News item from the Boston Globe:

“…Universities are full of trendy English professors who don’t read Shakespeare for the beauty of the poetry or its peerless insights into human nature. The point is to uncover the oppression that’s supposed to define Western culture: the racism, ‘patriarchy,’ and imperialism that must lurk beneath the surface of everything written by those ‘dead white males.’ (The latest book from University of Pennsylvania professor emerita Phyllis Rackin, for example, investigates how ‘Macbeth’ contributed to the ‘domestication of women.’)”

I don’t believe for an instant that the Western literary canon should be changed to accommodate social and political agendas. Aesthetics shaped the canon in the beginning and should continue to shape it. Besides, art pressed into the service of a cause becomes propaganda, the aims of which are very different from those of art.

Yes, the canon’s shapers were mainly men, mainly white, mainly European, and, like all men, not without bias. But nowhere have I seen evidence that any work was admitted to the canon for any reason except that it was believed to be an outstanding work of serious intent.

But this should not be construed to mean that the Western canon is sacrosanct. It isn’t, nor should it be. Time changes everything, including the pertinence of art, and esthetic distance can reveal that a work’s admission to the canon might have been hasty or at the very least is ripe for review. Some inferior works also sneaked into the canon as companions of superior relatives. Any critic who believes, for instance, that all of Dickens’ novels are co-equal in quality simply hasn’t been paying attention.

Anyhow, of esteemed works in general, here are some nominations, purely random, for either demotion in the ranks or outright discharge from the canon (no pun).

–Moby Dick, by Herman Melville – Rather than a whale of a story, which might qualify it for canon membership, this novel is largely a treatise on whaling, with no more relevance to modern life than a how-to manual on buffalo-hunting. Moreover, Melville never uses one word when a few thousand will do, violates the most basic (and common-sense) rules of first-person storytelling (such as repeatedly entering the mind of another character, Ahab), and interrupts the story ad nauseam to deliver lessons on the anatomy of the whale. The best use of this novel is as an antidote to insomnia. If the celebrated (?) chapter on whiteness (yes, whiteness!) doesn’t put you to sleep, alas, your insomnia is incurable.

War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy – This novel is the best argument for abridged novels ever written. As with Moby Dick, we have in War and Peace a novel that is largely a polemic disguised as a story. In fact, you can’t read War and Peace attentively without seeing that Tolstoy wrote it mainly to rebut history’s traditional accounts of the War of 1812. The novel’s beguiling love story is merely a Trojan horse designed by the author to sneak his version of history into the reader’s mind. In fact, when abridgers abridge this often-abridged novel, they simply throw out Tolstoy’s meticulous recounting of Napoleon’s ill-fated campaign against Russia. Is the abridged version worthy of admission to the canon? Well, as I said, it is a beguiling story. So maybe. But it would have to wait in line behind Tolstoy’s Anna Karinana, which is truly a great novel and fully deserves inclusion in the Western canon.

–King Lear, by Shakespeare – Inexplicably, some literary critics declare this disjointed and tiresome work to be one of the Immortal Bard’s best plays. It isn’t even close; in fact it’s one of his worst, exceeded only (perhaps) by The Tempest. Lear, a foolish old monarch with three daughters, divides his kingdom between two of them and banishes the third daughter for refusing to compete with her sisters in banal blandishments of filial love and gratitude. What follows is a tedious testament to folly and ingratitude proving only, ho-hum, that a fool and his kingdom are soon parted – but leaving unanswered, and even unasked, the question of how they got together in the first place. Then, grafted onto the story like scenes left over from another, unfinished play, is the story of Edmund, the bastard son of Glouchester, whose evil schemes are no more believable than is the credulity of those who fall for them. And Kent? He could have stayed home for all the use he was to the plot. Only Edmund’s father lucks out in this mish-mash of a play. Blinded early in the action, he doesn’t have to watch much of it.

The Divine Comedy, by Dante – This work hasn’t been relevant to man, not even spiritual man, in at least 150 years.

