Friday, January 10, 2014

20 'Great' Big Books You Don't Have To Read


a repost from July of last year with 5 new additions to the list
...
Life is short, you've got a lot to do and you still havent watched The Wire or read War and Peace yet. Well I haven't watched The Wire either but fortunately I have read everything so here's a quick primer on 20 'great' big books that I've read so that you don't have to.

1. Clarissa: It's unlikely that you'll chance on this by accident but if its on some kind of university course or book group reading list then run don't walk. This will take you hundreds of miserable hours to finish and at the end of it you will have no feeling of achievement, merely the aching knowledge that you wont get those hours back. Even Richardson's much shorter Pamela drags and Fielding's pisstake on Pamela, Shamela isn't the barrel of laughs you'd like it to be either.
2. The Mill On The Floss: You don't need to read this. The soppy ending is telegraphed miles ahead and its a dreary trudge to get there. If you're only going to read one George Eliot in this lifetime make it Middlemarch. 
3. Finnegan's Wake: A literary experiment or a longform poem, not a novel: read Ulysses or Dubliners or Portrait instead. 
4. Jude The Obscure: Thomas Hardy's books and prose style have not aged well. His poetry is terrific but I think you can easily skip the gloomy Jude The Obscure, The Return of the Native & Tess and maybe just read Far From The Madding Crowd which, spoiler alert, has a rare-for-Hardy happy-ish ending.  
5. The Brothers Karamazov: Controversial one this. I loved the Brothers K but if you're only ever going to read one Dostoyevsky read Crime And Punishment instead because its shorter, more focused and more contemporary. But hear me well: the five 5 big Dostoyevsky novels are all worth getting stuck into if you've got the time...
6. Little Dorrit: Read the first chapter that begins in a prison in Marseilles. Skip to the end. But definitely read this before Dombey and Son or The Old Curiosity Shop or Hard Times or the steadfastly unfunny Pickwick Papers. My preferred Dickens is the late 3 act masterpiece: Bleak House. 
7. Armadale: Wilkie Collins has been undergoing a revival of late but this isn't the one to start with. The Woman in White, No Name, The Moonstone - stick to those. 
8. From Here To Eternity: Interesting gay subtext, strange nihilistic ending, but James Jones's masterpiece is The Thin Red Line - go get that. Now. 
9. Infinite Jest: DFW's real genius was for writing essays. Read those and you won't regret a minute spent in the great man's company. 
10. War and Peace: The war bits will irritate those of you who like romance. The romance bits will irritate those of you in it for the war. The weird lengthy coda will annoy everyone. Look, I'll be honest I did like this book but if you're pressed for time read Anna Karenina or The Death of Ivan Ilyich or Hadji Murad. 
11. To The Lighthouse - Not really a fan of Woolf but I think Mrs Dalloway is better and sharper than Lighthouse. 
12. A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu: the first 30 pages will give you gist. Trust me.
13. The Harry Potter Series: I think we can all agree now that some kind of collective madness overcame the word in the late 90's when fully grown adults started wearing wizard hats and reading these novels. No one over the age of 14 should really be tackling these. 
14 Dune. I read all 6 Frank Herbert Dune books and a couple of knock offs written by his kid. What the hell was I thinking? Don't get sucked in. 
15. Against The Day. This is not the Thomas Pynchon to begin with. Start thusly: a) Inherent Vice b) Lot 49 c) Gravity's Rainbow d) Vineland e) Bleeding Edge f) Mason & Dixon g) V h) Against the Day.
16. The Finkler Question. Worst novel I've read in the last 5 years. The fact that it won the Booker Prize tells you everything you need to know about the clubbie world of English letters. Be suspicious of anyone who claims to have liked this book or worse, laughed at it. If you want to read a funny Jewish novel try Joseph Heller or Philip Roth or Saul Bellow or Harvey Pekar. If you want to read a funny and shocking contemporary Jewish novel try Sholem Auslander on for size.
17. The Heart of Midlothian - Sir Walter Scott hasn't aged that well either although Ivanhoe is still a rollicking good read, isn't it? 
18. The Screenplay of The Counselor: Reads like it was written by that pervy old guy who's always hanging around the frozen yoghurt place the Catholic schoolgirls go to after soccer practice.
19. The middle 300 pages of anything written by someone who is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. You know what I'm talking about. The book will start well but then the IWW training kicks in and we get 300 pages of noodling around the same portentous issues with no jokes and plenty of hack philosophy and psychology. 
20. A Suitable Boy. I kid. A Suitable Boy is terrific and I won't hear a word against it. I carried it around India with me for two months and it makes a useful stool, a source of emergency toilet or roll up paper and it could be a handy defensive weapon. Its perfect really except for the fact that . . . MAJOR SPOILER ALERT after 1300 pages she HIDDEN TEXT: doesn't actually marry the suitable boy

