this zine’s 8 Books to Drop-kick from the Canon
–The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
–The Natural by Bernard Malamud
-Anything written by Christopher Marlowe
–The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
–A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
–A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
–Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
-Anything written by Ayn Rand
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Twain’s novel meanders carelessly through the various characters in a “plot” that some critics have compared to the winding Mississippi River down which Huck and Jim travel. I find this a pretty sorry excuse for a novel that wanders aimlessly and inconclusively and, ultimately, asks far too much of the reader. Huck’s shenanigans aren’t amazing to grown-ups and are presented in a way more appropriate to a young adult novel. Twain’s novel is often sited for bringing awareness to the plight and troubles of African-Americans. If that’s so, then he does it in a narrow and Huck-obsessed way.
The Natural by Bernard Malamud
I’m not a huge fan of most sports, baseball included. I find little stimulation in watching a slow moving, non-intellectual game played by overgrown schoolboys pumped up on steroids. (My home state team growing up were the Detroit Tigers, which might have had something to do with my baseball lethargy as well.) Going into The Natural, I was determined to remain open-minded and enjoy the novel, despite the baseball premise. Wrong. Malamud’s story is sentimental and overly-romantic, both about baseball and love. There’s little for the reader to sink her teeth into unless she’s David Halberstrom and, even then, I found this book about as thrilling as watching my cats sleep, which is to say, skip it. Skip the movie Robert Redford/Glenn Close movie too.
Anything written by Christopher Marlowe
Oh Christopher Marlowe, where to begin? A contemporary of Shakespeare’s, Marlowe is half as a talented and four times as grating as watching even Shakespeare’s dullest plays (in my opinion, the histories). To both read and watch a Marlowe play is to feel oneself trapped inside a horribly repetitive fun house mirror where everything is terribly distorted. Characters who shouldn’t matter do. Characters we want to learn more about are never brought to light. The narrative starts at the beginning and loops back again and again and again without adding anything each successive pass except the increasingly annoyance of the reader/audience. The only play I’ve ever walked out of was Marlowe’s Edward II and the ticket was free. Walking out of a play I’ve paid nothing to see? Yes, it was that bad.
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Philip Roth has written a lot of good books. The Plot Against America is not one of them. The book is written from a historical imagining that the anti-Semite and isolationist Charles Lindbergh won the 1940 presidential election (instead of FDR) and, as a result, 1940s America starts to look increasingly like 1940s Germany. The premise is wonderful and Roth an expert novelist. The problem with The Plot Against America is that in the political and coming-of-age confusion felt by the characters in the novel is transferred too well to the reader. The wonderful premise disintegrates and the novel suddenly feels like a propaganda piece of a very different kind.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
I enjoy novels with unusual, even despicable protagonists so long as one redeeming quality exists to hang my sympathies on. In A Confederacy of Dunces, that’s exactly what I’m missing: Ignatius J. Reilly gives me so little to sympathize with that I can’t enjoy the novel. He’s rude and abusive to his mother, he’s lazy and self-indulgent, and his egotistical whimperings when he’s forced to find a job are beyond pitiful. Reilly is such an obnoxious and grating character that I couldn’t see past his bloated figure to the humor the novel is generally much beloved for.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Speaking of self-indulgent and egotistical masturbatory tales, Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius beats them all. Widely considered “postmodern” (because he draws a stapler in the intro? because he’s meta? because he settles in San Francisco and uses sarcasm?), Eggers’ memoir is self-congratulatory while also being precious and self-deprecating. I don’t know if Eggers founded the whole hipster movement in fashion and movies but he’s certainly one of its leading spokespersons. An acquaintance once told me the reason she loved this book so much is because he acknowledges in the intro that certain sections are boring and should be skipped and, when reading the sections, she found she agreed with him. Does this acknowledgement make him a genius? Or just a verbose and self-involved wanker whose editor was paid-off to leave in things better left out? Unfortunately, I believe I’m in the minority with my conclusions.
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tender is the Night was Fitzgerald’s last novel and was written while his wife, Zelda, was committed to a psychiatric hospital for schizophrenia and he was continually in need of money. As a result, the novel is darker and more brooding than his earlier works which, although critical of the characters’ upper-class snobbery, still manage to let a bit of sunshine through the commentary. I think it shows that Tender is the Night was Fitzgerald’s last; it lacks the clear prose and moving story of The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald’s distress over his wife’s physic state as well as his own dwindling literary reputation is too evident. Reading Tender is the Night is like watching Britney Spears fall fast and hard until, in a final act of desperation, she reaches her breaking point.
Anything written by Ayn Rand
I’ll probably get tons of hate mail from the various Objectivists (aka followers of Ayn Rand) for this one, but it’s true: Rand novels are unbearable propaganda pieces that are all propaganda and no style. (Yes, I’ve actually read all of Rand’s novels after my dentist recommended them to me. Never, ever trust your dentist’s book recommendations.) Objectivism is a sort of Reagan-style economics mashed together with a Horatio Alger “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mythology blended with a Bush/Cheney doublespeak that, on its face might sound good but upon deeper reflection turns out to be more horrifying than the Golem. Rand used her novels, chiefly Atlas Shurgged and The Fountainhead, as a platform to disseminate her philosophy and recruit others. Both novels lack style and content. Think of that guy in the park espousing his ill-founded beliefs. And then picture him writing a 1200 page novel. And publishing this novel. Yeah, that’s pretty much Ayn Rand.
(P.S. Rand was buddies with President Gerald Ford and a mentor to former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan – who managed to “overlook” the flaws in banking regulation that ultimately contributed to the housing market implosion and the present economic recession. Need I say more about her or her works?)
Now that you’ve heard our picks for what has to go, we want to hear yours. Submit a comment with your own list – and don’t forget to include one or two reasons why!
Why did we write
this zine’s 8 Books to Drop-kick from the Canon?
Later: Books we’d like to see included in the canon….