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Author Topic: The Popular Canon
Itsame
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"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."

I was unaware that we were excluding people who attained such an appreciation during college. I don't think it's so much a matter of the college itself inculcating these desires (though it may help), but college occurring at an age during which these desires would arise. How we are a defining a popular canon is certainly confusing to me. I don't think that the percentage of people who would pick up Three Musketeers (not an adultured version, but an unabridged one) is that much greater than those would would pick up The Republic or Metamorphoses. I know plenty of people who read all three in high school.

I'm not saying these are common books for people to read, but also probably not much less common than The Princess Bride. There is no doubt in my mind that they would have survived without academia, and the initial question was, "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?" By that standard, they pass with flying colors. Without universities, there would still be intellectually curious people who would read them. Now, if we are eliminating the universities and intellectual curiosity, then we have a different matter entirely. In that case, however, I doubt we'll get many books at all.

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kmbboots
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I think that is why we are getting a lot of books for children and young adults on the list.

If we are talking about books for adults that many adults are reading for fun we should include King, Ludlum, Dan Brown, Danielle Steele, Jackie Collins, Grisham and so forth.

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Orson Scott Card
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Songs as poetry - we've always kept them separate, but it's certainly the most common form of rhymed language today. Visit from St. Nicholas is definitely in the canon of poetry. Don't know about Silverstein; does anyone pass along poems of his AS poems?
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TomDavidson
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quote:
I don't think that the percentage of people who would pick up Three Musketeers (not an adultured version, but an unabridged one) is that much greater than those would would pick up The Republic or Metamorphoses.
When was the last time you saw Disney film a version of The Republic?
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kmbboots
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I am not sure I understand the difference between "tools to understand" and "academic decoder ring". I know one is good and the other not, but am not sure where to draw the line. Is it the grade level? To me, being taught to read and being taught to read Shakespeare or Chaucer are points on a continuum rather than isolated things. We all stop at different points. (I stopped before Chaucer.) Or perhaps just pause or continue less formally.
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BlackBlade
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Oh The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss seems to be classic poetry that most high school/college graduates in the United States have read.

Silverstein should be classic poetry, but I don't think he is passed around at all. Poetry isn't really just read amongst most people today.

I might have missed it in all the listing, but I think Alice's Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carol should be on such a list.

It's influence not just as a book, but as a cultural icon is extremely vast. It's a classic by any standard.

I'm on the fence about The Bible. It's not literature, and yet it's poetry and prose have been current within English literature for over a thousand years. It's themes are constantly referenced, and phrases are lifted from it all the time.

If somebody were to read all these other books and then work their way through The Bible, I think your brain would constantly be firing as the references would be nearly constant, with a short break in Numbers. [Wink]

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The Rabbit
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I think that the very nature of this board means answers are going to be slanted toward SciFi and Fantasy. Here are a couple that are well outside that genre.

Catch 22, Joseph Heller
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner

Just about anything by Agatha Christie fits the bill.

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advice for robots
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"Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann is a poem that seems to get passed around widely without help from the ivory tower.

Kipling's "If" is also in that category.

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Stone_Wolf_
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Kipling's "If" seconded.
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kmbboots
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Lots of Kipling would count, I think. Frost, too. Or Poe. But are we getting into things that we read in school?
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advice for robots
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I never read "If" in school. I have received it in emails and have been given it on cards, though. I'd never heard of "Desiderata" until I was out of college, and it seemed to have some sort of revival in the media.
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kmbboots
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I remember "If" from posters at the doctor's office. Almost as ubiquitous as that, "Don't walk behind me" bit of Camus. Frost's "Stopping by Woods..." I certainly knew before studying it, though I knew it better afterwards. Poe's raven shows up all over the place.
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King of Men
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I have tried passing around Kipling poems, but it doesn't seem to work. [Frown] But then, that's true of many books I love.