114 comments:

speedskater42k said...

I liked Dune a lot when I was a teenager. I listened to the audio version more recently and wasn't as impressed but still liked it. I've not read any of the others in the Dune series.

Joe Velisek said...

Adrian -

In contrast to my previous comment concerning your previous post - Couldn't agree with more on this one. Particularly with respect to Hardy, Dostoyevsky, Jones, Tolstoy and Dickens - although I did smirk several times while reading about the Pickwickians and their seemingly endless cocktail consumption.

A book to add to this list - Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

seana graham said...

Great! More time for reading Irish crime fiction.

I guess I wouldn't say that people actually have to read Finnegans Wake, but it is a pretty fun thing to do together, in a pub, with beer, if you don't take yourselves too seriously. It is its own thing. The latest testimonial I heard to it was at a party last week, when I was talking to a guy I had known back in college. He had chemotherapy some years ago and said that reading the Wake was almost literally what brought him back to life after that.

My art history professor was fond of saying that there are certain books that you should read when you are young because it will be too late later. Harry Potter is probably a bit like that.

I could read that small font on Suitable Boy so I guess I don't have to bother with that now either.

adrian mckinty said...

Speedskater

Dune itself is the best of them but this is more of a general warning about getting sucked into the series. You dont want to be 350 pages into say God Emperor of Dune and wondering how did I get here?

adrian mckinty said...

Joe

I liked The Sound and the Fury but a very acceptable alternative would be As I Lay Dying which is shorter and funnier and more focused. I hated Absalom Absalom.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

There was a Spoiler Alert thats the point where you dont have to read anymore.

Yeah Wake works with booze or in a poetry class but not really as something to read at the train station.

adrian mckinty said...

And Seana he is nearly finished with the sequel A Suitable Girl so you want to be caught up now dont you?

adrian mckinty said...

the man behind 9/11 and who beheaded Daniel Pearl is a huge Harry Potter apparently

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/september-11-attacks/10173359/Khalid-Sheikh-Mohammed-the-911-mastermind-was-allowed-to-redesign-vacuum-in-prison.html

Gavin said...

Of the 15 books in the list, I've read 9, so what kind of masochist does that make me? (Although 2 were for school).

I'll agree that if you're only going to read one George Elliot book, it should be "Middlemarch," but "Mill" isn't so bad until the ending. (John Sutherland has an essay I just read about how, in addition to its other problems, the ending is physically impossible).

I read "Finnegans Wake" for a college class; I said to the professor at the time that I think the only reason it has such a great reputation is that no-one who's slogged through the book wants to say that it's bad. (I still got a B+, so she didn't take it too badly).

Totally disagree on "Brothers K." Maybe the one to read if you're only going to read one is "C & P," but it's damn close. And if you enjoyed "C & P" you'd be crazy not to read "Brothers." (Unlike Elliot above, where "Mill" is a disappointment after "Middlemarch."

I think "War & Peace" makes a great case for abridgment. There's great stuff in there, surrounded by a lot of tedium.

I'd add "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" to this list. I could not get past the chapter on cathedral architecture. Bleah. Another great case for abridgment.

swooperman said...

I was very disappointed in The Wire, but it's supposedly right up my street & everyone loves it. I've never finished it. I must have been missing something. Guess I was expecting more

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

Fortunately I read Mill on the Floss before Middlemarch which is much better, but it could put you off Eliot or indeed reading for life.

Good call on Dostoyevsky...if you liked C&P then I'd say the way to go is: 1) Brothers Karamazov 2) The Idiot 3) The Devils 4) A Raw Youth for the big 5...

adrian mckinty said...

