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June 1, 2011

Things That Should Be Obvious
Posted by Patrick at 10:05 AM * 529 comments

Apparently Esquire published a list of “75 Books Men Should Read,” of which exactly one was by a woman.

The great Ta-Nahesi Coates skips straight past the obvious objections, instead making a point about incuriosity and the foolishness of willed ignorance.

Books are our most intimate art-form. The reader does a temporary mind-meld with the author, and a collaborative world—their words and our imagination—is conjured from nothing. And because each reader’s mind is his own, each of those conjured worlds, each of those planes, are different. […] Why any dedicated reading man would dream of this sorcery strictly with other men is beyond me….

This is not a favor to feminists. This is not about how to pick up chicks. This is about hunger, greed and acquisition. Do not read books by women to murder your inner sexist pig. Do it because Edith Wharton can fucking write. It’s that simple.

I don’t link to Coates as often as I’m tempted to because I assume most of our readers read him already. If you don’t, you should; his blog is one of the Great Works in our little genre, and as good now as it has ever been.
Comments on Things That Should Be Obvious:
#1 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:32 AM:

Does it count as an obvious remark to note that, of the books on that list that I HAVE read, I found most of them purely dreadful, and any literary merit they might contain obscured by their loathesome characters and severe lack of entertainment value? If a book is going to have loathsome characters, it had better be intensely entertaining, like The Shining.

I don't claim to have exquisite literary taste, but of most of what I recognize on that list, I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it.

#2 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:32 AM:

Which, through the comments, led me to this defining of a Certain Type of Literature, well worth a read.

#3 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:59 AM:

Not always, but an awful lot of the time, I find myself reading Coates and thinking, "uh huh. Why hasn't someone said this before?" Maybe they have, but often not as clearly.

Also, Janet @ #2: "Fond Memories of Vagina" made me spill coffee everywhere, even on the dog. Thank you. I think.

#4 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:50 AM:

Is it also obvious to note that confining oneself to a single genre is as self-limiting as confining oneself to books by a single gender of author? The list is indeed exactly what it says on the tin -- 75 great works of lit-fic, with not even a nod to anything else.

#5 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:57 AM:

Excellent link, Janet@2!

#6 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:17 PM:

Oops -- I should have said "75 critically-acclaimed works of lit-fic" in my #4. The two terms are NOT synonymous, although they are often assumed to be.

#7 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:21 PM:

Lee @ 4: 75 great works of lit-fic, with not even a nod to anything else.

A quick tour through the list shows: non-fiction, detective fiction, spy fiction, horror, western fiction, classic literature, science fiction (according to many), and fantasy (according to many).

I admit to not understanding quite what people mean when they say "lit-fic," but if it includes all those things, it doesn't seem usefully different from "literature."

#8 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:25 PM:

Thanks, Madeleine and Skwid. The excerpt from The Webmaster is a thing of genius that I will cherish forever.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:34 PM:

Well. I went to look, but it's too much of a PITA. If it were just a list, that would be fine; but it's a gorram slideshow, frequently interrupted by ads.

Since I'm barely willing to give the time of day to Esquire at the best of times, I say the hell with it.

Question to contribute to the discussion: who the hell cares what Esquire thinks anyway? I mean, besides straight white male snobs who think being a straight white male snob is, like, the best thing EVER. And even THEY admit it's "incomplete and biased."

Who's the one woman they included? Ayn Rand?

#10 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:39 PM:

OK, there's a quick-list version over on the right. Still a slide show, but with three books at a time. Couldn't read some of the titles, even with the page size cranked way up (resolution too low), and I didn't find the one book written by a woman.

#11 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:44 PM:

Readers who don't want to click through a long slide show can find the full Esquire list on a single page here.

Readers who want to find what the other 50% of the population has written might find A Celebration of Women Writers of interest.

(BTW, there'll be a new special collection there soon that may be of particular interest to readers here, but I'll hold off on details till Mary announces it :-)

#12 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:44 PM:

Who's the one woman they included? Ayn Rand?

It's Flannery O'Connor.