Lest it appear that I’m mired in the classics, let’s look at some contemporaries who are presumptive canon-ites. (So help me, I’m picking my targets solely from works that I read or re-read, for various reasons, sometimes mere curiosity, in the past year or so.) One that I had the misfortune to stumble upon (and stumble all the way through) was John Irving’s A Widow for One Year. First, full disclosure: I’ve never read The World According to Garp. The dust-jacket notes alone induced yawning, as did the movie’s previews. I did tackle (in good faith, I promise) A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I threw in the towel (prayer shawl?) around the half-way mark. More yawning. Now A Widow for One Year has cured me forever of any interest in a John Irving* novel. Long story short (which you’ll certainly never get in an Irving novel): The author is a literary windbag with a Victorian guilt about sex. And to the press agent who dreamed up the absurd comparison of Irving to Dickens, I say with all the fervor I can muster: 1) Get an honest job, and 2) stop defaming dead authors.

Next, in the grip of a burgeoning disbelief, I read to the end of Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park, which more aptly would be titled Lunacy Park. I pushed on for one reason, and one reason only: His Less Than Zero is a small masterpiece. After Lunar Park, I have not taken him up again, and I won’t until I’m assured that he will never again write while in a marijuana haze or while trying to outdo Stephen King in the supernatural genre.

Speaking of which, the Keepers of the Canon Gateway, chief among them literary critic Harold Bloom, long ago launched a propaganda campaign aimed at forestalling any suggestion that King be admitted to the Inner Chamber. But Dr. Bloom is often as absurdly wrong as he can be brilliantly right, and where King is concerned Bloom has uncorked another of his many bloopers. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is a fine novel, better than many that hold a charter membership in the canon, and King’s novella The Body (which on film became “Stand By Me”) is a masterpiece. (Be it noted that Bloom has also tried to block the canon’s entrance to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird by damning it with faint praise as “a period piece.” Take my word for it, the period piece is Bloom. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of America’s greatest novels, ranking easily among the top ten.

But let’s hurry on before I run out of space:

*Hemingway qualifies for inclusion in the canon largely on the strength of his short stories and writing style. Only one of his novels, The Old Man and the Sea, is aging well. The others, which were at birth mannered and stiff, now seem downright arthritic. No matter. All of his short stories are clinics in good writing, and the best of them, “The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber” and especially “The Snows of Killamanjaro,” are sublime.

*Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby fully deserves its reputation as one of the best American novels ever written – and is very nearly the best. His other novels, and the short stories, leave me cold.

*Steinbeck. Several years ago, I heard a visiting academic at the University of South Carolina dismiss Steinbeck as “second-rate.” The speaker invited his university audience to agree with him, and I was shocked to see heads nod in the affirmative, and to hear mutterings of general agreement. I have since learned that “second-rate” best describes academic literary opinion. At any rate, Steinbeck’s range alone, not to mention his very American voice, guarantees him a place in literary memory. No such luck to the academics who dissed him.

*Faulkner. Time again for full disclosure: I am not a Faulkner fan. I’ve tried; god knows I’ve tried. I’m even willing to believe that the fault is mine, not his. But I just don’t get it! So there. Sorry, Malcolm.

*Flannery O’Connor. See Faulkner, above. O’Connor is a mix of the religious nutty and the Southern-Gothic batty. Except for her short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” put O’Connor aside in favor of a book by a really good Southern female writer: Carson McCullers. For proof, read her Member of the Wedding.

*Thomas Wolfe. He is, simply, the American Proust, which is to say that his writing is among the very best though his novels are not. Professor Bloom is wrong about Wolfe, too, who will still be read long after Bloom has been forgotten.

Obviously, I can’t cover here (or anywhere else) all the authors and poets and playwrights of Western literature, but I would feel conscience-stricken if I closed without mentioning such truly great writers as Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Hardy, T.S. Eliot, Stephen Crane, James Baldwin, Philip Roth, Robert Frost, Jane Austin, E.A. Robinson, Robert Browning, Robert Frost, Truman Capote, William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Willa Cather.

Nor can I close without naming the book that deserves, hands down, the title of The Great American Novel. It is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (and it’s also one of the best movies ever made).

I know, I know: in all these years, it has yet to gain entry to the canon. Academics and other so-called serious literary critics have long been loath to give this fine novel the laurels it deserves (or to even read it, which of course explains a lot). But it is these same critics who have put the Western canon in the mess it’s in today, mainly by using political and social templates to interpret literary works.

There. I feel so much better now.

(*Earlier this year, on NPR’s “Radio Reader,” I listened, in disbelief, to Irving’s latest novel, Last Night In Twisted River — disbelief that a name writer could write so badly and disbelief that a respected radio show could select so undeserving a novel (from the many available) to air to its readers.)

