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Author Topic: The Popular Canon
Orson Scott Card
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I just finished one of the Great Courses on the Canon of world literature. There are a lot of great books on the list, but when we hit Henry James and move forward, most of the books are of the sort that would never have made it in the real world without life support from the universities.

So I wonder. If there were no teaching of literature in universities, what would be the canon of books passed from hand to hand, from generation to generation, for love alone? The POPULAR CANON?

The standard is: books that would be read by volunteers.

Here's my first-thoughts list, but I am eager to have people propose others. I don't mean obscure works - I mean works that everybody knows and would continue to know without help from professors.

Lord of the Rings, Tolkien
Rebecca, du Maurier
Dune, Herbert
Pride and Prejudice, Austen
Tom Sawyer, Twain
Little Women, Alcott
Gone with the Wind, Mitchell

There are books that WERE on the popular canon, but have fallen off (perhaps temporarily?): Ben-Hur, for instance.

And in making suggestions, don't confine yourselves to sci-fi and fantasy! all the genres are welcome, as long as people are reading them for love and pretty much EVERYONE should know at least their title, or be thought ignorant by volunteer readers ...

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dkw
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A Wrinkle in Time, L'Engle
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Geraine
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It may already be on the list, but I would add Foundation. I believe it did for science fiction what Lord of the Rings did for fantasy.
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Aros
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The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
Slaughterhouse 5, Vonnegut
Les Miserables, Hugo
Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas
Catcher in the Rye, Salinger
Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein
The Godfather, Puzo

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Fight Club, Palahniuk
On the Road, Kerouac
The Road, McCarthy
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig

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BlackBlade
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Nice to see you on this side of the forums. [Smile]

I'd go with Huckleberry Finn over Tom Sawyer on that list.

I'm still at work so I'll try to do an actual list later.

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Bella Bee
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To Kill a Mocking Bird, Lee
(The Adventures of) Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle

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AchillesHeel
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Albert Camus' The Stranger is still ivy league reading material in some places, its one of the few that I give away freely and happily.
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Sean Monahan
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Adams
Watership Down, Adams (a different one)

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Launchywiggin
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I know it's not literature, but Calvin and Hobbes is one of those that I imagine will be passed on well into the future.
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Trimegistus
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Would also put in a plug for Les Miserables, Hugo
A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens
The Forever War, Haldeman
The Outsiders, Hinton
Candide, Voltaire

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SenojRetep
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These lists of critically and popularly determined greatest novels of the 20th century might be instructive.

I agree with several that have been mentioned in the thread already. Additionally, maybe
Lord of the Flies, Golding
Call of the Wild, London
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce
The Once and Future King, White (or maybe Idyls of the King, Tennyson)
A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens
The Diary of Anne Frank, Frank

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Jhai
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I'd put some Nabakov on there - either Pale Fire or Lolita, not sure which.
Native Son, Wright
Beloved, Morrison
The Bell Jar, Plath

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Speed
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quote:
Originally posted by Sean Monahan:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Adams
Watership Down, Adams (a different one)

Decided to go through your library in alphabetical order, and gave up after 2, eh?
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Itsame
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Don Quixote
Iliad
Odyssey
Animal Farm
1984
Brave New World
Three Musketeers

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Stone_Wolf_
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1984, Orwell,
White Oleander, Fitch,
The Princess Bride, Goldman,
(I'll be the first) Ender's Game, Card,
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis,
The Stand, King
Jurassic Park, Crichton
Starship Troopers, Heinlein

(for some reason or another quite a few of these are movies, but that's now why they are on my list, just for the record.)

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CT
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Definitely many of the major religious texts, if one counts them as literature. That is, I think they would be popularly read and passed on for love, but depending on who is doing the ranking, they may or may not fit the criteria.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass), L Carroll
Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
Jane Eyre, C Bronte
Ender's Game, OS Card [edit: as above! [Smile] and good call on TLTWaTW]
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, LF Baum
Grimm's Fairy Tales, J&W Grimm

---

Added: so much of what is loved is classed under children's books.

