Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity"

I find it intriguing  that two of my favorite books that I have read recently are "The Sun Also Rises"(Hemingway) and "The Moon is Down"(Steinbeck). Isn't that the truth with me though? Literature, day in, day out; morning and evening.

While I was stuck writing confined blogs about "who I am" the whole month of January,  in my personal time I was going on a classic literature binge (one of the many privileges of living alone). I read so much modern fiction in college, lots of Piccoult, Gilbert, Gruen, and never even thought about Twain, Steinbeck, Homer, Hemingway, and Wilde.

"Classic' - a book which people praise and don't read." -Mark Twain

It wasn't until I re-read Homers, "The Odyssey" as an adult, that I became enamored with the writing style. Now, I had previously read this book twice; once as a freshman in high school, and then again as a sophomore in college. Both times, I enjoyed the book, but I never appreciated it. But once the classroom setting was gone, and there was no pressure about being tested on the material, I was able to really get into it.  My conclusion? The classroom kills classics.

As much as I love the fictional story of "the classics", I love thinking about the authors mental journey as they wrote the story infused with their own personal experiences. "The Moon is Down" is a perfect example of this: Written in 1942 as a work of propaganda to assist the Allied war effort, Steinbeck came under some criticism for portraying the Germans (the conquerors were not actually identified as German in the book itself) too sympathetically, in contrast to the more virulent and crude propaganda that tried to demonize them. Steinbeck gave the enemies a face. He gave them emotions, and showed them as people, and not monsters.  After the war, the work was more universally praised when it became apparent that it had greatly encouraged the resistance in Nazi-occupied countries. The Moon is Down exhibits Steinbeck's skill in characterization and psychological sensitivity. Without question, its is a work of propaganda, but I think it stands as a substantive piece of literature in its own right. The work leaves readers with an important idea to chew on:  What is the nature of propaganda itself, how can it be defined? Is it a particular genre or is its categorization as propaganda determined by its intent?

I wish I had more "geeky" friends who I could discuss these ideas with. It makes me miss school in that regard. First and foremost, I love literature, but second of all I love discussing literature. This is why I have committed to going back and auditing one literature class a term. I don't care about the credit, I care about the passion. 

Here is a random list of some of the classics I have grown to love more and more every time I read them:

 East of Eden
Pastures of Heaven
The Moon is Down
Travels with Charley
The Winter of Our Discontent

For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Old Man and the Sea
The Sun Also Rises 

Diaries of Adam and Eve
Letters from the Earth
"When you re-read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before.  You see more in you than there was before."-Clifton Fadiman

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