(Robert Lamb teaches writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina. He has published novels, short stories, and poetry, and is a 2009 winner of the South Carolina Fiction Project.)

Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb

I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After service in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English, and then began a (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and ended years later in Atlanta at The (great) Atlanta Constitution, which I left in late 1982 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award. My second novel, Atlanta Blues, spent a few minutes on the best-seller list in (at least) Columbia, S.C., and was described in one newspaper’s year-end roundup as “one of the three best novels of 2004 by a Southern writer.” My third novel won no honors but at least didn’t get me hanged; titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in the high school of a Georgia town. For my next novel, And Tell Tchaikovsky the News, I returned to an Atlanta setting for a story about the redemptive powers of, in this case anyhow, “that good rock ’n’ roll.” I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. One of its stories, “R.I.P.,” was a winner in the S.C. Fiction Project in 2009. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at boblamb.wordpress.comand I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.

  1. Keith Graham

    Bob: This story is brilliant and wonderfully done. Of course, you are inviting some of us to quibble. GWTW deserves standing as a good book but not the greatest, in my view. I re-read several Hemingways in the past year and was disappointed by them, but his style was extremely influential on the writers who followed him. Gatsby, which I also re-read, was disappointing and to me annoying, but I do think it’s relevant even now, and with some embarrassment I say Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise” had a huge impact on my life. Of the other more or less classics I’ve re-read recently, I was most impressed by Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter.” It still resonates. If we’re talking about recent U.S. writers who belong in the “canon,” I’d have to say Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Ford and Walker Percy are all great authors who ought to be considered. But I most appreciated your defense of Steinbeck. “The Grapes of Wrath” is a worthy nominee for the great American novel, but I’m also a huge fan of “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday.” More than any other books I ever read, those taught me the most about how I wished I could write.

  2. Inclusion/exclusion, categorization and ranking — it’s an American fixation. Will we ever get over it?

  3. Robert Lamb

    No reason we should try to get over it, Monica. It’s the way a nation, a culture, a tribe sorts out its values. As with anything, it can be taken to an extreme — and in this society if something can be taken to an extreme, you can bet it will be, and probably overnight.
    But the Western literary canon is not at all about picking favorites. If the favorites of all readers made up the canon, the top 20 books would be Harlequin romance novels. No. The Western literary canon is — but wait; this whole explanation reminds me of Louis Armstrong’s reply to a woman who asked, “Mr. Armstrong, what is jazz?”
    Louie the Great replied, “Lady, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

  4. It’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” not “All That Rises Must Converge.”

    I agree that a literary work certainly must stand on its own without an overlay of political and social interpretation, but I also believe that a great work has to be more than just a good story. There are quite a few “good stories” that are poorly written, some appallingly so. (I submit as an example “South of Broad” by South Carolina’s own Pat Conroy.) I hope you will follow up with a post telling us what else your judgments are based on. I tend to agree with your assessments of Ellis and Irving, but I would be very interested to know why you feel that Mitchell and McCullers succeed where Melville, Connor, and Faulkner fail.

  5. Bonnie:
    Well, first, my views are not so much “judgments” as opinions. But here goes:
    Regarding O’Connor, in my essay I said that her writing is “a mix of the religious nutty and Southern-Gothic batty.” Read her novel Wise Blood or see the movie for a full explication. She is, of course, best known for her short stories, but to me they fall short of an important criterion for fiction: believability.
    I think I also said in the essay what’s wrong with Moby Dick. I have nothing to add here.
    Re Faulkner, I simply find his novels a tedious bore. He was out of print until, around 1945, when the esteemed critic Malcolm Cowley retrieved him from literary obscurity. Cowley should have let well enough alone. Light in August, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and the two or three others I’ve read struck me as stagy, stiff, very poorly written, and dreadfully tedious. He seemed not to know, ever, how to get on with the story. Let me point out, though, that I said in the essay that I was willing to believe that the fault was mine. I’m still willing to plead guilty on that – as long as the penalty doesn’t require me to read him again.
    Conroy is, of course, not yet admitted to the canon, and his chances for admission are not good. His themes simply aren’t weighty enough. Personally, I like Conroy and have read all his books except SOB. My personal take on him is that when he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad he’s awful – and he doesn’t seem to know the difference. That business with the tiger in Prince of Tides was a real howler – but I read somewhere that he was very proud of that scene; the idea occurred to him after days of being stuck as to where to go next in the novel.
    An important distinction in all this is that it’s the individual work, rather than the author, that we should judge. I believe I said as much in the essay. A case in point: Dickens’ Bleak House is a masterpiece, while his The Old Curiosity Shop is awful. But, hey, nobody bats a thousand, especially not in literature.