Swooper

Well I havent seen it and when its on tv its always an episode right in the middle so I dont want to start there.

adrian mckinty said...

A telling story from last night: I gave up on the Philip Roth's 'masterpiece' An American Pastoral which has a great title but little else. My wife started reading it last week and nearly gave up last night at exactly the same point where I did give up - during a 7 page description of how leather is produced which Philip Roth clearly only put in there to prove that he had done the bloody research.

Incidentally A Suitable Boy also has a 7 page description of how leather is produced but its a good 7 pages...

And I still dont really know how leather is produced.

seana graham said...

Have you ever noticed how when someone writes Spoiler alert that it's really difficult not to read what goes right afterward?

Yes, I do want to read the sequel, so I guess I'd better get cracking.

I saw that thing about the sheikh. It's funny how they let him redesign a vacuum because they feared for his sanity, but they have no qualms about locking up your regular joe sort of prisoner in solitary confinement for years and years. No vacuum designing for them, I'd guess.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

It shows you how different people are, when I have to change the bag on our vacuum cleaner I fear for my sanity.

seana graham said...

He might be designing a bagless one though, which would at least be a good use of his time.

adrian mckinty said...

Ten more exclusively for those of you who read the comments:

1. The Count of Monte Cristo
2. The Last of the Mohicans
3. Journey To The End of Night
4. Any Thackeray that isnt Vanity Fair
5. (another controversial one this) Any Joseph Heller that isnt Catch 22.
6. Another Dickens: the tedious Our Mutual Friend
7. everything by Ayn Rand
8. Nostromo (Definitely not the Joseph Conrad to start with)
9. Lanark
10. The Way We Live Now

seana graham said...

I liked Something Happened and I liked The Newcombs. Not a big Vanity Fair fan. And I've liked all the Trollopes that I've read though I haven't read that one.

Watching The Count of Monte Cristo with Gerard Depardieu was pretty great, although he himself is apparently no Edmond Dantes.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

My rather obvious review of Something Happened: nothing happened. Whereas in Waiting For Godot: nothing happens twice (which makes it funny).

seana graham said...

I read it right after high school and come to think of it, I didn't like it at the time. I think I came to appreciate it in retrospect, which is, of course, cheating. I'd have to read it again to know what I really thing, and I think it's pretty safe to say that that's not going to happen.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I fixed that Suitable Boy spoiler changing it to Hidden Text.

seana graham said...

I didn't know blogger had that feature. How do you read Hidden Text, just in case a thousand pages in, I decide to throw in the towel?

adrian mckinty said...

I just made the text colour white.

seana graham said...

Oh. I see you can still read it if you hit show original post above the comments. Which is good for the curious.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I think the approved method for reading hidden text (or so I understand from Aint It Cool News etc) is to highlight the hidden text with your mouse or mouse pointer and it shows up.

seana graham said...

Leave it to me to find the disapproved method.

Gavin said...

Adrian,

On the other hand, Mark Twain's essay about Fennimore Cooper is a must-read. Very funny.

"Monte Cristo" is yet another example of the joys of abrdgment. My son liked the novel a lot in his 350 page puffin edition. I, on the other hand, with the 1200-page Penguin edition was pretty "meh" on the whole thing.

I'll toss in Mallory's "Morte d'Arthur." The wife and I are reading it on occasion to each other, and it's kind of funny in its own way, but, really, just go with T.H. White or Howard Pyle.

Mark English said...

I am tempted to make some comments on specific books, but the fact that our personal perspectives are not only different but (as others have noted) change with age makes it difficult to be sure of anything. These books were read not by our present selves but by past (sometimes long past) selves.

So, if I have deep and magical memories associated with (sections of) a particular roman fleuve mentioned in your original list, then it doesn't necessarily say that the work in question would or should mean anything at all to someone else, or even me if I had encountered it at a different time.

Also, I have some sympathy with Waugh's view that the author was mentally defective (though the phrase is a little strong). And the relentless metaphors drive me mad!

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

Yeah I remember that. The bit about the bullet going in the same hole was priceless. A rare example of the film surpassing the book...

adrian mckinty said...

Mark

Waugh's own crack up (and in part stream of consciousness) novel is quite funny though: The Ordeal Of Gilbert Pinfold.

Mark English said...