The Phantom Tollbooth, N Juster

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Aros
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A few more:

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, le Carre
The Beautiful and the Damned, Fitzgerald
The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway
Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, Grant Naylor
His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman

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Scott R
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Harry Potter

I can't believe no one's said that.

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Aros
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I think there was a reason. Just saying.
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odouls268
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The Illustrated Man; Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes; Bradbury
48 Laws of Power; Greene

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Lyrhawn
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I question several of these as pop literature. Are we sure we aren't just listing books we really like without stopping to think about whether they're really representative of the larger reading audience? Gone With the Wind was either the most or the second most published book of the 1930s, along with Pearl Buck's The Good Earth and The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. Buck's novel seems to have fallen off the face of the earth in pop reading canon, but in the 30s, everyone who read novels had read it. But even with them in the literary canon, how many people actually sit down to read them that aren't assigned them? I don't know. Some books are big because they speak topically to a time, like Steinbeck and Buck, and then sort of fade away (Stienbeck being the exception perhaps because he IS assigned to frequently in school), and very few have staying power that reaches across time because we're simply a different audience today than we were 100 years ago. I'm wondering if we need to be more discerning in separating pop literature from what we generally regard as the BEST literature. Certainly you can make a big venn diagram with the overlap, but they aren't the same thing at all times.

There are a lot of books I was introduced to by way of college classes that I would have absolutely read if I had known about them before.

The English Patient Ondaatje, really stands out for me. That's one of the ones I actually knew about but never thought to read myself. Also Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

Has anyone said The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or any other Narnia books?

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AchillesHeel
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Secret Garden just because its okay reading for children doesn't mean its not a good book.
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Sean Monahan
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quote:
Originally posted by Speed:
quote:
Originally posted by Sean Monahan:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Adams
Watership Down, Adams (a different one)

Decided to go through your library in alphabetical order, and gave up after 2, eh?
[ROFL]
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Itsame
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I've been waiting for these, but nobody's added them. (Maybe they're too typical of a "great books" list, but I like them.)

Complete works of:
Aristophanes
Sophocles

Histories (Herodotus)
History of the Peloponnesian War
Metamorphoses
Parallel Lives
Divine Comedy
Utopia (More)
Paradise Lost
Gulliver's Travels and "A Modest Proposal"
Sherlock Holmes books

And, most importantly of all, the complete works of Plato. I definitely biased there.

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Lyrhawn
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That's exactly the sort of stuff I'm talking about.
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Foust
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I guess I'd be more interested to hear about these books that could not "make it in the real world." What are examples of this literary welfare?

*presses fingers to temples*

William Gaddis?

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Bella Bee
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Has anyone mentioned The Princess Bride by Goldman?

Not only is it clever, it's certainly one that I can already see is being passed down through the generations.

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CT
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Sherlock Holmes, The Princess Bride, andThe Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe are indeed already up there.

Lyrhawn, I'm not sure what you are saying, but I could be misreading you. OSC wasn't asking for the best works but for "what would be the canon of books passed from hand to hand, from generation to generation, for love alone?"

So something that spoke to a particular generation but not others (as you reference in The Good Earth) wouldn't apply, and nor would something that doesn't get passed down significantly for love alone -- even if it is good literature that one appreciates having been exposed to in school. He is asking, I think, for those books that you buy for other people because "you gotta read this!" and because you think that person will want to share it with other people, too.

But that could be your point. I can't tell. [Smile]

[ October 26, 2011, 06:49 AM: Message edited by: CT ]

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TomDavidson
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AFAICT, Lyrhawn is pointing to Jon's list and saying, "These are exactly the sort of books that are not in the popular canon."
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CT
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Ahhh. That makes much more sense in the flow of the conversation.
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Scott R
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quote:
He is asking, I think, for those books that you buy for other people because "you gotta read this!" and because you think that person will want to share it with other people, too.
This was my understanding of the original proposition as well. It's why the Harry Potter series fits so well-- the first couple books, IIRC, were hardly marketed at all, but became huge best-sellers through word of mouth.
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CT
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Right. And I think that there is something yet more enduring about beloved children's classics -- they seem to be particularly suited to being handed down, either because they speak to something very deep in us, or because the loves of childhood are even more intense, or some mix of those and more.