  6. Wonderful. And a reminder of the shape my liberal arts education could have taken, if I had brought the same nose for art into the classroom that I did for journalism. As my friend Keith Graham did, for example. To join the fray, I rise to announce that I thoroughly enjoyed A Prayer for Owen Meany and revere King Lear. Also, I’m still striving to catch up via occasional sorties into the canon. Divine Comedy? I struggled but learned some. Moby Dick? I recall recognizing the greatness of pitch and passion breaking through that sea of boredom. More recently I was delighted to meet Ahab’s Wife and discover that it is possible for a writer to teach you about whales without breaking the rhythm of a terrific narrative. This year, I’ve read Cervantes (Don Quixote) and Dickens (Great Expectations). They are unmatched; I stand-and-sit in awe of both. Now, just for the fun of it, have you readers read William Boyd’s spy thriller “Restless?” Loved it. A must for William Boyd fans – and really different. Published in 2006 but I just discovered it.

  7. Cliff Green

    Bob: you called John Irvin “a literary windbag.” I agree, but a bigger windbag was the Brit John Fowles. Although he appears on numerous lists as one of the great novelists of the 20th century, I don’t see it. He published “The French Lieutenants’s Woman” in 1969, then typed until he died in 2005.
    Overall, I place O’Connor above McCullers, but “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe” is a masterpiece. Also not to be overlooked is “Reflections in a Golden Eye.” Weird but wonderful, in its own way.
    Equally sublime is Hemingway’s short “A Clean Well-lighted Place.” Someone once described it as being almost physically painful to read.

  8. Cliff:

    I, too, place O’Connor above McCullers, as do most well-read folks. I am not Roman Catholic, and, in fact, harbor some antipathy toward the faith, but I still find “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” to be a superb short story and “Wise Blood” to be a beautifully written novel, filled with surprising turns of phrases and subtle but powerful metaphors. The relevance or timeliness of fiction doesn’t concern me so much as do good writing and, because of the good writing, powerfully delivered situations and characters. A good story is just a good story–and they’re not to be denigrated–but good literature is something apart from the story itself. And by the way, Bob, if you don’t appreciate Melville’s discourse on whiteness, you’re really missing something.

    What a great discussion!

  9. Robert Lamb

    What good comments! Cliff, you and I must have similar reading tastes. I tried and tried with Fowles, but I just didn’t get it. And Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” is indeed wonderful (as is “Hills Like White Elephants.”)
    Dallas, I agree: Great Expectations is wonderful (and I’m going tomorrow to get a copy of Boyd’s Restless).
    Bonnie, I think you and I will just have to agree to disagree. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is simply unbelievable to me, and Melville’s chapter on whiteness is pretentious and artsy-fartsy. But, then, I’ve always had a streak of the contrarian in me. Remember the old commercial jingle about Dial soap: “Aren’t you glad you use Dial; don’t you wish everybody did?” I’m the only man I know who always sang out lustily, “Hell no!” Didn’t the damn fools realize what would happen if everybody wanted to use the same product? Imagine the economic dislocations! Factories could not possibly keep up with the demand. The stuff would soar to a million dollars a bar. Duels and wars would be fought over soap. Other soap-makers would go bankrupt. You get the picture.

    1. We certainly agree on one thing, Bob. The tiger scene in “Prince of Tides” is way over the top, totally unbelievable. I can’t count the number of people I’ve argued this point with.

      1. Tricia Collins

        Great discussion. Would love to see a Dew piece on literature by Bonnie Williams-

  10. OK, I’ll bite: You’re wrong dissing Hemingway novels, right about his short stories, wrong to trash Moby Dick, right-ish about Gatsby and Thomas Wolfe, right about Mark Twain and eye-poppingly wrong to denigrate King Lear or to think GWTW is a great book. It’s a great read, sure, but Great American Novel? That’s just silly.