Haven't read Pinfold. The trouble with comic writing for me is that it doesn't represent the real world.

That's one thing you can say for Proust: he didn't let his sense of humour get out of hand. (It's there. But perhaps there's not quite enough of it. And, of course, it's French!)

adrian mckinty said...

Mark

I defy you to read Pinfold and not laugh. There's a scene in there (I forget what exactly) thats almost as good as the Thunderbox scene in Men At Arms...

I can't remember many laughs in Proust, although I did smile when I heard that Proust and Joyce once shared a taxi in Paris and spent the journey trying trying to one up the other about the badness of their health.

Sheiler said...

To The Lighthouse did something to me that no other book has. It left a gaping hole in a part of me that I can't describe, especially with how the mother / wife just disappears from the story. Reading it gave me little pleasure but the fact that it gave me something else, something weird makes it ok on my list.

I went through a period where I read just about everything by Tolstoy and loved most of it. Lately have tried numerous times to get through War and Peace and just haven't had it in me to slog through. So, thanks for letting me off the hook.

I read Ulysses about 15 years ago and loved passages but hated the overall experience. But my girlfriend back then was dyslexic and if I'm around someone who limps, I limp. Not a good arrangement for me to be around a non-reader. An anti-reader. Plus, one of my favorite singers is Mary Margaret O'Hara. She said in an interview that when she picked up Ulysses, she felt that, finally, someone understood her. So I'm going to go back and re-read the big U.

You're serious that he's working on A Suitable Girl? Golden Gate was really good.

Sheiler said...

Swooperman: how many episodes of the Wire have you seen? I felt completely turned off the first maybe 2 episodes but I am a tv junkie and so continued watching it and something set, and next thing I knew I was loving the Wire.

I was like that with House, too.

adrian mckinty said...

Sheiler

He is indeed working on A Suitable Girl. Its the story of the grandchildren's generation which I think means its set in contemporary or near contemporary India.

Joe Velisek said...

Literally just finished reading The Way We Live Now.

Not sure if it's something I should monitor/be concerned about - but the older I get the more I enjoy Trollope.

Unknown said...

Adrian, you must stop pondering the water at the beach right now and get THE WIRE! The best series ever of it's kind, perhaps even close to the best TV ever, Angels in America. Re the rest of the lists, it's all about when: e.g., Salinger.

Grandad

Alan said...

Adrian,At last a new rationalization for my ignorance.As for the Brothers Karamasov it may well be one of the great crime novels.I think a most neglected and seminal work that stands the test of time is "Lord Of The Flies." A difficult work for me but perhaps worth the effort was "Magic Mountain."Thanks for the excellent post.Best Alan .P.S.Seana is right soiler alerts are addictive.

seana graham said...

Unknown granddad, Salinger was exactly who my art history professor had in mind when she said to hurry up and read some things before you get too old. Although I reread Catcher in the Rye not that long ago and it seemed to hold up.

I tried to get into Magic Mountain, Alan, I mean I did read it, but I wasn't all that blown away by it. I really liked Mann's multivolume Joseph and His Brothers cycle, though, which doesn't get a lot of attention these days.

Sheiler, my Finnegans Wake friends are telling me to reread Ulysses because Frank Delany is doing an excellent podcast. Here's the first one. He's already done about 160 of them. I'm planning to start in soon, but we'll see.

Stina said...

Glad to see we agree on Potter. While the books are perfectly fine kid's lit, I never understood the hysteria.

Anonymous said...

NI crime fiction (your mentioned) now on Radio 4!

adrian mckinty said...

Joe

I dont hate Trollope. He's hard to hate because he's funny. Funny enough. But the longer books could certainly have been trimmed and he's no Jane Austen.

adrian mckinty said...

John

I'm saving The Wire for a long plane journey or something of the sort. I will get to it eventually.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Gotta confess that I never made it through The Magic Mountain. I left Buddenbrooks deliberately on a plane so I would never see it again. I gave up the relatively short Doctor Faustus. The only ones I made it through were the extremely short Death in Venice and The Confessions of Felix Krull...

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Yeah you should read some things when young otherwise you might not like them. TH White, JD Salinger, Philip Pullman, Harper Lee, Robert Louis Stevenson... I like them all now though so it doesnt always apply.

adrian mckinty said...

