1. Meta
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    "Canon" (or fiction every writer is supposed to read)

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Meta, May 25, 2008.

    I figured it would be helpful to myself (and hopefully to others) to compile a list of some of those works that have come to be known as 'literature' (or literary fiction) by whatever community it is that decides such things. I've read most of Dickens' work, slogged my way through Dostoevsky's and skimmed Hemingway's, but since I wasn't an English major I'm sure there are quite a few classics that I've missed (mostly because Penguin Press hasn't yet reissued them). Moreover, I'm not quite sure what contemporary works are considered 'literature'.

    Hopefully this list will give people something to choose their next read from, as well as show the less informed (such as myself) what authors and works are considered to be the height of the craft.I know a lot of this is based on opinion, but hopefully that might spur some debate. I won't try and get all of them in one shot and help and corrections are greatly appreciated. If this is successful at all I will alphabetize the lists and make everything prettier.

    Authors ("Literary Gods")

    Charles Dickens
    Ernest Hemingway
    Fyodor Dostoevsky
    Jane Austen
    D. H. Lawrence
    Leo Tolstoy
    Geoffrey Chaucer
    Mark Twain
    Vladimir Nabokov

    Contemporary Authors

    Kurt Vonnegut


    Specific Works ("Classics")

    William Faulkner "The Sound and the Fury"
    Upton Sinclair "The Jungle"
    William Styron "The Confessions of Nat Turner"
    John Steinbeck "The Grapes of Wrath"
    J. D. Salinger "The Catcher in the Rye"
    George Orwell "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
    George Orwell "Animal Farm"
    Lewis Carrol "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"
    Lewis Carrol "Through the Looking-Glass"
    Aldous Huxley "Brave New World"
    Herman Melville "Moby-Dick"

    Short Stories and Collections

    Raymond Carver "Cathedral"
    Shirley Jackson "The Lottery"
    Kafka "The Metamorphosis and Other Stories"
    Michael Cunningham "White Angel"
    James Joyce "The Dead"
    Herman Melville "Bartleby the Scrivener"

    Poets and Poems

    William Shakespeare

    Homer "The Odyssey"

    That should be a good start.
     
  2. Aurora_Black
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    Aurora_Black Contributing Member

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    *Gasp!!* Im surprised The Odyssey isn't there, I know in school i had to read it, and it was filled with mythical action and adventure, and basically gave the definition of what a "Hero" was supposed to be in those times
     
  3. Meta
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    Like I said, I'm not writing the whole list now (and definitely not by myself).

    And I know this has probably been done on these boards a hundred times before (so feel free just to give me some links), but I figured it would be worth a go.

    And I probably shouldn't have even started this thread since it's a little ambitious (and presumptuous), but...
     
  4. LibbyAnn
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    LibbyAnn Contributing Member

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    I'd definitely have to add Geoffrey Chaucer to the "Literary Gods" list...his stuff is amazing :)
     
  5. Al B
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    Al B Senior Member

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    You missed the big tomali, who's that? William Shakespeare of course, if anyone should be on the Gods list, it's him.

    Al
     
  6. LibbyAnn
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    LibbyAnn Contributing Member

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    Very, very true! It took me a long time to appreciate Shakespeare. I still don't think I appreciate his stuff enough!
     
  7. Kratos
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    Kratos Contributing Member

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    How can Lord of the Rings not be on there?
     
  8. Meta
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    Sorry it took so long to get back to this (I'm currently traveling).

    I threw Chaucer up on the list, but I really know nothing about him. I've read some of The Canterbury Tales (a poem, and one story I've forgotten) but couldn't finish it, so I'd love to hear some reasoning as to why he should be on the list aside from being a writer from the 1300s.

    WS and Homer get their own category.

    As for The Lord of the Rings, is it that good? I loved it as a story, and Tolkien's imagination is epic, but unless they're writing fantasy is it really all that helpful to aspiring writer's? He gave us great stories, but I didn't think they were that well written. Discuss.
     
  9. SnipSnap
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    SnipSnap Active Member

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    LOTR is good for an imaganative journey, but fantasy literature is generally much more subtle and thought-provoking. I would consider stuff like the Iliad and the Odyssey good fantasy literature because it's packed w/ imagination, adventure, and philosophy, while LOTR can only solidly give you 2 of those 3 things.


    Also, I would add Victor Hugo to the "gods" list. And I would put Ayn Rand in the contemporary list.
     
  10. garza33
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    garza33 Active Member

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    You left off the three most important and certainly most influential writers of the 20th century, William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and James Joyce. No one else from the last century should be considered until these three have had their due. And no study of the short story is complete without including Eudora Welty.

    edit - Looking more carefully at your list of specific works, I see you did include The Sound and the Fury. But you should have included Faulkner in you list of writers, as well as the others I mentioned. As for Chaucer, his Canterbury Tales is a gold mine of plot and character ideas.