    Also, might help if you spelled Jane Austen right, and I’m not sure Robert Frost needs to be named twice in the same list.

  11. Billy, an opinion is neither right nor wrong; it’s merely an opinion (which applies to yours, too).
    Nor is it disrespectful to say you don’t like something.
    Your opinions might have been more interesting, however, if you had given, as I did, some detail in support of your views. I’d especially like to hear you explain how a novel can be great if it’s not a great read.
    On second thought, It’s possible that a reader who sees Lear as anything but tiresome, while dismissing GWTW as merely a great read, lacks the critical faculty for the task.

  12. Nice essay, interesting comments: Granted, a great novel needs to be a great read, but certainly great reads are all not great novels. Gone With The Wind more insightful and meaningful than Faulkner? I can’t agree with that. Even if you are comparing novels about the South, Go Down, Moses, to me provides much more insight and meaning and great sentences and deep, not-so-obvious plot that relates to the context of the writing in a way that is hard for me to put into words. Also, I am sorry that no one has mentioned Peter Mathiessen, especially the rewritten Watson trilogy, Shadow Country. Certainly a candidate for greatest American novel. And it’s a good read, especially the way Mathiessen uses different viewpoints of the same events.

  13. Good point, Joe. Often, I find that when the story is utterly captivating, I have to reread to take a closer look at the writing, and vice versa. But I was aware of both simultaneously when reading the Watson trilogy. They’re Faulknerian without all the work. I hope Bob weighs in on this.

    And, speaking again of Faulkner, I believe “That Evening Sun” to be a perfect, and perfectly straightforward, short story.

  14. Robert Lamb

    The only thing I’ve read by Mathiessen is Far Tortuga, his all-dialog novel. I found it an interesting exercise. I know that Mathiessen has a great reputation, but his literary interests are not mine, so I routinely turn to other authors.
    For the record, though, I think it is pointless to fault one author because he didn’t write like another. The criterion, I believe, should be this: Did the author do what he set out to do — and was it worth doing? Vis a vis GWTW, obviously the violent transformation of a whole culture is a worthwhile theme, and anyone who thinks that Mitchell didn’t measure up to her task is simply lacking in the tools of criticism (and most likely has never tried his hand at creative writing).
    Too often nowadays we are dead certain that because we like something it is, necessarily, good. Or that if we dislike something it is bad. That ‘s especially so in this day and time when we politicize everything and evaluate it through the lens of our politics. Recall that I began the essay by defending the Western canon against those who want to change the canon to suit their politics.
    Same reasoning applies to those who would change the canon to suit their personal likes and dislikes. I say that the tools of literary criticism are available to all and that it’s much more interesting (and rewarding) to evaluate works with these tools than simply with one’s likes and dislikes. I speak from humbling experience. I avoided Jane Austen’s novels for years because I thought that I wouldn’t enjoy them. Why? Because they were about romance and were written by a woman. I know now that she accomplished a feat unmatched in all of literature: Of her six novels, at least five are first-rate. I can’t think of another author who wrote five first-rate novels. Dickens, maybe, would come closest. And Austen did it in a fairly brief life in which she never traveled more than 50 miles from home. Next, look at what Stephen Crane accomplished in an even shorter life. . . But that’s a topic for another day.

  15. Cliff Green

    What a marvelous discussion!
    Bob, wait about six months and kick it off again.

  16. Alex Kearns

    But what is the definition of “great” when it comes to literature? Is it a ground-breaking theme, stylistic perfection, endurance in the common psyche or mass public adoration? What think you of To Kill A Mockingbird, Bob? What of the books that fall short of the artistic/stylistic mark and yet grip the world’s heart and imagination in that ephemeral way that cannot be anticipated or explained? Are these “great”?