Stina

"kids lit" might be stretching a point.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Yeah I missed that programme. It must be a repeat because me old mates Stu Neville and Ger Brennan were banging on about earlier in the week. If you can send me a link I'll try and blog it here if such things are possible.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I dunno; I'd rate The Pickwick Papers higher than you do. At worst, it's intermittently, and not steadfastly, unfunny.

I bought a copy of Clarissa once. What was I thinking? Oh, yeah: I bought it for the novelty of owning a Pengiuin Classic that big and that fat. I sold it, unread.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

In Pickwick who's that bastard who's always dropping the letter h in a way thats supposed to be hilarious? That character makes me almost murderous with irritation.

Orwell as usual has a lot of interesting things to say about Dickens:

http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/dickens/english/e_chd

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Sam Weller?

It appears that Orwell says Dickens was a middle-class writer. It's hard to imagine the Dickens who wrote "The Pickwick Papers" as anything else. Among other things, that was a serial, a television series, a melodrama -- kind of like "The Wire."

seana graham said...

Sam Weller.

I liked Pickwick okay, although it did take me about thirty years to finish it.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think Orwell's point is that Dickens is a middle class snob.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Well you're one up on me. I never finished it.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, it's a pretty long piece. I glanced at it only briefly while at work. it appeared to me that he began by debunking Dickens' reputation as a proletarian or a radical. He seemed to do a good job of that, though he was writing at a different time. Throw "Dickens" at me in a game of word association, and I'd be apter to come up with "sentimentality" or "middle-class comfort" than "radical" or "proletarian." But I still liked "The Pickwick Papers" as a rambling, entertaining set of stories. The bits with club members calling one another all sorts of scurrilous names, then mollifying one another by saying the insult was meant "in a Pickwickian sense, of course" are pretty funny.

Peter Rozovsky said...

In re Trollope's being no Jane Austen, interesting that Austen has characters defend the novels that she loved reading, but that he she herself wrote not just much better books, but much shorter ones.

seana graham said...

I was pretty much determined to finish it, because I'd bought in sixth grade or so, and it had been haunting me for years. I think I read the opening segment at the club about 500 times before I was able to make any progress. I think I liked it okay in the end, but it isn't my favorite.

I've only read the beginning of that Orwell essay but I like it, just not so much reading it on the computer. I didn't get the middle-class snob part from the beginning either. I have just recently read a biography on Dickens by Rosemary Bodenheimer called knowing Dickens, and I would now say that the person he most reminds me of was Steve Jobs. The guy was a total control freak. Which is nothing against the writing, much of which I love.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Of course Trollope did his best work when he was living in Carrickfergus (or close enough to Carrick in Whiteabbey).

seana graham said...

I had no idea that Trollope ever left pastoral England, but as I now know that all roads lead to Carrickfergus, it shouldn't surprise me.

The Radio 4 link is here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b036l8y1

I listened to the end of it after anonymous mentioned it, but I missed the Northern Irish part.0

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Jonathan Swift did his best work in Carrickfergus too.

Thanks for the link. I'll check out that programme in the next day or two.

Sheiler said...

Grandad - couldn't agree more about Angels in America. I was dubious when I heard HBO was filming it because it was a huge hit in NY theatres for a long time. I was dubious because I saw Lily Tomlin's live performance of Search for Intelligent Signs about 3 times. I was mad crazy for it. And they filmed it and it sucked. But the saving grace for me re: Angels in America was that I hadn't seen it before. It's one of the best things I've seen on the small screen.

Sheiler said...

Seana, Thanks for the link. I guess it's on then. Me and Ulysses for the lamest goddamned rainy summer in Quebecistan.

Also - I'm not sure where I picked up this book (audible) but I suspect it's from someone here at Adrian's crib: Dervish House. HOLY CRAP what a great book. So thanks to ... one of youse.

Unknown said...

Wait, did I just say 'Adrian's crib'? Sorry.

Move along, nothing to see here.

Cary Watson said...