#13 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:47 PM:

You could group most of those into a single genre, if "painfully macho" counts as a genre.

#14 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:48 PM:

The whole list is 'lit-fic' in the sense that, in most US Borders/B&N-style stores, the works listed would all be shelved in the section whose signs say LITERATURE, not any other section of the store.

Including Slaughterhouse-Five. Though sometimes (in the store I worked in, for example) they shelve a few copies over in Science Fiction.

It's a marketing category, and publishers will often fight tooth and nail to get into it, because it avoids 'ghettoization' and perceived lack of sales because of perceived lack of seriousness. Margaret Atwood is entirely shelved in LITERATURE, for example.

#15 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:50 PM:

.... and I thought I'd edited this in, but I didn't -- sometimes the LITERATURE section's signs say FICTION, which led to some of my high school friends calling it "un-adjectived FICTION".

Kind of like how white heterosexual cis men of reasonably comfortable economic circumstances are "un-adjectived HUMANS".

#16 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:52 PM:

Xopher @ 10: Coates cites it; it's Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard To Find.

Besides agreeing that Coates has made an excellent point about reading that might get through to the most sexist of men, one more benefit out of there; the short excerpt he includes from Wharton (in the comments, nto the article) has in fact convinced me I shoudl read her SOON, not just "Sometime when I get around to it."

(Especially since, as my sister pointed out, Round tu-its are thin on the ground these days.)

#17 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 12:56 PM:

Xopher: Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard To Find

Janet @ 2: You have reminded me of why I have a rule; NO EATING OR DRINKING WHILE READING MAKING LIGHT.

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:00 PM:

Exactly like, Elliott.

Thanks, Lighthill...of course, if I'd gone and read the Coates piece...*forehead smack*

And I wonder if whatever dope made up that list for Esquire somehow missed the fact that Flannery O'Connor was a woman?

#19 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:07 PM:

And there are, what, three books on that list originally written in languages other than English? Incurious in more ways than one.

#20 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:07 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 14/15: So what would you call that section?

And do you think SF, mystery, western, etc. fans would be happy if you "promoted" their books to that section, and eliminated the genre sections? I don't.

#21 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Oh, and: It's a marketing category, and publishers will often fight tooth and nail to get into it,

Is this true? I thought it was completely up to the publisher which category to publish a book in.

#22 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:40 PM:

Tim Walters @21 -- it is up to the publisher, but if they ignore the appropriate mating signs of litfic they end up becoming marginalized as publishers.

I wonder what the seventy-five books every woman should read would be (Coates' excellent reframing aside!). Maybe there's a game of lists: guess who's making up this list? Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a list of five great novels about revolutionaries, every one of which was an attack on Communism/social activism -- no great surprise, considering the source, but it's interesting to think about what novels (e.g.) the Revolutionary Worker would put on such a list. I'd be surprised to see any overlap.

#23 ::: TrashedMyCookies ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:40 PM:

Thanks John @11 for the single-page list.

Some of those are decent books.

Honestly. Esquire had the decency to introduce the list as, "An unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published." I don't have much of a problem with people or institutions having biases; I have even less of a problem when those biases are explicitly acknowledged.

Are they my top 75 books? Of course not. My top 75 includes Brighty of the Grand Canyon and A Wrinkle in Time and The Farthest Shore and How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen. These books don't make most lists of great literature, but I'm biased that way.

#24 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:44 PM:

Xopher@9:

You're not missing anything by skipping the slideshow. The list was made by squishing together a half dozen 11th grade English lit class reading lists, complete with the obligatory Hemingway (because he's Manly, dontcha know). There's not a single title written in the last decade and over half come from the early 20th century.

It's positively yawn inducing.

#25 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:45 PM:

re 2: Now I *know* there's no longer any pr*n filter at the office.

#26 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 01:55 PM:

Before I switch back from lunch break mode:

There are a lot of beautiful, funny, heartbreaking books on that list and a couple I don't think I'd want to read again, but none of them are responsible for the editors of that list having a serious blind spot.

link@2: I started to read a book of that "Certain Type" last year, Philip Roth's The Dying Animal, and could not finish it. That's not a fault in the book but a failing in myself. The book is about growing old and facing mortality one irreversible loss at a time. That's a fate most of us face, and given that Roth is a skilled writer and (modulo success) has a life situation not unlike mine, I was curious to read his report of what might lie ahead for me. I got enough for now. I expect I'll be back.

