From the Guardian online, Chinua Achebe rejects his categorization as the “father of modern African literature.”
Below is the complete longlist. We’d love to hear your comments and opinions on the books below!
Chaired by broadcaster and author James Naughtie, the 2009 judges are Lucasta Miller, biographer and critic; Michael Prodger, Literary Editor of The Sunday Telegraph; Professor John Mullan, academic, journalist and broadcaster and Sue Perkins, comedian, journalist and broadcaster.
Man Booker Prize Longlist 2009
A.S. Byatt, The Children’s Book
J.M. Coetzee, Summertime
Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze
Sarah Hall, How to paint a dead man
Samantha Harvey, The Wilderness
James Lever, Me Cheeta
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Simon Mawer, The Glass Room
Ed O’Loughlin, Not Untrue & Not Unkind
James Scudamore, Heliopolis
Colm Toibin, Brooklyn
William Trevor, Love and Summer
Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger
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!
Later: Books we’d like to see included in the canon….
Yikes! This list is no joke! While I haven’t read all of the books included, I have read a book by almost all of the authors on it and strongly disagree with at least two of the selections.
Below is the list. To find detailed (though occasionally maddening) reasons behind why these particular books should be “fired” you’ll have to read the article.
First, I’m going to defend two of the books on this list. Second, I’m going to create my own. Finally, I invite you to create your own list of books you think should be drop-kicked from the canon… and maybe a reason or two why.
The Second Pass “Fired From the Canon” List
-White Noise by Don DeLillo
-Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
-One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
-The Road by Cormac McCarthy
-The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence
-On the Road by Jack Kerouac
-The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
-The USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos
-Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
In Defense of White Noise and Absalom, Absalom
While White Noise may not be DeLillo’s best work (that honor, in my opinion, goes to either The Names or Underworld), it is a post-modern warning bell about the path our suburbanized, commodified culture is headed down, at least in the world of white, educated affluence. White Noise is a fast-paced indoctrination of our culture but it is not a “protest piece” the way one might consider an August Wilson play. It’s also a moving story about a family’s decline in a world of faceless technology and minimal interactions. There are very few novelists whose work I read in near entirety and DeLillo is one of them. It’s been at least seven years since I first read White Noise and I’m thinking now might be a good time to return to it.
William Faulkner can be a challenge to read, yes, and Absalom, Absalom especially so, but this prequel to The Sound and the Fury was hot long before the idea of prequels was conceived by Lucasfilms as a lucrative money making venture. In Absalom, Absalom the reader is granted knowledge of the basic premise of the story from the very beginning. The joy of continuing to read is both to discover how the story unravels and how it is told and re-told by various characters. For close readers of Faulkner’s work, the familiarity with many of the lives adds the tension of dramatic irony to a story about family, birthright, heritage, and blood lines. Faulkner himself thought Absalom, Absalom was his masterpiece.
Tomorrow: What 10 books would we fire from the canon? (Ha! Pun intended!)
by Lacey N. Dunham
In O’Brien’s mind, imagination is more important than description, than clearly seeing the character as a red head or as someone with baby blue eyes. O’Brien says in the essay, “the more dangerous problem with unsuccessful stories is usually…: I am bored. And I would remain bored even if the story were packed with pages of detail aimed at establishing verisimilitude. I would believe the story, perhaps, but I would still hate it.”
Description is great, sure, but the reader needs something to happen.
I think of a writing workshop I participated in as an undergraduate. One of the women in the class, Jenny, submitted to workshop the first chapter of her science-fiction novel. Although I can’t quite remember the exact words she used or the name of the fictional setting of the piece, the opening of the story went something like this:
Thalia was a far away land. It was a tiny speck in the Yama Galaxy. The Yama Galaxy was filled with red and purple planets mostly and they were very large, like monsters. Thalia was a tiny planet and looked blue from far away. It was half as large as the next nearest planet, Bimpton and definitely smaller than the largest planet in the Yama Galaxy, Brutth. Upon closer inspection the planet wasn’t really blue at all but was really a green-blue and brightly shining. The Yama Galaxy hadn’t been around that long yet and that meant that Thalia was a very new planet. Despite that, it was a thriving planet and had two kingdoms on it, one small and one large. Prana was one small kindgom on the planet. Dupet was a large kingdom on the planet. Prana and Dupet were enemies and would end up in a war very soon.
This went on and on for the entire first chapter with nothing much happening. Even the promising final line of the first paragraph “Prana and Dupet were enemies and would end up in a war very soon” was lost to the description of Thalia and the Yama Galaxy that followed. I knew precisely what Prana and Dupet look liked, sure, but I didn’t know why I should give a damn.
During workshop, I remember telling Jenny that I needed to see more in her piece. I said it just like that, “I need to see more.” She was very quick to say, “Well, there’s lots of description. It’s not my fault if you can’t see it.” (To her defense, Jenny and I were sworn enemies due to allegiances forced upon us following an argument between our roommates.)