I'm a bit late for this discussion (vacation in Connecticut), but I'm good for 10 out of 15 on the list. I'd take Martin Chuzzlewit over Bleak House, which I found strangely inert for a Dickens novel. As for Tolstoy, I'd go for Childhood, Boyhood, Youth or Sebastopol Sketches. And if you're impatient for A Suitable Girl, read The Peacock Throne by Sujit Saraf, which, for my money, is a better Indian novel than A Suitable Boy. My own nominees for novels worth skipping are Les Miserables and the entire A Dance to the Music of Time opus by Anthony Powell. I'm still kicking myself for having waded all dozen volumes of the latter.

adrian mckinty said...

Sheiler

I've never actually seen the play or the TV version but I have read it and I liked it. My wife asked him if she could use a lengthy quote from it for her book about Yiddish travel writing and he couldnt have been more generous.

adrian mckinty said...

Cary

Anthony Powell (pronounced pole) is definitely one of the most over rated English writers of the twentieth century if not ever. It was a blindspot of Christopher Hitchens (almost as a blind as his Iraq war obsession) that he loved Powell and wrote about him again and again.

Unknown said...

I forgot to add one almost unseen great work to ANGELS, etc.: Peter Brooks' 8 hour version of the RAMAYANA, available on Amazon but I don't know where else. Slow, engrossing, complex, emotionally rich - gave me a better sense of what India may have been than all the books.
Grandad

Guy Savage said...

I like to see what authors are reading so thanks for the post. Have to disagree about Hardy though as I am a die-hard fan. Thanks for the nod on A Suitable Boy as I'd never heard of it.

adrian mckinty said...

John

Yeah I think you mean the Mahabarata. I saw that on Britain's Channel 4 years ago. It was terrific.

My little brother and I saw an amazing version of the Ramayana in Java once. I met him in Java a couple of days after he came back from his first tour in Iraq. There was a full Gamalan orchestra and Balinese dancers. A really extraordinary experience.

adrian mckinty said...

Guy

I'm a die hard fan of his poetry so thats ok then.

adrian mckinty said...

Guy

I doubt very much whether I'll ever make anything 'trend'. Its like herding cats over here just to get regular blog readers here to leave me a review on amazon or good reads...

Sheiler said...

And speaking as one of your cats, I finally did post a review of The Cold Cold Ground on both Amazon and good reads. The challenge for me was from having the books as audio books. Trying to recall passages is difficult since I could not leaf through to quote, blah blah whine whine.

I believe I am listed as S Anderson at Amazon. Good reads? Who know who I am there. I have to log in as me though some portal of hell and I don't know which moniker I use for certain things.

adrian mckinty said...

Sheiler

I really appreciate it. Thank you!

Deb Klemperer said...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23311708

Mmm.. fewer than 500 until her gaffe was blown. .. (Or whatever), maybe she blew her own cover

adrian mckinty said...

Deb

Yeah I've been following this story. Its quite interesting isn't it? I imagine she outed herself so the sale will spike.

seana graham said...

I actually kind of wish I had read this before I knew, because I think it would be difficult to be fair about it now. For me, I mean.

Jonathan A. said...

Never could understand the Harry Potter attraction. I lasted about halfway through the book and got tired, very tired, reading it and its short, declarative sentences.

I really like War & Peace. Unfortunately, I have also never finished it.

I see in the comments where you mention Dune is okay, just don't get sucked into it. Good- I liked Dune but never followed up on it.

adrian mckinty said...

Jonathan

Yeah Dune's fine. But the peril is in the five sequels, the Dune Encylopedia and the three knock off sequels...

AdamH said...

I admit it's been far too long since I checked into your excellent blog but I am glad I did for this list! I finally finished Swann's way (on audio no less because reading it just wouldn't take) and I couldn't agree with you more! If I had a time machine I would go back in time and punch Proust in the face (after I had killed Hitler, of course). I've never read (or heard) anything more indulgent in my life.

Chanel said...

Cool!

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan said...

Adrian,I think the "The Wire" is well worth a glimpse as it's talented amoral mini-world is almost a parallel to the corporate racist predominantly Caucasian environment which birthed it.As for Monsieur Proust memories recreating other memories a great cure for insomnia.Yesterday Der Spiegel had an excellent reprise of World War One from a German perspective..Best Alan

KIKAREN said...