Touching King, Danielle Steele, and so on: I suggest waiting thirty years after the date of publication. There's a difference between being a bestseller in a particular zeitgeist, and being a classic that people will still read when the moment has passed. Perhaps King's "Dark Tower" series would count, at least the first three books, but I don't think I'd put in his entire oeuvre. (Although if I were to make a prediction, it would indeed be that King will survive and Steele will not.)

Getting on to making constructive suggestions, I would put in Robin Hood and Arthur. Incidentally, does anyone know of a retelling of the Robin Hood cycle that could be considered canonical in the same way that White's retelling is the modern incarnation of the Arthur cycle?

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Dobbie
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAejmFrO_6Y&feature=related
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Orson Scott Card:
Songs as poetry - we've always kept them separate, but it's certainly the most common form of rhymed language today. Visit from St. Nicholas is definitely in the canon of poetry. Don't know about Silverstein; does anyone pass along poems of his AS poems?

When I was in elementary school, everyone I knew who actually read books outside of class had read Where the Sidewalk Ends. It's a children's poetry book, so I haven't read it in like 20 years, but I loved it as a kid.
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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:

Getting on to making constructive suggestions, I would put in Robin Hood and Arthur. Incidentally, does anyone know of a retelling of the Robin Hood cycle that could be considered canonical in the same way that White's retelling is the modern incarnation of the Arthur cycle?

Probably the Howard Pyle version. Another book for children.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
quote:
Originally posted by Orson Scott Card:
Songs as poetry - we've always kept them separate, but it's certainly the most common form of rhymed language today. Visit from St. Nicholas is definitely in the canon of poetry. Don't know about Silverstein; does anyone pass along poems of his AS poems?

When I was in elementary school, everyone I knew who actually read books outside of class had read Where the Sidewalk Ends. It's a children's poetry book, so I haven't read it in like 20 years, but I loved it as a kid.
We passed that one around when I was in junior high, I think.
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Itsame
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"When was the last time you saw Disney film a version of The Republic?"

Not Disney but...
http://www.amazon.com/Allegory-Cave-n/dp/B000PTYKUM
and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTWwY8Ok5I0
and some animator--very well might be Disney! Edit: Orson Welles narrates.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6LUptADIww&feature=related

That's only a small segment from The Republic.
This is kind of weird, but here's a documentary about The Republic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0qZfsFo2RI

This is the Apology, but I thought it was really cool: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1hIU1iZG7o&feature=related
The side links on that last one will take you to more from the Apology and at least one from the Phaedo.

[ October 26, 2011, 07:28 PM: Message edited by: JonHecht ]

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Hank
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quote:
Originally posted by Orson Scott Card:
Songs as poetry - we've always kept them separate, but it's certainly the most common form of rhymed language today. Visit from St. Nicholas is definitely in the canon of poetry. Don't know about Silverstein; does anyone pass along poems of his AS poems?

I'm not sure what you mean by differentiating between passing it along, vs. passing it along "AS poems," but I myself have several of his poems memorized or partly memorized, enough to quote lines when appropriate, and I recently bought a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends for a friend to read with their kids, as well as reading them to the kids in my life.
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Jeff C.
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Enders Game, Card
Old Man's War, Scalzi
The Once and Future King, T. H. White
Lamb, Christopher Moore

Some of these were written in the past ten years, but they're also modern classics. I only ever read any of these because someone I knew recommended them.

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Stone_Wolf_
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I used to have several of Shell Sivlerstien's poems memorized, but when I tried to recall them, I could only remember the beginnings and ends.

I'd love to put one up...but not sure if it would be against the rules...can I post a Shell Silverstien poem BB?

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Noemon
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:

Touching King, Danielle Steele, and so on: I suggest waiting thirty years after the date of publication. There's a difference between being a bestseller in a particular zeitgeist, and being a classic that people will still read when the moment has passed.