Had I been more articulate, had O’Brien written his piece a few years earlier, I would know precisely what I meant to say. I wanted to tell Jenny, your piece is creative and full of description. You’ve created a whole world and described it to us in great detail. But, to cop a line from O’Brien, “the research might be a resounding success but the drama is a dismal failure.” (Since Jenny and I were sworn enemies, I don’t think I would have hesitated at all to use such a heavy phrase as “dismal failure” even though she would have certainly torn my hair out in a dining room brawl later that day.)
Writing is anything but organic work, at least for me. I don’t sit down at my computer and magically weave an entire tapestry as if I was Penelope. Sometimes I write entire pages of description and exposition only to strike all of it later except, maybe, a few precious words that captured what I wanted to share about a character. This practice really use to bother me. I thought, why am I sitting here for three hours typing away only to erase it all the next day? Eventually I realized that what I viewed as wasted time was really my unconscious preparing me for the larger story. I needed to write all of that description and exposition so when I finally sat down with what I really wanted to say, the character was firmly there, the story had action and drama, and I was saying something more than a lot of pretty adjectives and adverbs. I had been running training laps around the gym.
It’s definitely important to have imagination as an author. Imagination is what gets us going, what sets ideas into motion. Imagination is terrific but it can’t be buried beneath so much other junk that the reader loses track of–or worse yet, interest in–the story. So let your imagination soar, sure, but be sure to take a long, hard look with your editing pen later.
by Michelle Dominique
Before the confession—
Before the sun bowed in recession
to the lethargic black clouds spreading
like melting ice
between the tall oak trees.
Before the room was reflected
against the glass pane
and through the imprint of the figure
on the window
and before you explained
that its origin was unknown.
I blew the dust from the books
on the shelf
and held the stone heart–heavy in my hand–
cold against my chest.
Before I discovered the scent of the red pillow
where I could feel you linger
curled in the corner like a small child.
Before the surrender—
The nervous movement toward the truth.
The acknowledgment of reality,
Before the pulling close and
the synchronized breathing.
Before the wetness of your rough cheek
against my neck.
Before your tears that trailed and teased my collar bone
and cooled my hands.
Before the connection
Michelle Dominique divides her time between Chicago and Northern Virginia. She lives to write.
published by this zine
July 21, 2009
BY LACEY N. DUNHAM
In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott encourages writers to find time to sit down at their desks everyday and to write, no matter how difficult it is or how impossible it seems. Just write, even if it’s only 300 words.
When I read this I thought, easy cake. 300 words is nothing to write everyday. And then I tried it. Like knitting or teaching kindergarteners, I realized, shit, this is hard. Especially for someone who can’t turn off the internal editor as she writes and strives to make every sentence perfect, 300 words everyday is asking quite a lot.
One afternoon in the middle of cursing out Anne Lamott and her little challenge as I stared down my computer screen with simmering rage, willing the end of the short story I was working on to fall from my fingertips, I realized, wait a minute. She said I just have to write 300 words. She didn’t say I had to write 300 words that I would ever use again or 300 words of pure, blissful, Amy Hempel-quality, or even 300 words towards the story I was currently working on. I just had to write 300 damn words!
Feeling like I’d decoded the top secret message to finally grant my entry to the inner circle, I opened a book to a random page, slid my finger halfway down, and wrote 300 words using the sentence my finger landed upon as the springboard. Was it the best 300 words I’d ever written? Certainly not. But it did loosen me up for a bit, yes, absolutely.
I don’t always write 300 words from a writing prompt before I get down to work, but sometimes it helps. Sometimes, like with taxes, you need a nice distraction in between your I-9 and your 1040. Some writing prompts don’t go anywhere and that’s okay. Some are incorporated into stories I’m working on, either directly or indirectly. Some grow into an entire life of their own.
I think writing prompts are more fun and often open up more creativity if they come from outside yourself (hence, the random book page). Beginning today, this zine is going to post one writing prompt everyday under the title “Write Away.” Why that title? First, I think if you love to write and intend to write, you often have an itch to write right now, right away, sometimes when it’s least convenient. Second, the idea of the writing prompt is to read it and go, without thinking, and just write away, without stopping to edit. You can edit later. For now you are only going to write. Maybe all you can get out is 300 words before you’re spent. Maybe you’re lost to another world the next four hours, writing away. It doesn’t matter what happens, so long as you take the time to devote at least 300 words to your writing.
And hey, if it leads to something you send to us, wouldn’t that be great too?
Reflecting on Life outside the Nunnery
by Rachel C. Fletcher
Since my youth Buddha has called me,
always joining my palms to him.
I was seen as one wise,
one more serious than my companions.
I imitated my mother’s offerings
to the great one
rather than playing at dirt and dust.