Painful reading about a painful time in life. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

#27 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 02:03 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 22: So what are the "appropriate mating signs of litfic" (aside from obvious issues of cover design, blurbage, etc., which can be created to suit, and don't bear on the question of which books can be sold as lit-fic)? Everyone keeps telling me Margaret Atwood's recent books are really science fiction, but she does very well with them in the general fiction section. Is this an indicator for pent-up demand for SF among lit-fic readers, or is it (as I would guess) that there's something about her books that appeals to them in a way that most SF doesn't, and the reason one doesn't see [insert favorite SF author here] on the general fiction shelf is that he or she lacks that appeal.

#28 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 02:08 PM:

From their list of "The 12 Authors Every Man Must Know":

Philip Roth

He understands that at base, we're a nation of fearful poon hounds. Plus, he wrote the only great novel to end with a guy getting poked in the eye with a fork.

Commentary would be superfluous.

#29 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 02:31 PM:

Is it worthy of note that there is no evidence from Esquire's commentary that they know that Flannery O'Connor is a woman? And the quotation selected might be taken to imply that they think otherwise?

#30 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 02:39 PM:

Lenora @16: Many years ago, I was working at Berkley when they reissued a whole bunch of Edith Wharton in mass market. I'd never heard of her before (I was about 20 at the time) but the covers were pretty, so I tried one, and then read steadily through everything they put out in that reissue program. I still haven't read all of Wharton, but she is most definitely worth reading.

I think I started with either The House of Mirth or The Custom of the Country.

#31 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 02:43 PM:

Tim, #7: Okay, there are a few other genres tucked away further down the list; I saw a Stephen King in there, and a Kurt Vonnegut (although he's generally considered lit by most people), and a Western. I generalized too far from the first third of the list (because I got tired of it for the same reasons Xopher did), and I retract my earlier comment.

Xopher, #18: I would bet my betting nickel that you're right about that. It's not obvious from her name that she's female. (Speaking from long and sometimes bitter experience as a woman with a gender-ambiguous name...)

Tim, #27: There have been several extensive conversations about that very topic here within the past few years. The short form: while science fiction concepts have definitely gone mainstream, the term "science fiction" remains firmly in the ghetto, and if you point out to (not all, but many) people who are reading and enjoying books like The Handmaid's Tale or Cormac Macarthy's The Road that they are reading science fiction, they will move heaven and earth to deny it. Where are the spaceships? Where are the aliens? Where are the people with funny names? THAT'S science fiction, not anything in MY reading list!

Or look at Christopher Moore, who writes humorous urban fantasy with vampires. You won't find him in the SF/F section, TYVM! And I've been told (but have not tried to verify) that his agent refuses to let him appear at SF conventions, despite the fact that he'd be a very popular guest, because they don't want to risk any of that rubbing off on him.

#32 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 03:32 PM:

xopher @ #18: Perhaps through confusion with Flann O'Brien?

#33 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 03:49 PM:

Melissa, 30: I bounced hard off _Ethan Frome_. Unfortunately it was required for 11th-grade English, and my regard for Wharton has never recovered. What is the rest of her work like? (If it's all unmitigated grimness and futility, I'll stick with Peter Watts.)

#34 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 03:56 PM:

Tim Walters @7 -- lit-fic trumps "genre": any lit-fic which would otherwise be genre <sparkle>transcends</sparkle> genre.

Elliott Mason @15 -- "unadjectived" fiction!!  I *owe* you, man!

#35 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:00 PM:

#31 RE Moore: Also, stories about raunchy coyote spirits, and uplifted whales living in a habitat that's a giant primordial life form. And a guy inadvertently recruited into a corps of people who gather knick-knacks containing the souls of the recently departed. And the adventures of Boy Jesus in the Himalayas.

