Jackie Mason | October 7, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | October 7, 2004
All the books I really really liked were from college. Hmm... I liked Grapes of Wrath in high school though, and the Odyssey.

NOT Beowulf. Or that awful book we read with Mr. Satan guy, Melissa, help me out. Where one whole chapter was him SHAVING? Bennett? Becker?


Scott Horowitz | October 7, 2004
hmmm, good books. Hamlet was great, as was To Kill a Mockingbird. I liked Catcher in the Rye, and Fahrenheit 451.

Steve West | October 7, 2004
We had an assignment in twelth grade English in which we were to read 10 novels during the year and give a one sentence summary of each as a final assignment. My favorite was The Red Badge of Courage, "Coward gets whacked in head and becomes brave." That pretty much sums it up.

Steve West | October 7, 2004
BTW - Hamlet was, "Danish prince goes nuts after death of father, plots revenge and dies along with almost every other major character."

Kris Weberg | October 7, 2004
Theoretically, Babbit is fantastic, a vicious parody of boosterism and the small-town businessman's conformist mentality -- the long chapters about the mundane are meant to show exactly how shallow and dull Babbit is. But yeah, it's not much fun to read.

And if you want good Melville, "Bartelby the Scrivener" is the best. Anyone who's ever worked an office job should be able to find joy and sorrow in that tale. It's as close as the 19th century gets to Office Space.

Personally, I've never understood why students are made to read some of the rather weak 18th century material they're asked to. It's more sophisticated than you'd think, of course, and a lot of PhDs find worlds of interest in it, but unless you plan to do that, they're boring, flat, and somewhat irrelevant to everyday life.

As to stuff I loved? Well, given where I am now, pretty much all of it.

I'm seriously biting my tongue on big parts of this thread, of course.

Scott Horowitz | October 7, 2004
We had to read 2 stream of conscienceness books in HS. 1 was Dubliners by James Joyce, it was just painful. Another one was about a soldier who had his legs amputated in a war, and a nurse masturbated him at one point. I didn't understand either unless the teacher explained what just happened.

Anna Gregoline | October 7, 2004
The Sorrows of Young Werther was great, I loved the angst. But that was in college.

Kris Weberg | October 8, 2004
Okay, no, please don't be down on Jimmy J., man. Dubliners is one of the best books of stories I've ever read, and I've read Ulysses five times. It's also not written in stream-of-consciousness, but something called "free indirect discourse." Ulysses, in spots, is stream-of-consciousness, but Dubliners never is.

But it seems from looking around here that most people hate stream-of-consciousness and free indirect discourse.

I imagine most people think it's deliberately obfuscatory, rather like the phrase "deliberately obfuscatory," but it isn't so much trying to be obscure as it is trying to literarily reproduce the real way we think -- in fragments, half-memories, and so on. Basically, it tries to show not just what its characters -- and we in daily life -- explicitly focus on, but also the "mental chatter" we all have running through our minds.

Ok, grad student moment is over. Please remain calm.

Scott Hardie | October 8, 2004
The line between high school and early college fiction blurs for me, so I'll have to list some favorites throughout.

To Kill a Mockingbird, as already mentioned, was fantastic. 'Nuff said.

A Separate Peace was mentioned in a negative light, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I was traveling in England at the time and read it on trains and planes, so the stiffness of the prose seemed appropriate to me. Also, I rarely see surprise endings coming no matter how obvious, so the twist ending totally caught me off guard.

Kris is right about Dubliners. "The Dead" remains my favorite short story, ever. It informs so much of what I think about other fiction, and it validates my own writing. Kris, if you can steer the FIN group to Ireland, I'll set a scene at Michael Furey's grave at the very least.

And damned if I don't also agree about "Bartleby the Scrivener." It's as dry as a lot of the fiction from the time, but gives you so much to think about. I remember it fondly.

"Macbeth" was great, and though "Romeo & Juliet" is one of Shakespeare's more shallow plays, it's fun to read it as a high school freshman. I didn't enjoy Shakespeare much in college, but it may have been the class; I had an antagonistic relationship with the teacher. Kris and Anna, you were in the same class with me; did you enjoy it?

I liked "Rappaccini's Daughter" and "The Cask of Amontillado," two other short stories I'm going to have to work into FIN someday.