Ah . . . the Iowa Writers School again. Who are we talking about? Not Eleanor Catton, I hope. Or Curtis Sittenfeld.
My book was published on Monday. I was kind of hoping you might post a review on Amazon? Anyone else who posts here might put up a review [?]. All positive comments welcome. Its called RICCARTON JUNCTION and you can get it through the Kindle Store or buy it in paperback. Its a thriller.
My second book, called TRAIN THAT CARRIED THE GIRL will be published in about a weeks time.Its not a thriller.

speedskater42k said...

I like this blog post.

Bleak House is not only my favorite Dickens, it's one of my all time favorite books.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

I've tried the Wire now. I got through episode 2 but its a slog.

adrian mckinty said...

Kikaren

I think the IWW school of fiction has been very damaging for American and world literature.

Here's Chad Harbach talking about the MFA culture:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2010/11/mfa_vs_nyc.html

Congratulations on the TWO new novels. VERY well done!

adrian mckinty said...

Speedskater

Bleak House is so dark and malevolent and creepy and all together brilliant.

adrian mckinty said...

Speedskater

Bleak House is so dark and malevolent and creepy and all together brilliant.

Brendan O'Leary said...

I gave up on reading Harry Potter after a few pages but by then my kids were reading it themselves.

I read Huckleberry Finn to them when they were younger but it was really for me.

One of them gave us Breaking Bad. We enjoy its soap opera.

I think I'd like War and Peace.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, it's good to hear a word against The Wire, if only as a curb on the swooning enthusiasm it is almost unanimously accorded. I watched two episodes when visiting friends years ago (I was afraid they'd have tied me up and forced me to watch if I had not agreed to do so voluntarily.) I don't remember much about the episodes. I didn't groan, but I certainly swoon, either. Those same friends have excellent and not entirely conventional taste in books, so their sensibilities are just fine.
=============================
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
Detectives Beyond Borders
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

adrian mckinty said...

Brendan

Everyone should at least try W&P but those last 100 pages...Jesus.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I just wasn't engaged by what I saw of the Wire, but maybe an episode and a half isn't enough to judge? Someone told me that you need to plough through the first 6 episodes before you get into the swing of it. I probably dont have the patience for that.

Perhaps even more scandalously I thought the Sopranos was overrated and actually pretty tedious, esp the scenes with Carmela.

Unfortunately for me the very 1st episode I saw of the Sopranos was the one where Tony finds the rat when he's looking at colleges with Meadow which is acknowledged to be the series high point...so every episode I saw after that was a disappointment.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I watched a full two episodes!

If a season consists of thirteen episodes, and if all the praise of the series for its novel-like qualities is to be taken seriously, then saying it takes six episode to get into the swing of the series is like saying a 450-page novel doesn't really hit its stride until page 210. Is that true of any novels considered among the best ever, as The Wire is said to be among the best TV series ever?

I was pleased that the show employed fine novelists, and George Pelecanos has talked about the excitement of working with all those guys, of wanting to be the best writer in a room that also included Dennis Lehane and Richard Price.


I was showing my copy of McFetridge's Black Rock around the newsroom this week, especially Page 16, where Rozovsky is introduced. One of my colleagues said: "You and Marimow!"

My editor-in-chief is Bill Marimow, who was editor-in-chief at the Baltimore Sun when The Wire's creator, David Simon, worked there. "Marimow" is also the name of a character in The Wire and from what I hear of the character, the fictional Rozovsky comes off better than the fictional Marimow.

seana graham said...

I thought The Wire was good. I actually liked what I think was the second season the best, which revolved around the port, and so wasn't so much about the Corners.

I also think that, like so many television shows, it was of a moment. It's hard for people coming in later to get why they were so important to people at the time. I always felt that way about The Sopranos since I didn't have cable at the time it was so in vogue. But I have likewise had friends who have gamely tried to watch Breaking Bad on their son's recommendations and don't really get its prestige. Seeing something after all the hype, which was my own experience with Mad Men, seems to put you in a different perspective to the phenomenon.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that's a fair point, that television shows are of the moment. But if one is going raise the critical ante and argue for a television series' novelistic qualities, then one ought to hold it to the critical standards one would apply to a novel. One such is that it ought to be able to stand the test of time. Maybe there ought to be a five- or ten-year moratorium on declaring any television show the best ever.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'd be worried about too many cooks... The very best shows have 1 or 2 committed show runners who are very much the generals. I dont see anyone telling Richard Price or G Pelacanos what to do.