I went to a Moore reading/signing once. A lot of fannish types showed up.

#36 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:01 PM:

re 31: Unfortunately for that theory, in their sort list of authors, they have a picture of O'Connor in the "list of 12 authors", so they don't have that excuse.

#37 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:04 PM:

Oh brilliant. Ta-Nehisi says something I've been thinking about, much better than I could say it -- a steady diet of (no doubt anything but certainly) straight, mostly white, male authors is so, so... BORING.

Seventy-five of them...? I swoon. What a waste of time, to read so much only under this one tree, with the entire paradise of literature available to me.

#38 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:14 PM:

TexAnne@33: required reading will kill almost any author, lol. Ethan Frome is not representative, imo, and it's important to remember that Wharton was, to a degree, a social critic. Her characters often come to bad ends, but those ends are often forced upon them, in a sense, by a society they cannot escape.

Some of her shorter works are lighter, but the novels tend to have a dark message. In The House of Mirth, you know almost from the beginning that Lily will come to a bad end, yet you keep hoping she will avoid the pit and you feel terrible for her.

The Custom of the Country features a pretty but shallow young woman who is always looking for the next big thing and winds up never satisfied with what she has. The book skewers the upper crust very neatly.

Other than Ethan Frome, the book most people know is The Age of Innocence (nice film adaptation), which won the Pulitzer Prize. It kind of flips things around by giving the man's view of society marriage and societal constraints.

I think that for me, the beauty of the writing and the understanding that Wharton was not endorsing the society she was writing about made a lot of difference.

And not having to come to it through a class, lol, which ruined Hemingway for me.

#39 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:24 PM:

To me, the one that stands out is Labyrinths Borges. He was male and early 20th century, and I suppose you could describe him as mostly white, but his writing is utterly unlike most of the others.

The only real link is that there aren't any women in his stories...


#40 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:28 PM:

Of that list, I find the "Continental Op" short stories by Dashiel Hammett to be outstanding. The Postman Always Rings Twice is a novella that I've frequently recommended for its masterful handling of dialog, and many people have recommended Master And Commander to me.

#41 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:42 PM:

Neil in Chicago @ 34: lit-fic trumps "genre": any lit-fic which would otherwise be genre <sparkle>transcends</sparkle> genre.

I think you're being sarcastic, but I'm failing to see what's wrong with that statement. "Transcends genre" meaning "appeals to people without a particular interest in that genre," much as one doesn't need to have a particular liking of Middle English poetry to enjoy the Wife of Bath's Tale.

Lee @ 31: There have been several extensive conversations about that very topic here within the past few years.

if you point out to (not all, but many) people who are reading and enjoying books like The Handmaid's Tale or Cormac Macarthy's The Road that they are reading science fiction, they will move heaven and earth to deny it.

One could just as easily say that SF fans will move heaven and earth to impose their own definition of SF on everyone, and claim that anything with a bit of SF in it is SF in some sort of essential way. To a literary reader, this makes about as much sense as saying that a Liechtenstein painting is a comic book.

And those particular books are borderline cases at best. Dystopias and apocalypses are a lot older than SF.

And sure, there are people who are in denial about undoubted SF, but their terminology is no worse than the fannish use of "mainstream" (or worse, "mundane") to mean "no future science or supernatural content." Because a small-press Oulipo novel is so much more mainstream than Transformers 3.

Where are the spaceships? Where are the aliens? Where are the people with funny names?

Over in the stereotype bucket with the loathsome protagonists, the suburban adultery, and the grim pessimism, I expect.

Snobbery is bad. Fight it! But I saw a panelist at ConJose ask the audience "how many of you think fans are slans?," and half of them raised their hands. Maybe there's a little mote vs. beam thing going here.

#42 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 04:50 PM:

With respect to the list itself: the only way I can interpret "men should read" is something like "speaks specifically to men's condition." If it's just a good book then presumably everyone should read it. By that criterion, it might be understandable to have fewer female than male authors, and a relatively constrained subject area.

Even being that generous, this list isn't very fit for purpose. Most of the books don't bear on manhood in particular, and one outside perspective on manhood out of seventy-five? I think not. And they didn't say "Anglo men should read," now did they?