  17. Alex, see the essay above for my opinion of Mockingbird, paragraph 11.

    I don’t think there is a definition of “great” in literature, and I doubt that a workable one could be devised. The dictionary says that “great,” in this sense, means “much higher in some quality or degree, much above the ordinary or average.” That definition works for me. The catch, I suppose, is that to recognize quality writing that is much above average, one must have done a good bit of reading, preferably for more than just entertainment.
    But one doesn’t have to have read far to realize that a great novel need not be “groundbreaking” (think Jane Austen) and that “mass adoration” is probably not a reliable guide to anything. You can throw out “style,” too, for Theodore Dreiser, acknowledged as a great American writer, wrote clumsy prose. Power, not style, was his thing, and you can’t read An American Tragedy without seeing that he had plenty of it. (By all means, catch the movie, too, starring Liz Taylor when she truly was the most beautiful woman on the planet and Montgomery Clift, when he was pure magic on the screen.)
    As for your final question, the one about “the books that fall short of the artistic/stylistic mark,” see above re Theo. Dreiser. And as for books that “grip the world’s heart and imagination,” some come along every year (Angela’s Ashes, Tuesdays at Morie’s, The Yearling, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and on and on). Using Google, take a look some time at the best-seller lists of yesteryear; see how many names or titles you recognize from, say, 40 years ago. No. It’s the ones that come and stay that more nearly fit the definition of great. So sheer endurance counts for a lot, doesn’t it?
    Why does a literary work endure? Almost certainly because it tells us something important about the Human Condition that resonates with thoughtful readers of all kinds. I interviewed Erskine Caldwell for the NYT in, oh, 1980. His books sold fabulously in all languages around the world, especially in places like India and Japan. I asked him why he thought he was so popular in places like that. He gave one of my all-time favorite answers to a question: “Because the plight of the poor is the same the world over.” Bingo! I knew he was right. I grew up in a large Southern family in which few had finished grammar school, let alone high school, and I never saw but two other books besides the Bible in any of my relatives’ houses: Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre and Tobacco Road.
    Talk about the fickleness of fame, Caldwell at one time was ranked among America’s five greatest writers — ranked by none other than Wm. Faulkner. Now let’s all reflect on that and open our English lit books to page 434 and read that wonderful poem by Shelley, “Ozymandias.” Incidentally, read it (or simply recall it) and you’ll see why it is considered
    great. It tells a great, sad truth about important things, about life itself.

  18. “Why does a literary work endure? Almost certainly because it tells us something important about the Human Condition that resonates with thoughtful readers of all kinds.” I agree with that, great point. Also, if we are shifting to a poetry discussion, I would like to hear your opinion of Gary Snyder’s stuff. I think it would fit that definition as well, although maybe all “good” poetry would. PS: I wasn’t crazy about Far Tortuga either, plus the early editions of that book I have seen almost all fell apart, literally.

  19. This is a great thread. Can we keep it going?

  20. I enjoyed the quote from the Boston Globe at the beginning of the article. The rest was pointless, asinine drivel. Dante not relevant the modern man? Are you really that soulless? Maybe we should stop reading Homer too because no one believes in Greek gods anymore. Lear and the Tempest Shakespeare’s worst plays? It is quite obvious that you have not read any of these since high-school, if at all.

    Towards the end of the article I was expecting you to mention something about how you didn’t understand Faulkner. And yes, there it was. Of course you don’t. “Thomas Wolfe is the American Proust.” Mr. Lamb, if you can’t get through Faulkner then there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that you could have possibly read Proust. Stop dropping names. Seriously. But then came the kicker… Gone With the Wind, the “Great American Novel”. Shame on you. That’s just disgraceful. If that’s the best America can come up with then Americans might as well just give up on literature altogether. The fact that Stephen King and Pat Conroy even came up in a discussion about the “canon” is so outrageously offensive it almost made my head explode when I read it.

    You have absolutely no credibility as a critic. Just because you don’t “get” something does not mean that that qualifies you to bash it as irrelevant or as bad writing. That probably just means that you don’t understand what you are reading and therefore have a difficult time enjoying it. If you do not have the intellect to back up your claims then please just save it for cocktail parties where it’s easier to get away with blowing a lot of hot air out of your a**. I can’t figure out whether you really just have that bad of taste in literature or whether your reading level slammed to a halt in the 8th grade. Regardless, you have no absolutely no business giving any sort of a critique of writers like Faulkner, O’Connor, Melville, or Tolstoy. I apologize if I have been too harsh on you, but I took a very personal offense to your article. Badly done.

  21. Robert Lamb

    Quentin C: I’m sorry that a disagreeable opinion worked such havoc on your fragile psyche. If you recover, try sounding off on subjects with thoughtful comments instead of insults. All those people who tried to warn you that breeding shows were right, Quentin.
    Note, too, that this site is, not Fox News or talk radio.

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