Friday, August 12, 2011

Loving literature

At Slate, various writers on the "great books" they most hate. The one here that most resonates with me (could have written these sentences myself, and in fact may quote them in the style book) is Daniel Mendelsohn on Joyce:
Honestly I've never been persuaded by Ulysses. To my mind, Joyce's best and most genuine work is the wonderful Dubliners; everything afterwards smacks of striving to write a "great" work, rather than simply striving to write—it's all too voulu. Although there are, of course, beautiful and breathtakingly authentic things in the novel (who could not love that tang of urine in the breakfast kidneys?), what spoils Ulysses for me, each time, is the oppressive allusiveness, the wearyingly overdetermined referentiality, the heavy constructedness of it all. Reading the book, for me, is never a rich and wonderful journey, filled with marvels and (no matter how many times you may read a book) surprises—the experience I want from a large and important novel; it's more like being on one of those Easter egg hunts you went on as a child—you constantly feel yourself being managed, being carefully steered in the direction of effortfully planted treats. Which, of course, makes them not feel very much like treats at all.
NB this obviously all intensely subjective: other writers name some personal favorites of mine, including Hardy's novels and the Iliad (and I love the behavioral psychology in Gravity's Rainbow - I'm only about 150 pages in, so we will see whether I still feel the same way when I finish, but it is a surprisingly enjoyable reread). The great book I most love to hate, I think, is The Great Gatsby, which seems to me infinitely inferior to Fitzgerald's stories...

1 comment:

  1. Never thought I would disagree with D.M. of all people re Joyce of all people! While I dislike some of the parodies, and have always been of the rough opinion that the best things in Ulysses are the unStephened parts that are not pastiche -- Ch. 4-7, Wandering Rocks, Sirens -- I really do disagree with the irritating implied premise that sufficiently stylized, or artificially-organized, art is not art!

    Stuff I dislike that "one" should like: Shelley's verse, Vanity Fair, Annie Dillard, Emerson, "Hero and Leander," Sidney, Richard Powers, "Crying of Lot 49." I have almost completely Alexandrian tastes, so find it hard to dislike anything with charm and "facetiae," so this is perhaps a harder exercise for me than for the more definitely-minded.