There are a lot of good books on it, though.

#43 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 05:16 PM:

I tried a couple of "Fond Memories of Vagina" novels in my teens and came to three conclusions:

1. I'm sure it's a very nice penis, but I don't know why I am supposed to be reading about it;

2. If this is what sex is like, I may become a nun, because it's the literary equivalent of the whiff I get if I am walking past a men's bathroom when somebody opens the door;

3. I think #author is maundering on about sex because he can't plot to save his life. Look! Over there! A vulva! I had no idea that the sex was supposed to be the plot.

Has anybody here seen Mentor? It co-stars Rutger Hauer as an aging literary lion who can't stop writing Fond Memories of Vagina.

#44 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 05:16 PM:
the greatest works of literature ever published
???

And the vast majority of them were written in English1, most of those by Americans, and all but one of them (unless I missed something) was written in the 20th Century. Now, IMO, this is either the result of xenophobia mixed with lack of appreciation of the history of literature, or it's just plain pandering to Western exceptionalism.

I should also mention that of the books in that list I've read, I actually liked and admired 3 or 4 of them, and consider another half dozen or so worth reading if you're studying the history and artistic techniques of literature.

1. I'll give them a point or two for Conrad and Nabokov who chose to write in English when it was neither's native language.

#45 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 05:20 PM:

Melissa Singer (38): House of Mirth is the only Wharton I've read (for a class, yes), and I *hated* it. I had no sympathy for Lily whatsoever; I just wanted to shake some sense into her. (I am aware that this is probably a lack in me, not the book.)

#46 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 05:28 PM:

Just had a thought about the "Fond Memories of Vagina" genre -- flip the genders and you get something like "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." Which seemed to start out well and all, but yeah, by the end it turned out to be the same old "sex with a hot young thing will rejuvenate me and turn me from a boring investment banker into an artist again, especially if said hot young thing is an exotic and nurturing other who can cook, gets along well with my offspring, worships my olderfulness, and doesn't die tragically as I expected him to for the last 50 pages of the book." (Not that I wouldn't turn my nose up at the chance, mind, but it does seem to almost be the same story.)

#47 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 06:01 PM:

I ought to try Edith Wharton again. When I bounced off of House of Mirth, with the same reaction of wanting to shake Lily, I think it was a case of the literary bends; I'd just come from several semesters of medieval lit (which I love), and the social constraints of the late Victorian era were VASTLY different than the ones obtaining in the Wife of Bath's Tale or the lais of Marie de France, and I grew very frustrated with all of these characters fretting about the mere APPEARANCE of impropriety without actually getting the fun of committing any.

Even Lydia Hot Pants Bennett actually did run off with George Wickham instead of merely having been suspected of it.

Hm. You'd think I'd like the Fond Memories of Vagina genre better, since people are committing PLENTY of improprieties there, but it's a genre that makes me want to hurl the book across the room. This may need further picking apart.

#48 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 06:02 PM:

Tim Walters@41: I sympathise with your view in general, but I don't think it is really 'litfic' which 'transcends genre' in this sense; it is just general fiction. Dan Brown writes stuff which has clear science-fictional elements, but is not sold as science fiction; that's not because there is anything literary about him; it's just because he's writing for a general audience, rather than the dedicated audience of science fiction readers.

I don't find anything surprising about this. There are books which deal with crime and mystery, but are not sold as Crime or Mystery: there are books which deal with romance, but are not sold as Romance: and there are books which deal with the otherworldly and the futuristic, but are not sold as Science Fiction and Fantasy. In each case this is because they are aimed at a general audience rather than a dedicated audience. Over and above this, some of these books have, or are thought to have, the distinctive qualities which make them 'literary', but that's not the sole cause of the separation.