I think Harry Potter is going to be handed down from generation to generation. We'll see.

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by CT:
Ahhh. That makes much more sense in the flow of the conversation.

Tom has it, that's exactly what I'm saying. I think there are already a bunch of books in this thread that might be considered great literature, but will NOT be widely read. I had another paragraph where I specifically pointed one or two out, then cut it because I didn't want to get into a book by book debate with people.

Jon's was just an over the top list. Thucydides, Herodotus and Ovid will never not be published, I imagine, but they simply aren't part of the pop canon. The grand majority of the reading public won't touch them with a ten foot pole, and even speaking as an historian in training, I really don't blame them. There's a serious accessibility issue (well, at least with Herodotus, who makes watching paint dry appear to be an appealing spectator sport).

There are some great ones on here that I think perfectly nail the recent past and present literary pop canon. But there are also some on here that I just can't imagine are widely read unless assigned. I guess we have to define "widely read," but even still, I have doubts.

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Jake
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I'd add Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising to the list. Probably not the other books in the series, though. Oh, has anybody said Charlotte's Web? What about the Little House books?
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TomDavidson
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quote:
I think Harry Potter is going to be handed down from generation to generation.
Sophie has asked for the first one already. [Smile]
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TomDavidson
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It may be hard to do this with books that are not nowadays considered young adult classics. Certainly the ones that spring to my mind immediately tend to fall into those categories. It's a more interesting challenge to think of "canon" books that are adult-only.
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Dr Strangelove
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
(well, at least with Herodotus, who makes watching paint dry appear to be an appealing spectator sport).

Heresy!

I would agree though. I certainly do not recommend Herodotus or Thucydides for anyone not in academia. Admittedly, most of my friends are graduate students, so I do find myself recommending them. But in terms of popular literature, I would second a lot of books on this list, with A Tale of Two Cities and Lord of the Rings probably making the top of my list. The Count of Monte Cristo is certainly one of my favorites and one that I recommend, but it also is really long, and unabridged simply doesn't cut it. I'm sure there are others that just don't come to mind right now.

I will say that I agree with Enders Game. I recommend that with alacrity and have never yet had anyone not love it and go on to recommend it to others.

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Jake
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After the publication of A Storm of Swords I thought that Ice and Fire was destined to become part of the popular fiction canon, but having read books 4 and 5 I no longer think so. I still love the series, but I don't think it's going to be read widely in, say, 50 years.

I agree, by the way, that it's absurd to include Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Plato, and Ovid in this list. I appreciate all of these authors, but they simply aren't part of the pop culture canon. They just aren't.

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Blayne Bradley
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To be fair to University lit, there are many books I have come to enjoy I wouldn't have even heard of if it weren't for it. Like the Old Man and the Sea.

But yeah, second Ender's Game, I feel its fairly definitive of late 20th century science fiction, I'ld also put up the Foundation Trilogy and I,Robot.

In the Mountains of Madness by Lovecraft.

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kmbboots
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I think that it makes a certain amount of sense to find a lot of books for children and young adults on this list. Most of the books that I would recommend to an adult are works that are new or at least new to me. It would be strange to assume that I needed to "introduce" an adult to a book that I already thought of as canonical.

I agree that including Herodotus et al is pushing it, but I would certainly include the stories that we get from those authors.

Are we talking about just novels here or are we allowed to count poetry and drama as well?

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The Hunger Games. Just the first book.
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Itsame
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I suppose that I'm just in a weird position for the historians. I was at a party this weekend that lacked a single historian, yet there was a lively drunken argument about whether Thucydides was a moralist, using Plutarch and Herodotus as clear cut cases.

Is it really absurd to include the author of something so well-known as Oedipus Rex, and someone as funny as Aristophanes? Maybe they've fallen out of favor lately, but as recently as the mid-20th century, popular film adaptations were being made. Ovid is, I think, an obvious case in light of not only his influence, but because of the myths that Metamorphoses contains. These are the things that fascinated me as a child.