Agreed, and well put. I was going to make that point earlier today, but got busy and didn't get around to it.
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Herblay
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I'd say the same about Brown.
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Carrie
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As I was drifting off during a nap this afternoon, I had a thought about this thread: maybe we could look at movie adaptations of books that did poorly - either in their critical receptions or box office takes. A poor showing in either of these may be due to people caring about the story, holding a book up as a beloved entity... or, yes, the movie may just be bad. [Smile]

And as a former Classicist, the only ancient texts I'd pass on to a general audience are Homer's epics and Ovid's Metamorphoses, all for the stories they contain that pervade later literature. Sure, Plato and Herodotus and Caesar are excellent references to have, but people, in my experience, don't just pick them up to read casually.

I must finally agree wholeheartedly with Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. I'd hand that off to anyone.

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Foust
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To highlight the strangeness of this thread, how about we exclude books that we first discovered in class? Either in high school, or in university. Books that were presented to us by friends or family. Preferably, books that these friends or family did not themselves discover in class.

Oh, and only books that you've read cover to cover. How many non-English lit majors have read the entirety of, well, anything by Alexander Dumas?

My prediction: the list will be whittled down considerably. We'll be left with Harry Potter, OSC himself, Dan Brown. . .

quote:
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.
Centuries?

Yes, canon-bust, but not in the name of faux-populism.

Edited for spelling.

[ October 27, 2011, 03:58 AM: Message edited by: Foust ]

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Oh, and only books that you've read cover to cover. How many non-English lit majors have read the entirely of, well, anything by Alexander Dumas?
I think you picked the wrong author to make your point. I read The Count of Monte Cristo in junior high and loved it. I didn't start my English BA until a decade after that. I'm sure a lot of people read that book at the very least around the same time.
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Carrie
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quote:
Originally posted by Foust:
To highlight the strangeness of this thread, how about we exclude books that we first discovered in class? Either in high school, or in university.

Well, so much for my including Ender's Game... Shakespeare, conversely, falls into these criteria. Something tells me that the group discussing this is not exactly a representative sample of non-academic reading.
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Foust
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quote:
I think you picked the wrong author to make your point. I read The Count of Monte Cristo in junior high and loved it. I didn't start my English BA until a decade after that. I'm sure a lot of people read that book at the very least around the same time.
Well then include it on your list of candidates.

I asked on the first page for examples of books that could not "survive" without some form of literary welfare. I really would like some examples, because - at least on page one of this thread - there are very few books which I have not seen on a university syllabus, or that would not be obvious candidates. For example, I've read Jurassic Park for a university class (called Popular Culture 100, but still), and while I've never seen The Sun Also Rises on a syllabus, it is not hard to imagine it being on one.

Edit: Spelling, again. Argh.

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Carrie:
quote:
Originally posted by Foust:
To highlight the strangeness of this thread, how about we exclude books that we first discovered in class? Either in high school, or in university.

Well, so much for my including Ender's Game... Shakespeare, conversely, falls into these criteria. Something tells me that the group discussing this is not exactly a representative sample of non-academic reading.
Ender's Game was first passed to me by a friend of my mother's when I was in, oh must have been early high school. I think it only took me a week or two to get my hands on the three subsequent books. I feel kind of bad that I never gave it back to him...but not entirely. I've since passed the same tattered copy on to someone else. It's currently making the rounds amongst Peace Corps volunteers in West Africa.

I was actually highly disappointed when I wasn't allowed to do a report on Ender's Game in my AP English class where we got to pick our own books. My teacher was awesome, very well-read though with a tendency toward eastern literature, but he had a definite negative opinion on the literary value of science fiction.

I ended up doing the report on Shusako Endo's Deep River, which I encountered in the afterword notes in...I want to say Children of the Mind. I didn't really get it in high school, but I read it again in college and really enjoyed it.

My I went off on quite the tangent there.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
I am not sure I understand the difference between "tools to understand" and "academic decoder ring". I know one is good and the other not, but am not sure where to draw the line. Is it the grade level? To me, being taught to read and being taught to read Shakespeare or Chaucer are points on a continuum rather than isolated things. We all stop at different points. (I stopped before Chaucer.) Or perhaps just pause or continue less formally.