By the way, if American bookshops have 'Literature' shelves, there seems to be a difference between American and Briths attitudes here. The bookshops I'm familiar with don't have 'Literature' shelves, or if they do they contain books about literature and classic texts with notes, not contemporary fiction. Current fiction with 'literary' qualites has to stand cheek by jowl with Jeffrey Archer, Helen Fielding, John Grisham et al. And I'm not entirely sure how you would make the separation - clearly Cormac McCarthy belongs on the Literature shelves and Dan Brown doesn't, but what about Jasper Fforde or Stephen Fry, to name a couple of other 'mainstream' authors with SF qualities?

#49 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 06:24 PM:

@ thomas #39: Not "mostly". Jorge Luis Borges was descended from Europeans ancestors (Spanish, Portuguese and English, to be precise), so he was indeed white. Note that the castillan word "criollo", in the context of the Spanish colonies in the Americas, doesn't mean the same thing as the english word "creole". It implies pure or nearly pure European ancestry.

#50 ::: alkali ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 06:28 PM:

FWIW, here is the nonfiction on the list:

1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
2. Dispatches, by Michael Herr
3. The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, by Studs Terkel
4. Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, by Hunter S. Thompson
5. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families, by James Agee
6. The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe
7. This Boy’s Life: A Memoir, by Tobias Wolff
8. What It Takes: The Way to the White House, by Richard Ben Cramer

("Nonfiction" here = material that at least purports to be nonfiction, therefore excluding romans a clef and fictionalized memoir.)

An observation: the list contains no books of poetry, and no plays. For better or for worse, poetry has fallen far enough outside of the mainstream that it would be easy to prepare a list like this without including poetry. The omission of plays is a little strange (one of many odd things about the list, to be sure).

#51 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 06:30 PM:

I'll toss in that there are a few authors who deserve the claim that they transcend genre. Bradbury and Vonnegut come to mind, I'm sure you can think of others.

#52 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 06:41 PM:

alkali @ #50: You missed A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee.

#53 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 07:36 PM:

"An unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of the greatest works of literature ever published"

... which contains nothing written before 1800 (and, I think, only Twain, Dostoyevski, and Melville before that);

... which contains not one serious piece of poetry

... and which manages to contain a number of second-best works by their authors. (Does anyone think that Master and Commander is O'Brien's best work? or that Dubliners is greater than Ulysses?)

I think I'll pass.

#54 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 07:46 PM:

Rikibeth @ 47: I ought to try Edith Wharton again. When I bounced off of House of Mirth, with the same reaction of wanting to shake Lily, I think it was a case of the literary bends

I like that idea of the literary bends. The closest description I was able to come up with for myself for that sort of feeling was 'literary indigestion', which may still be as true as the bends in my case, given that it developed after reading Moby Dick, To the Lighthouse and Portrait of a Lady consecutively for English 200. To this day I have bad memories of the three, although Coates' recent blog entry on Melville prompted me to buy a copy of Moby Dick in order to try it again soon. (Also, having read all of the Aubrey-Maturin novels and some of the Hornblower books since the Arts degree, I've probably developed more of a taste for ship-based novels since the Arts degree.)

The House of Mirth, unfortunately, is tied up with less than fond memories of my matriculation year, and may require much more than an enthusiastic Mr Coates to prompt me to look at it, and Edith Wharton in general for that matter, again :-( Oddly, Shakespeare was not affected by this. I've never examined why.

#55 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 07:48 PM:

Me @ 54: See that repetition of 'since the Arts degree'? You should have pressed the preview button just one more time, perhaps...

#56 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 08:35 PM:

This is like criticizing a list of Sportscenter's top movies for not including French films.

#57 ::: lydos ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 08:39 PM:

One could just as easily say that SF fans will move heaven and earth to impose their own definition of SF on everyone, and claim that anything with a bit of SF in it is SF in some sort of essential way.

Yes. But then, it cuts both ways. I have the opposite problem: I'll defend SF's capacity for social commentary as fiercely as the next enthusiast with a slight persecution complex, but when it comes to authors who make use of it at the expense of logic (have air and flesh no moisture, Mr Vonnegut? are there enough people to watch everyone, all the time, Mr Orwell? and is rewriting history really worth the effort?), I harbor a deep and ingrained suspicion that their true interest lies in Society (or possibly The Human Condition) and that they thus are not disciples of ~the one true SF~.