    I would not include Nabokov in such a list. How could you include him and not include Faulkner, Garcia Marquez, or Joyce? And I would include Hemingway with a certain degree of reservation.
     
  11. Dark Fact
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    Dark Fact New Member

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    I think you've got to add Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby is the great American novel. Also, for contemporary authors, I think Cormac McCarthy, Coetzee, and Philip Roth need to be mentioned.

    Perhaps a tier below the "greats" I would add Kafka and Poe.
     
  12. Brode
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    Brode Member

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    The notion of having a set list of books and authors that every writer must have read is somewhat assuming. Let's disassemble this idea for a second. Why exactly should every aspiring writer have read particular works? There's really only two arguments. The first is: "Because they're great works of art!" and the second is "Because they teach you how to write!" And both, naturally, are flawed.

    The first is foolish because it uses the word art which is entirely subjective. I for example, do not like Shakespeare. Yes, I said it. Shoot me. The fact of the matter is that it's my opinion and since art is subjective, I'm allowed to hold it. You can't declare what is or is not art, and therefore assembling a list of works that are "art" is impossible if not laughable.

    The second is more pragmatic but still flawed due to the concept of genre. "The Catcher in the Rye," for instance, is not going to help you learn to write fantasy. If this is the standpoint you wish to take, I recommend you list the works by genre so that one who wished to complete the list might focus their efforts.

    Thank you and good day.
     
  13. Kratos
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    Kratos Contributing Member

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    I agree. The only books on there that I've read are The Catcher in the Rye and 1984. I know I'll read some more of them in school, but I don't really understand why they are "classics".

    That's all a matter of opinion. If it was up to me, a huge fantasy fan, The Lord of the Rings would be the number one on the list.

    It's should be "The List of Books an Author of a Particular Genre Should Read."
     
  14. Meta
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    I included Nabokov simply because I have often been told that he is one of the greats. I have yet to read anything by him and will gladly remove him if given reason.

    How could I include him before Faulkner, Marquez and Joyce? As I said in the original post, I wasn't going to try and list everyone in one sitting, and I simply didn't think of them (or in the case of Faulkner, forgot to put him in both lists). I also think Marquez is over-rated, but who am I to argue with first year university courses and the Nobel prize committee.

    I include Hemingway with absolutely no reservations.

    If you read my first post again, this time more carefully, you will see that I largely agree with you.

    I am not assembling a list of "art". I am assembling a list of books that have come to be known as great because a whole community of writers, readers, and critics have declared them so (or because they have "stood the test of time").

    Of course it's subjective. Everything is. However, I will contend that a community that knows a hell-of-a-lot more about writing and literature than you or I have declared these the best, so maybe they are worth looking at. I didn't say everyone must read these ("canon" is in quotes), I said: "Hopefully this list will give people something to choose their next read from, as well as show the less informed (such as myself) what authors and works are considered to be the height of the craft.I know a lot of this is based on opinion, but hopefully that might spur some debate."

    And although it is subjective, I'm sure you can agree that most people uphold certain similar conventions for what is or is not good writing.

    I didn't say that what isn't on the list isn't art. I didn't say everyone must read or like them (again, you will notice by the original post I'm not a fan of Dostoevsky).

    If you can't see how reading "The Catcher in the Rye" can make someone a better writer in any genre, then maybe you should read it again. If all you read is badly written fantasy, then you will be a bad fantasy writer.

    I created a separate thread for those genres (Fantasy, Sci-fi and horror)that are frequently excluded from the "classics" list at hand. This thread is about those books that people have called the greatest works of literature, regardless of genre.



    I'll updated the list with the other suggestions later.
     
  15. chad.sims2
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    chad.sims2 Contributing Member

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    Guliviers Travels doesn't make anyones list? I loved it, and it's a classic. I'd also say that not LOTR but the HOBIT should. It was writen ten times better than the LOTR and it made me laugh. "Brake the dishes and bend the forks thats what bilbo bagins hates" or the line went something like that, and of course "What's in my pocket." Much better than LOTR. Even Smog was a great charicter.
     
  16. Brode
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    Brode Member

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    Ad populum.

    But are not mandatory reading.

    Yes you did, it's in the title.


    And it did, so I suppose you've succeeded in that aspect.

    Ad populum again.


    Again, yes you did, it's in the title.


    The Catcher in the Rye is drivel. If you look at early reviews you'll notice that the book was generally disliked by reviewers before being labelled a "classic." Why? Because it's shoddy writing. Sincere, but shoddy. The only thing that The Catcher in the Rye does well is that it creates a character that most people identify with at some point in their life. If someone wishes to write a sympathetic coming-of-age story, ten The Catcher in the Rye is helpful reading. If one does not wish to write such a story, The Catcher in the Rye is useless.