:nod:

I find it to be an artificial distinction, and a way of justifying your own personal rejection of books or other artistic works you find unappealing. I for one, disliked (rather, did not enjoy) quite a lot of the literary cannon I was forced to read as a literature student. But Thankfully I was still able to learn a great deal about literature, and I don't consider having studied those things to have been a waste of my time.

But, since I was also intensively studying musicology and music theory (which requires a *much* more technical and comprehensive review of historically relevant theory and technique than does literature), I had long since learned that my personal enjoyment of a particular work, and its actual significance and impact on art, theory, history, and society, were two somewhat separate things. I learned early on that we were not expected or required to enjoy everything we listened to- just to understand why it was significant.

It's funny, because you can get through a major in English and never learn that lesson. You can get through 4 years of the literary cannon, whining the whole way through, and never have anyone tell you that the purpose of actually *studying* something, is not to learn how to enjoy it. That may come naturally, given the level of exposure, but it is okay if it doesn't. The purpose is to understand it, and to use that understanding to illuminate your view of the whole world, and everything in it.

And I would say that was a lesson taught 1000% better in my music theory courses. In literature, it seemed that the professors actually thought you were supposed to enjoy everything- or that the only way you could properly appreciate anything was by *liking* it, and sharing their enthusiasm for it. They liked it, so you should also like it. If you didn't, you were less enlightened. I think they were just trying to teach the material- but they were going about it in the wrong way. Music was so much more technical, that I think it balanced well against any particular professor's need to impress his/her own tastes on the students. So much energy was devoted to theory and actual brass tacks details of the work, that there wasn't really time for teachers to get political about what kind of things their students actually *liked* listening to.

It's a shame. I often wished in college that my literature courses were taught by music professors. Lit professors seemed to spend most of their time advocating some particular position, but the music teachers taught us about music.

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Teshi
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Orincoro, I agree partly with you but I think that's part and parcel of what the study of English literature involves for many (but not all) professors. There are inherent lenses through which literature is looked at by many people.

However, many, perhaps most, of my English Literature professors, however, were more focused on "brass tacks" rather than positions. I never got that impression that you had to enjoy a piece of literature in order to appreciate it. Although, of course, it helps. Sometimes you can be hugely enlightened and experience something great by reading something you will never read again and never would have picked up.

quote:
I've never seen The Sun Also Rises on a syllabus, it is not hard to imagine it being on one.
I read The Sun Also Rises in high school.

I've been reading books by John LeCarre recently, as they were recommended to me in the spring by a friend. I had previously read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold as a much younger person and while I enjoyed it, I think I was a little immature to accept LeCarre's harsh world and didn't come back until what probably amounts to a decade.

I think Shakespeare as performed plays would get passed on. I also saw Waiting For Godot performed before I studied it and I would have recommended that based on performance along with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

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Lyrhawn
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My English Lit experience was more like Teshi's. Obviously all the professors teaching the material loved what was being taught, but they didn't require or expect it of us. I think their enthusiasm for the material was a bonus, but they didn't let it get in the way of teaching the nuts and bolts of what we were reading.

If we were required to like what we were reading, I probably would have died at some point during my two British Lit classes. Thank god for post-colonial lit, I wouldn't have survived much more Bronte without it. Persuasion was about the only book I was expecting to hate that I actually really enjoyed. Joyce's Portrait is actually a pretty good example. I didn't particularly care for the book itself, but there was a lot of neat stuff going on in it that made for good discussion.

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Scott R
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I'm afraid I don't admit the equivalency of poetry and song lyrics. The problem, I think, is that adding music can allow meter to be twisted a bit. Take the music out, and the "poem" just doesn't work as well.

Let me note, however, that I'm often pleasantly surprised by the clever twists and turns of rap lyrics. I'm not a terrible fan of the content, but the artistry is often superb.

I'll echo what someone said about Robert Frost; I've passed down a lot a lot of his poetry to my troupe, and to other kids.

quote:
I think I was in the last generation to be given the tools to understand and love poetry on our own
[Smile]

My grandmother (92) memorized REAMS of poetry. She can't see or hear very well, but she still is able to recite these wonderful poems at the drop of a hat.