In my head, it's not really SF unless its premise is Isn't Weird Stuff Neat.

(Neil, that <sparkle> tag is precious! May I keep it?)

#58 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 09:54 PM:

Andrew M @ 48: I sympathise with your view in general, but I don't think it is really 'litfic' which 'transcends genre' in this sense; it is just general fiction.

Agreed, although I think of litfic as being similarly trope-agnostic. But as mentioned above, I'm not always sure what people mean by "litfic." My rough and ready definition of "literature" would be "books that are better the second time you read them," for what that's worth.

Current fiction with 'literary' qualites has to stand cheek by jowl with Jeffrey Archer, Helen Fielding, John Grisham et al.

Same here, I think. As least in stores that have a Fiction section rather than a Literature section, which is more common in my experience.

lydos @ 57: But to give it yet another rotation through the fourth dimension, when SF writers neglect the logic of "soft" subjects like psychology, sociology and even biology (dog-like group minds that reproduce European feudal society right down to bleeding as medical practice? Really, Mr. Vinge? Society cycling back to uncanny Hornblowerism... in space? Qrngu guebhtu snvyher gb ercebqhpr vf n fhcrepunetrq nqncgvir zhgngvba? Really, Messrs. Niven & Pournelle?)--not to mention giving themselves free passes for time-honored impossibilities like FTL travel and superhuman "competent" characters--I harbor a mild suspicion that not only is their premise Weird Stuff Is Neat, it's Weird Stuff Is Neat If You Don't Think About It Too Much And Don't Have To Deal With Those Pesky Mehums.

But it's only a mild suspicion. Usually it's just sloppiness and habit.

are there enough people to watch everyone, all the time, Mr Orwell? and is rewriting history really worth the effort?

I know it's only an example, but I've heard these complaints about 1984 before, and I don't buy them. It's pretty clear that the Party isn't surveilling everybody all the time, but rather they're doing it enough that people have to assume that they might be watched. The Stasi did a pretty good job at that. And is rewriting history worth it? It seemed to work for Stalin and seems to work for Kim Jong-Il, at least in the short term.

There may be some SF-published-as-SF from 1948 that scores as high on the Predict-o-Meter as 1984, but nothing's coming to mind.

#59 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:27 PM:

From very slightly later, I think there's as much that's come true in The Space Merchants as there is in 1984. But it doesn't get the literary attention....

#60 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:38 PM:

Tim, #58: Orwell did a fair job with the technology available to him. Given current technology as a starting point, I'm sure he would have postulated AIs doing the first level of watching, and kicking anything that triggered certain alert criteria up to the next level, which would be humans. Indeed, wasn't there a scare on Usenet about exactly that sort of thing back in the late 90s, which resulted in a bunch of people putting "terrorism trigger" keywords into their .sig files in order to overwhelm the monitoring system?

#61 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 10:51 PM:

Tim, 58: Honor Harrington is Horatio Nelson fanfic. So was Hornblower. I wouldn't use the Honor books as an example of anything but "obsessions sometimes lead writers in strange directions."

#62 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:04 PM:

From the very first chapter of 1984:

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live -- did live, from habit that became instinct -- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.
It says later that the proles -- who make up the bulk of the population -- don't have telescreens in their homes, and the Inner Party can turn theirs off for a while, so it's really just the members of the Outer Party who live with the constant fear of surveillance.

#63 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:09 PM:

Lee @60: I remember seeing x-NSA-fodder headers as early as the late 1980s on Usenet. Before then, I had no net access.

TexAnne @61: whereas the Aubrey-Maturin books are Cochrane fanfic? Or started out that way, at least.

#64 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:16 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 58: The Space Merchants

I'd buy that (but not for a quarter--wrong story).

But it doesn't get the literary attention....

Well, it doesn't have the literary virtues, either. It was a fix-up written in a tearing hurry, and it shows. Which is not to say I don't love it. And it was Kingsley Amis' favorite SF novel, IIRC.