And for Plato... I just love Plato, so I couldn't make a list without him.

Edit: I'd also like to point out that the Atlantis myth originates in Plato.

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Stone_Wolf_
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The Pawn of Prophecy series, Eddings,

Tarzan, Burroughs,

The Hunt for Red October, Clancy,

The Davinci Code, Brown,

The Client, Grisham,

Murder on the Orient Express, Christie,

[ October 26, 2011, 02:23 PM: Message edited by: Stone_Wolf_ ]

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Jake
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quote:
Originally posted by JonHecht:
[QB]
Is it really absurd to include the author of something so well-known as Oedipus Rex, and someone as funny as Aristophanes?[qb]

I think so. Despite loving a lot of that stuff myself, and having become, in college, part of a community of people who would read ancient poets, playwrights, historians and philosophers for fun, I don't have any illusions about the works of those authors being a direct part of popular culture. A lot of the works in question undergird popular culture, I think, but that isn't what's being talked about here.


quote:
Maybe they've fallen out of favor lately, but as recently as the mid-20th century, popular film adaptations were being made.
60 years ago the list would have been different, and might have included some of the authors and works you were mentioning.

quote:
Ovid is, I think, an obvious case in light of not only his influence, but because of the myths that Metamorphoses contains. These are the things that fascinated me as a child.
Me too. I loved Greek and Roman myth as a kid (and still do, really). I was the kid with a dog-eared translation of Hesiod's Theogony under my arm. The thing is, though, that the list we're coming up with isn't necessarily a list of books we loved as children, or love as adults.

quote:
Edit: I'd also like to point out that the Atlantis myth originates in Plato.
Sure. That doesn't mean that a significant percentage of the reading population in this country reads him out of love.
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kmbboots
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I think that the stories are pervasive enough to count as canon even if the sources aren't. I loved Edith Hamilton's Mythology as a kid and there are scores of books that contain the stories for children and adults that are well loved.

Also, are we counting plays and poetry? There are lots of plays that are canon and at least a handful of poems as well that people know and love.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Jake:
... I agree, by the way, that it's absurd to include Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Plato, and Ovid in this list.

It's interesting what is omitted, the Divine Comedy by Dante. It has a massive role in undergird(ing?) popular culture as you put it, but I have no idea how many people have read it. I wonder if you could make the case for something like the Chinese "Journey to the West." Massive effect on popular culture, but I have no idea about reading statistics.

Then again, how many people need to have read a book directly for us to have a good idea of whether they'll be passed on? You could hit up the list of best selling books and find a few books that (may or may not be on academic life support? Not sure how to get a list of that to cross-reference) haven't been mentioned like, Dream of the Red Chamber, And Then There Were None, Peter Rabbit, etc.

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Orson Scott Card
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What a great list! When I write my essay about this, I have no intention of slighting anybody, but my bias is AGAINST anything that is already in the academic canon. What I will use are the books that have survived without any academic intervention. though Austen, for instance, is now taught, her books remained in print during centuries of completely neglect by academia. So you can count on NOT seeing Joyce - or Herodotus, for that matter - in my essay, though I WISH Herodotus were in the popular canon, though I prefer Thucydides!

I'm sticking with novels for my essay; at this moment, there is almost NO poetry in the popular canon. Separate essay, maybe, but tell the truth: How many of you see ANY poems being passed hand to hand without any academic intervention? I think I was in the last generation to be given the tools to understand and love poetry on our own, without being given the academic decoder ring.

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kmbboots
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Shel Silverstein? A Visit from St. Nicholas? Lyics to songs?

Any reason we are being so anti-academic in this list? Anna Karenina (for example) may be taught, but I picked it up on my own. Same with Dickens, Austen, and Hugo.

Added: I would also add that the books I did pick up and enjoy myself, I enjoyed more because I had the tools - decoder ring if you must - to understand them that I learned from being taught other great books.

[ October 26, 2011, 03:26 PM: Message edited by: kmbboots ]

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ladyday
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Neuromancer, Gibson
The Diamond Age, Stephenson

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