But who knows? Maybe its as great as everyone says.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Is Mad Men overrated? Almost certainly. The premise had between 1 - 3 seasons in it. In the UK they'd have done 2 seasons and it would have been a classic. In the US its in what S 6?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Right. I'm not knocking the show, just questioning the terms in which it was praised. "It's like a novel" is not good enough for me, because I can just read a novel.

I think Pelecanos might have said that he became a story editor or producer on the show, so he may have been telling other people what to do. This is where we need Fetch to weigh in and talk about a writers' room.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

There's definitely a limit on what I can say about a show I havent seen.

I wonder too if 3 rich middle aged white guy writers were the best people to get to describe that particular milieu?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Think of how much we'd have to say if our combined viewing experience consisted of more than three-and-a-half episodes.

Having seen as little as I have of the show, I can't speculate about whether it had the right writers. But Pelecanos, Price, and Lehane all brought to the show pedigrees that included stories with tough urban settings. What this brought to The Wire I don't know, of course.

seana graham said...

I've seen four out of the five season, so I win on that point so far.

I don't think it's that different from novels. Things catch the public eye because they resonate in some way. Whether on reflection they had a lasting truth to tell is always a question that has to be answered later. From many accounts, including my friends who were into it the first three seasons, Downton Abbey is catching some flak for cliché now from those who admired it earlier. Television series are probably more subject to scrutiny than books are, because a book's length of time with us, at least the first reading, is so much shorter than these long running series.

Eastenders still holds up, though, more often than not, I have to say.

KIKAREN said...

Isnt this an excellent discussion. I love this blog. I agree completely with Seana that TV is very much of the moment and if you miss that moment, you end up wondering what all the fuss was about. Harry Potter went on far too long. So did the Sopranos and maybe The Wire too. Borgen? A third series? We have seen and it feels like old news. Anyone seen Love/Hate, an Irish gangster series set in Dublin? It is fantastic; went out on minimal-audience Channel 5 here and nobody saw it but honestly, the real thing. The scene with the clairvoyant is worth the price of admission on its own.

Alan said...

Adrian,If a series such as "The Wire" is to be evaluated then it must be seen in its totality as characters grow and develop and the psychopathology of urban ghetto life enfolds.Characters like "Proposition Joe","Stringer Bell","Omar Little", "Avon" Barksdale and"Marlo Stanfield"create memorable but not admirable roles.I have not seen such an accurate portrayal of ghetto urban life with all it's nuanced complexities ever on T.V. and I taught New York "Inner City"children for 25 years.Yes indeed it was of the moment but so were many fine works of fiction which deserve to be read and not dismissed after a short perusal. Best Alan

seana graham said...

Thanks, KiKaren. I see that Netflix has at least some of Love/Hate, so I'll try it out, especially since I think I accidentally killed my cable box last night by spilling water on it.

adrian mckinty said...

Kikaren

Sounds good. Gotta admit I love the psychic in Broadchurch too. Nice weirdy bit that.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Yeah I just cant comment. Once I've actually seen it I promise to get back to you.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Well I'm still enjoying Borgen S2.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Well I'm still enjoying Borgen S2.

seana graham said...

I did like Borgen 3 quite a lot, but it takes a little getting used to where it starts at first. It's interesting to see how unorthodoxly a non Hollywood show paces itself.

Anonymous said...

Charlie O. writes:

Yes, skip those graduates from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. That's why I'll never read Daniel Woodrell or W.P. Kinsella.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Ouch!

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Incidentally... while I love the fact that Dan Woodrell has got the recognition and hopefully the financial reward he deserves in the last few years I still kind of hanker for the days when Woodrell, Kinsella, McCarthy, Pekar etc. got passed around between us geeks like samizdat behind the iron curtain...

2 other writers of my fav writers from IWW you cld have nailed me with: Marilynne Robinson and Eleanor Catton...

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your list (though I did not/was not forced to read them all). I do have to confess that I do love the Harry Potter books. One of the few times I felt I had my finger on the pulse of the world, a rare moment of feeling mainstream. It was not so bad.

adrian mckinty said...

Anon

Been reading HP series to my youngest. Still dont really understand the popularity...