Willa Cather was good, too; I enjoyed her short stories but O Pioneers! remains my favorite book of hers, despite its criminal inconsistency with the character of Frank Shabata. I didn't like My Antonia so much, though; just couldn't get into it.

The Old Man and the Sea was all right. The teacher made no secret of being a recently born-again Christian, and taught that book as if every plot element was Biblical allegory. One of my classmates brought in an old interview with Ernest Hemingway in which he emphatically stated that nothing in that book was meant to be religious.

Never did get into Walden despite a good-faith effort.

Anna Gregoline | October 8, 2004
Did I enjoy the Shakespeare class? No. Our teacher was kind of nuts. I did write some of my best papers in that class though.

Macbeth is amazing, and Romeo and Juliet is fun to read. Other than that, I was mostly non-plussed. Remember Richard II? Bleck.

Anna Gregoline | October 8, 2004
Ooooh, Passage to India!

Scott Horowitz | October 8, 2004
I never appreciated MacBeth in high school, afterwards I enjoyed it. It might have been with the teacher also. This is the teacher that called me a faggot because I couldn't go to the underclassmen award ceremony as it was my birthday. It was also the same class I read Dubliners in, maybe that was why. I gotta say though, when I was in London, I went to Globe to see Shakespeare and they were performing MacBerth. I was a little disappointed that they did one of those modern day adaptions. In college, however, they did a version of Hamlet on campus. Their interpretation was to have Hamlet portrayed by 2 people at the same time. And every soliloquy was a battle between 2 people, it was excellent.

Kris Weberg | October 8, 2004
Weird. Richard II is one of my faves. I really enjoy his poetic disintegration,and the schizophrenic break between the king's "royal" and personal bodies. That class was ok. The most fun I had in it was working with Heather on an extra-credit project, wherein we kept the original dialogue for Much Ado but updated it in a modern high school -- the soldiers became football players, Don John was a goth, etc.

Anna Gregoline | October 8, 2004
Richard II made me want to stab out my eyes, but maybe it was just the class. I got really tired of that teacher going into conniptions about Shakespeare, and the class had the added problem of being full of upperclassmen that were irritated at suddenly being required to take a newly created Shakespeare class in order to graduate.

Kris Weberg | October 8, 2004
Richard isn't one of his better plays. I enjoy it for the political issues going on in it, and for some spectacular uses of language -- and I mean "spectacular" in a double sense -- but the bulk of Shakespeare scholars would agree that it lacks the complexity or humanity of his later works because it's so fixated on royalty.

Of course, the other interesting issue for me was the reason Shakespeare wrote the play -- basically, he was writing for the Tudors, the dynasty traced back to Bolingbroke's usupration from Richard II, so he had to lionize Henry without making a claim for the legitemacy of rebellion against royalty.

His solution is quite clever -- Richard proves hismelf totally unworthy of being king, but he sacred privilege of royalty is preserved because Richard, not Henry, dethrones Richard-as-king, in a briliant speech. Only the king can get rid of the king without offending God and law.

Melissa Erin | October 8, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | October 8, 2004
Yep. Mr. Satan was big on "B."

Jackie Mason | October 8, 2004
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Kris Weberg | October 8, 2004
Oddly, enough, perhps because of when I read it, I found A Thousand Acres intensely dull. I guess I'd just seen too many films and read too many ooks where sexual abuse was the plot hook or twist.

Not to make light of real abuse, but am I the only one who notices that no popular film or recent novel can portray dads as decent, or even marginally competent human beings?

Erik Bates | October 8, 2004
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Melissa Erin | October 8, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | October 8, 2004
I think it was here - Scott Hardie brought it up, I think. I have no idea why moms are always dead in Disney cartoons - it stinks.

Also, on MAD TV and SNL, the "joke" with a female character is that she is "barren" or can't have children. Dry as a bone! are their panicky claims. I can't imagine how much this pisses off infertile women, as it makes me very mad and I'm not trying for kids yet.

Erik Bates | October 8, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | October 8, 2004
I thought they were quite funny when the show first came out. As it is, they are still marginally better than SNL, but both are languishing horribly.

Denise Sawicki | October 9, 2004
Speaking of Beowulf (which I didn't like) I liked John Gardner's Grendel, which we read in high school, nice and angstful... plus I read some Dostoevsky for fun. I recall liking Crime and Punishment.