I wonder if the shift in popular form-- from rhyming, highly structured poetry, to free verse-- has made a difference in how poetry is both taught and learned? I find it easier to memorize something that rhymes, for example. And I think that memorization is often the best way to get into a poem. If that's the general case, AND if the poetry being produced today (or modernly) does not rhyme, or have a particular structure, then I think teaching it would be more difficult.

quote:
Don't know about Silverstein; does anyone pass along poems of his AS poems?
Yeah: us. Or at least 'Light in the Attic' and 'Where the Sidewalk Ends.'

I hate 'The Giving Tree,' though.

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Scott R
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I also passed on Bernard Cornwell's historical fiction, particularly Sharp's Trafalgar.
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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by Teshi:
I read The Sun Also Rises in high school.

I've been reading books by John LeCarre recently, as they were recommended to me in the spring by a friend. I had previously read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold as a much younger person and while I enjoyed it, I think I was a little immature to accept LeCarre's harsh world and didn't come back until what probably amounts to a decade.

I would wager that you might see The Sun Also Rises in a different light. Though Hemingway's prose is rather simple (clean) from a technical standpoint, that book is particularly nuanced.

I generally feel that Hemingway and Fitzgerald, though friends and contemporaries, are two polar opposites. Hemingway's writing is the epitome of sparse, and Fitzgerald's is extremely lush (less so in Gatsby than in his other books). But both of their books are so deep, I'd imagine that you'd come away with something different every time you read them. Even a really bright high school student can't fully comprehend The Sun Also Rises or This Side of Paradise -- if, for the very fact that one would require some very real experience living in the real world.

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kmbboots
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quote:
Originally posted by Noemon:
quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:

Touching King, Danielle Steele, and so on: I suggest waiting thirty years after the date of publication. There's a difference between being a bestseller in a particular zeitgeist, and being a classic that people will still read when the moment has passed.

Agreed, and well put. I was going to make that point earlier today, but got busy and didn't get around to it.
Well, yes, but how do we decide that? Danielle Steele's The Ring has been around longer than Ender's Game. The Harry Potter books don't come close to KoM's thirty year mark. Please note that I am not arguing for or against any of these. I am just saying that people enjoying them without studying them isn't a very high bar.

Orinoco, I agree with you about the music courses. In fact, that comparison struck me last night. I was lucky to have literature and art professors that taught the same way.

Teshi, I loved Jane Eyre even as a kid but got more out of Wuthering Heights from reading it in class than I would have otherwise, I think.

Scott, I am with you on The Giving Tree. Poor deluded thing needed a sassy gay friend.

http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/07/what_if_the_giving_tree_had_a.html

(Language warning)

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AchillesHeel
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How is it that no one has mentioned the instant class that is Tyra Banks Modelland?

To think! that the idea just came to her, a story where young people go to a school where they learn magic! Aren't we all lucky that she is such a good writer that this impeccable story somehow found a publisher despite no guarantee that it will sell a single copy?

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The Rabbit
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The poem "Cat" by JRR Tolkien is one I learned from a friend and which I have passed on many times.
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Scott R
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quote:
I am just saying that people enjoying them without studying them isn't a very high bar.
Of course, that's not what the OP stipulated as a parameter. Enjoying is one thing; enjoying a work enough to pass it on is another.

"Popular canon" here, I think implies a collection of work that a population of folks have been passing around.

My favorite book of the last couple years is Walk on Water. It's a bit exclusionary of me, but I only recommend it if the subject of pediatric cardiac surgery comes up.

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kmbboots
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Sorry. For me, enjoying and recommending or passing on is just about the same thing.

I am starting to conclude that, should we want to determine a real popular canon, this is a pretty small and skewed sample group. It might make more sense to go to forum that isn't devoted to the works of a particular author in a particular genre.

I wonder if there would be a way to pose this question at a place like Goodreads? That might be more useful.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
I wonder if there would be a way to pose this question at a place like Goodreads?