    Then call it as such, don't attempt to pass it off as required reading for all aspiring writers.
     
  17. chad.sims2
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    chad.sims2 Contributing Member

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    Oh and i forgot one of my all time favorite books! Battle Field Earth. It was a horrible movie but one of the best (And longest) books i've ever read.
     
  18. Meta
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    Brode - As I said "canon" was in quotes. Now go look up the definition of the word "supposed" (you somehow manage to use it correctly in your own post). I will reiterate: I didn't say anyone must read these.

    Furthermore, when you are making an argument about a subject that is wholly subjective the fallacy argumentum ad populum does not apply. Moreover, if I define the greatest book as that book which the most critics enjoy, then it is not a fallacy to say that War and Peace, for example, is the greatest book, if the most critics enjoy it. Wholly subjective arguments almost always involve appeals to the people.

    I did want debate, but not this sort. Why must so many forum discussions descend into these pseudo-intellectual textual deconstructions? Congratulations, you remembered how to (incorrectly) identify fallacious arguments from your freshman course on logic, while barely addressing the topic at hand.

    As much as you and others may not like it, there are books that are considered "classics". You don't have to subscribe to that belief, and you don't have to post in the thread about them, but they exist (and yes, they exist simply because people say they do). I'm glad to debate whether there should be such a list, and glad to debate the contents of the list. However, don't post if you're going to put words in my mouth, call the idea "ludicrous" or "laughable", or just to argue to hear yourself speak (or watch yourself type, I guess).

    I will gladly debate your points on Catcher later, now I'm tired.

    I will also change the title of the thread (if the forum allows it), because it seems that people think I am saying all of these books are "must reads", when I'm trying to say they are books to consider.

    EDIT - the edit function won't allow me to change the title. However, if any benevolent Mod would like to change it, something like "The 'classics'" or "Those books and authors that are considered to be the greatest because a bunch of writers and critics have called them the greatest" or "These are NOT mandatory reading" or "Hey aspiring writers, you might consider looking at this list of books by old guys, but don't think you have to read them, because that might give Brodie conniption fit" would be great.
     
  19. chad.sims2
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    "identify fallacious arguments from your freshman course on logic, while barely addressing the topic at hand."

    When i read that line i thougt... Politicians anyone.
     
  20. Brode
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    You call yourself a writer, you should know how important semantics are. You know as well as I do that the term "supposed to read" implies that people must read the listed. You'd have to be an idiot to have honestly missed that.

    I didn't put words in your mouth. You put words in your mouth. I apologize deeply for holding you to what you said.

    I apologize for incorrectly using the term ad populum because you present the list as though it isn't completely and utterly subjective. I also apologize for being so insensitive to your inability to communicate decently.

    Now, I'll cut that out now, because I never intended to be rude, I'm simply pointing out flaws in the idea of a required-reading list for aspiring writers. I realize that you weren't attempting to do this, but surely you can see where I would make the mistake.

    Also, in one last, assholish comment: if you're going to try to seem superior to the other party, don't be such a child while doing it.
     
  21. Meta
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    If I reply in any way but a polite one this will officially become a flame war, so I won't. However, despite your recent post everything I said in my last reply stands, and your apologies are accepted.

    I will ask that you read my first post again. Where, despite my numerous grammatical errors, I say such things as: "I know a lot of this is based on opinion", showing that I do indeed believe the list to be subjective.

    Further, simply because you use and interpret the word "supposed" incorrectly (i.e. my mom said I'm supposed to wash my hands before dinner), should not mean I can not use it correctly.

    EDIT - according to dictionary.com supposed can (now) mean "required or under orders", so I will concede my title may be misleading. You can have that one and nothing else.

    And to be just a little more childish: you started it. Friends now? Can we call it what I intended it to be (but maybe didn't convey it properly in my title): a list of the classics, that aspiring writers might consider reading?

    chad.sims2 - sorry I haven't responded. I'll come back tomorrow to update the list.
     
  22. chad.sims2
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    People, People please argue useing smaller words... My head hurts.
     
  23. Brode
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    I am more than happy to let this argument die, and I really am sorry for starting it so unprofessionally in the first place. If I had merely made a suggestion rather than taken a fighting stance, perhaps all of this could have been avoided.

    Can we still discuss on The Catcher in the Rye later? I'd be interested to hear what you have to say on it.
     
  24. LibbyAnn
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    Ditto. :p
     
  25. Darkthought
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    Darkthought Active Member

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    I am going to go ahead and ignore and demeaning remarks about Tolkein's skill that I may have noticed while skimming through the posts.
    I am kind of surprised that no one has mentioned Tennyson to go under the poetry section of the god list here. Maybe Ulysses or The Lady of Shallot? Also, more authors that should be the list; Mary Shelley, Byron, Charlotte Bronte, Percy Shelley, Thoreau.
    Hope this helps broaden the list.
     

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