hemingway's later work isn't regarded as highly, even though it's the work the critics should have expected. Hemingway had found his voice and was no longer breaking new ground. My favorite Hemingway novel is For Whom the Bell Tolls, but most critics think it inferior to the earlier work because it isn't as innovative. I say, fine, it isn't innovative, but it's a damn fine novel, with brilliantly drawn characters and magnificent set pieces. I think it should get more kudos than the first two novels (especially more than The Sun Also Rises, which is kind of dull), but it wasn't the first, and is therefore neglected.
     
  10. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Also, there is a time for certain stories, movies, songs, hairstyles to hit big. Society has a need that will be fulfilled by the first thing that fits the bill. You can see it over and over throughout history. And throw in that big hit that happens for absolutely no discernible reason what so ever, and you got the whole why things go big pattern.
     

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