Start a list (Listopia).
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MrSquicky
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quote:
"Popular canon" here, I think implies a collection of work that a population of folks have been passing around.
I don't know. If you exclude children's books, this strikes me as sort of like asking "What wine and cheese pairings do most people enjoy?"

I could be wrong, but it seems to me (and everything after this is just my opinion) the answer is none. Passing on books across generations is not something most people do.

This is especially true if you're taking away books that need a "decoder ring". Without this, people don't appreciate good writing. Their reaction to the story then relies on their emotional investment - usually how much they can insert themselves into the main character a la Harry Potter or Ender's Game, the twists, and how titillating it is.

Books as the medium of narrative fiction is in the process of being superseded by TV/movies. Consider, for example, The Song of Fire and Ice. If this story gets passed on, I believe it will be in the HBO TV series as its primary medium, with people maybe picking up the books after seeing the series. As we get better at translating books into formats more palatable and with lower barriers to enjoyment for the majority of people, I think more and more enjoyable narrative books are going to become like The Wizard of Oz.

---

For myself, I have no illusions that enjoying books the way I do and wanting to pass them on is an elitist thing.

I find for narrative fiction, I mostly pass on authors more than books. But, again, I live in an elitist world where I assume people are reading books a lot, so I don't expect them to just pick up the one book I would recommend. And, for the next generation, there's a reason I'm keeping my library of books around. I expect them to go through most of it.

Authors I push on other people (in no particular order):
OSC (natch)
Neil Gaiman
Terry Pratchett
China Mieville
Octavia Butler
Chaim Potok
Luis McMaster Bujold
William Gibson

I find when I'm recommending individual books, I'm mostly talking about non-fiction books or ones that are "hard" to read. Usually, it's not that I love the book, so much as I appreciate the effect that reading it had on me.

To paraphrase JFK, I read these books, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. I suspect a lot of those would fall into the apparently bad category of "academic", though.

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Scott R
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quote:
This is especially true if you're taking away books that need a "decoder ring". Without this, people don't appreciate good writing. Their reaction to the story then relies on their emotional investment - usually how much they can insert themselves into the main character a la Harry Potter or Ender's Game, the twists, and how titillating it is.

Without a decoder ring people don't appreciate good writing.

Am I understanding you correctly?

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kmbboots
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How are you defining "decoder ring"? To use an extreme example, without being taught the "decoder ring" of reading, people will probably not appreciate any writing. Unless one is taught more advanced vocabulary, people are not going to appreciate books that rely on those words. Without being taught something of history or context, people aren't going to be able to appreciate good writing that depends on knowing something of that context. Without being taught about literary themes or the use of, say, foreshadowing, or metaphor, people are not going to appreciate good writing as much as they might otherwise. Where are you and OCS drawing the line?
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Scott R
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I'm using Squicky's words, kmboots-- is your question addressed to him or me?
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kmbboots
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Anybody. I think that Squicky was using OSC'c words. That is where I got it and I still don't have a clear idea what this means.
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Scott R
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OSC used "decoder ring" in regards to poetry.

quote:
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.
Squicky used it in regards to prose:

quote:
This is especially true if you're taking away books that need a "decoder ring". Without this, people don't appreciate good writing.
I wonder if most people feel there's a difference.

For me, there is: I'll read novels that are artsy and full of academic trappings. Bring on the symbolism, the off-the-wall asides, everything; a novel has the girth to support eccentricities.

I find it difficult to enjoy poetry that employs some of the same devices. I don't know-- it just seems counter to what I believe poetry is good for. Poetry, to me, is meant to be crisp and simple; the art of poetry is to convey as much meaning in as few words as possible.

The older I get, the more I believe the above. Which is why I find Whitman so obnoxious these days.

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Raymond Arnold
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I think poetry can convey concepts in few words that also happen to involve lots of symbolism.
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Scott R
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:nod:

That's certainly true.

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kmbboots
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I think that is true for some poetry, certainly not all of it.
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