Scott Hardie | October 9, 2004
As long as we're veering off course... Erik: The proper form is italics for book titles and quotation marks for story titles. (If there's a standard for movie titles, I would like to know it.) Since italics are hard to reproduce in handwriting, schoolteachers would tell us to underline book titles, and I continue that practice today knowing that it's improper. So imitate Kris's form, not mine. :-)

Kris Weberg | October 10, 2004
Dostoevsky is a lot of fun, actually -- who can help but enjoy The Brothers Karamazov, particularly Misha's madcap night or the stench of the late Father Zosima?

And in Smerdyakov, a villain we at once pity because he is doomed almost by his nature to evil, while hating him all the same.

And Ivan. Truly, Ivan is ne of the great characters of literature, wickedly intelligent, bitterly disillusioned, by turns insufferably smug and desperately angry, the very picture of the angry young man, the rebel with a cause.

"The Grand Inquisitor," too, is just brilliant. You read it in excerpt and think you get it, but then you see where it fits intot he novel as a whole and...wow.

Truly a great, great book.

Megan Baxter | October 12, 2004

My favourites from high school would have to be any of the Shakespeares we read (Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, McB, and Hamlet), The Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World, Tale of Two Cities, Fifth Business and To Kill a Mockingbird.

As for books I never ever want to read again, there was this one in grade 9 - Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell. So boring!

Steve Dunn | October 12, 2004
Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
Catcher In The Rye
Slaughterhouse 5
Lolita (don't think this one was assigned in class)
The Grapes of Wrath

Shakespeare was an acquired taste, and required more effort than I was usually willing to devote. I played Romeo once, though, which was a key to my understanding Shakespeare's genius.

I hated hated HATED Charles Dickens. All of it.

Anna Gregoline | October 12, 2004
We had to read Lolita, and I wasn't really sure what the point of it was.

Kris Weberg | October 12, 2004
The point was to portray a certain kind of egocentric, narrow-minded "intellectualism" in Humbert H. Humbert's insane rationalizations of pedophilia which boil down to, 'I'm very smart, Poe wrote about it, and it's an aesthetic."

The jabs at motel culture and the satire of the pornographic novel are just bonuses, but they also fit into a kind of economy of thematization in the book. Humbert, initially, does not especially love Lolita, but sees her as one in a long chain of interchnageable objects of esire. In much the same way, pornography presents a similar chain of lust-objects, and advertising (like the endless touriost traps and billboards Humbert sees and notes) also gives us an endless series of desiderata which have no actual content.

It's clever, I think, in taking out a similar problem in "high" and "low" culture, critiquing the valuelessness of a life devoted to endless iterations of the same experience or thing.

Jackie Mason | October 12, 2004
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Steve Dunn | October 13, 2004
Kris - yeah, that, and it also makes you root for a pedophile, which some find unsettling. Plus, Nabakov is worth reading just for the artistry of his prose. I'm a little surprised it was assigned reading in high school. My experience was that everything we read in high school somehow related to a Biblical analogy, and everything we read in college was about sex.

Kris Weberg | October 13, 2004
The key, then, is to find the parts of the Bible having to do with sex. That, or read lots of DH Lawrence, who does both.

Jackie Mason | October 14, 2004
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Jackie Mason | October 14, 2004
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Anna Gregoline | October 14, 2004
While I think that it is preposterous as an ending, didn't they have explosives back then? At least gunpowder.

Kris Weberg | October 14, 2004
They had gunpowder, but tey didn't call it "gunpowder," since the gun was a century or three away from Beowulf. Back then, and even for a long time after, it was just called "powdert" or "black powder." It can be made with commonly found ingredients.

Anna Gregoline | October 15, 2004
Ah ha! As I suspected. I knew they didn't have guns, but I was positive about explosions.

Kris Weberg | October 15, 2004
The Chinese had it in the 900s. Europe didn't employ it until 1248, or at least it wasn't recorded prior to that. Really, it's just a mix of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium compounds.

Anna Gregoline | October 15, 2004
And of course...MAGIC!

Kris Weberg | October 15, 2004
We call it 'fire" these days, Anna.

Anna Gregoline | October 15, 2004
Harnessing the power of the spirit world/fire, whatever.

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