From the ends of the earth
my twenty-first year
the red cord of marriage came.
It wrapped itself about my feet,
the other end tied to a husband.
I maintained that cord,
sewing and embroidering
for a family suddenly familiar to me.
Clouds of dawn and dusk became visible—
evenings I retired to Buddha in recitation.
Ten years spent this way
until the family passed away,
becoming once again unfamiliar.
I retired to the nunnery
where the trinity of submissions holds no sway.
Mornings are quiet—
I join my palms to Buddha,
happy smile on my face.
Clouds are rootless,
hovering over mountaintops
where they are at rest.
I imitate the serious face of sky
white and blue,
placid as swift movement of birds.
I untie red cord with my embroidery,
threading only myself into this solitude,
recognition of Buddha.
Rachel C. Fletcher has been a writer and a feminist from a young age. Concentrating in Women’s Studies during her undergraduate and graduate careers, she researched the intersections of gender and sexuality in literature and religion. She continues her commitment to women’s access to quality sexual health care and information by working in development at Planned Parenthood by day. By night, she composes poems to the Moon and the Great Mother and works on her trilogy of novels based on the women characters from the medieval Welsh text The Mabinogi.
“If you have a passion for something, take no hesitation to pursue it 110 percent. It’s about focus, intensity, perseverance and believing in yourself and what you are capable of.” ~Alissa Augustine
I found this quote on the Women on Writing (WoW) blog the other day. The blog post goes on to “check-in” with writers to see if they are pursuing writing to the full extent.
I think it’s a good idea to keep the 110% in the back of your mind as you go about your creative endeavors, even if you don’t know where those endeavors will lead or why, at times, you spend your days pursuing your writing when you could be cleaning the bathroom or jogging or saving the world from the swine flu. If you’re like me, some days you’re brimming over with excitement and energy to work on your writing. The next day, you drag yourself to your laptop and stare darkly at the screen wondering why you even bother with this silliness. Shouldn’t you give up your writing like you gave up all those other silly pursuits founded in childhood, before you knew what the words paying rent, full-time job, health-care benefits, and sorry, your piece isn’t quite what we’re looking for at this time meant? As a child, I used to dream of marrying Michael Jackson but I gave that dream up when I realized things wouldn’t likely work out between MJ and I, for a number of reasons. Oftentimes, I think maybe I should do the same with writing.
Then I wake up the following day with an idea tripping around inside of my head as if it were drunk and the only way to carry it safely home is to write it down. So I open my laptop, create a distraction by checking my e-mail and reading a few blogs, thinking maybe this idea isn’t really there, that it doesn’t really want to stick around. I make a cup of Barry’s Gold tea. I drink it. I make a salad and eat it. I realize I only have an hour before I need to leave for work and still the idea is there, walking into the walls of my brain, piss-drunk and not leaving anytime soon. So I sit down and write, sometimes slowly and in pieces, editing as I go, sometimes with a frantic rush of my fingers across the keyboard. I realize that I need to leave for work and I curse myself for not sitting down earlier to write, to take that time, and I swear to myself that tomorrow will be different. I’m going to spend all day writing.
Tomorrow comes and, of course, I sit at my open laptop with my fingers on the keys, waiting. I write a sentence, read it, hit delete. I try another sentence. It doesn’t work either. I sigh and look out the window, thinking maybe this is pointless, maybe I should go and clean the bathroom.
110% sounds like a lot because it is. It’s a huge qualitative feat that isn’t easy to arrive at because writing isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy and trying to fit writing into your life–even when you’re a professional writer who writes all day, teaching at Standford and working with your agent–isn’t easy. With something so intensely personal, it’s difficult to always have the confidence in yourself, in the quality of your work and its ability to find a receptive and sympathetic audience.
Does that mean writing shouldn’t be pursued 110%? It’s taken me a while to arrive at the answer. For two and a half years I worked full-time as a teacher in an urban school and then, because I wasn’t paid enough, part-time in the evenings at a bookstore. I didn’t do much writing during those two and a half years because I was stressed about work, about my students, about the sheer unfairness of kids living in poverty only two miles away from kids attending private schools whose privileges were stacked ten deep so that everything would always work out in their favor. I didn’t read much because I didn’t have the time. I didn’t realize I wasn’t very happy, not really, and when something happened that completely tore down this busy, stressed, frustratingly imperfect world I had created around myself, I sought therapy and a good book, in that order, and discovered again how much I love to read, how important reading is. I’d spent the last two years teaching reading to others and along the way forgot the joy of reading in my own life.
Now I’m determined not to lose again the sensation of a good book between my hands, the joy of being in on something with the writer whose book I’m reading. I’m a born-again reader, which has led me to becoming a born-again writer, tying my two passions together even if I don’t know what I can do with them in the long run. I’m focusing 110%, uncertain but with determination.