TexAnne @ 61: I was thinking of The Mote In God's Eye, not Honor Harrington (which I've never read). I don't mind the absurdity of it; I just find it funny that writers who are scrupulous about orbital mechanics happily embrace a goofy theory of cyclical history, presumably because they just want to play Hornblower. The (spoileriffic) error in rot-13 is much more serious, since it undermines the whole premise of the novel.

#65 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:17 PM:

Agreed, although I think of litfic as being similarly trope-agnostic. But as mentioned above, I'm not always sure what people mean by "litfic."

Litfic may aspire to be literature, but it's just another goddam genre. It tends to thought more than action, distinctly less-than-heroic characters, and long descriptive passages. IME it's devoid of new ideas or serious social commentary, preferring to expound dully on the angsts of suburbia.

It's called 'litfic' because it's the ONLY genre that is privileged with being taken seriously by the literati of Akademe. You see, nothing can be serious literature if it's, you know, entertaining. It's also the only genre that people pretend isn't one, but that's just plain old garden-variety bullshit.

My rough and ready definition of "literature" would be "books that are better the second time you read them," for what that's worth.

Sounds like a pretty good start to me. That would mean that, for example, Dhalgren, The Lord of the Rings, and Cyteen all qualify as literature, which is fine by me.

#66 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:18 PM:

Avram @ 62: it's really just the members of the Outer Party who live with the constant fear of surveillance.

Of high-tech surveillance, that is. There's a whole culture of informing that I would expect to extend to the proles.

#67 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:25 PM:

There's a whole culture of informing that I would expect to extend to the proles.

"Proles and animals are free." So maybe not.

#68 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:29 PM:

Xopher @ 65: So, let's see: litfic has just a few tropes it uses over and over, is read only by the wrong sort of people, and if something is good, by definition it's not litfic.

Gee, that all sounds awfully familiar. I wonder where I've heard it before?

#69 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:35 PM:

As I recall, the Inner Party considers most of the proles too stupid to be a threat. I remember there being some mention of watching out for any proles of above-average intelligence, so there's some kind of surveillance; probably the Party sets up fake anti-Party groups as honeypots.

#70 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:41 PM:

Rikibeth, 63: Yes, of course. I give Jack and Stephen a pass because they're so entertaining...Nimitz can't make up for that unforgivable "Rob S. Pierre" line, or Honor's lack of an internal arc, or the lack of such immortal rejoinders as "You have debauched my sloth!" When I quit reading Honor, she hadn't learned a damn thing about life. For all O'Brian's faults, Jack and Stephen change a great deal over the course of the series.

Tim, 64: Really? I read Mote in college, after I'd memorized Hornblower in middle school,* and I didn't see any parallels beyond "it's a Navy! IN SPAAAACE!" Niven and Pournelle just don't know how to wallow in melancholy, if you ask me. Or perhaps I was distracted by the Watchmakers. They creeped me out.

*I did a 6th grade book report on Lt. Hornblower because it was the only one where you see him from the outside. We won't talk about how it took me another 20 years to figure out exactly how Captain Sawyer chanced to trip on the coaming.**
** hm, I think I've just figured out why nobody liked me in the 5th grade.

#71 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 11:51 PM:

TexAnne @ 70: I might be wrong about it being Hornblower specifically, but it's definitely 19th-century. There's a whole "neo-Victorian" sexual ethic to go with it. All IIRC.

#72 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:04 AM:

TexAnne: it was, in fact, the "debauched my sloth" line that Steven Brust used as bait when he praised the series to me in 1997, and started my addiction. It was the first bit of bait I used on my housemate, although she required more "listen to this!" passages before I finally convinced her to dive in. Jack and Stephen certainly DO learn things over the course of the novels.

I'm still in the middle of my second try at the Hornblower books - I bounced off of them originally without really analyzing why, and my guess now is that the dialogue isn't all that compelling, especially in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that Ioan Gruffudd and Jamie Bamber in gorgeous uniforms can do wonders for a story's appeal, and I confess to being hooked even-unto-fanfic on the movies. And yes, I know Archie exists for all of two sentences in the books and I won't find him there. I'll still try again.

With that in mind, CAPTAIN SAWYER TRIPPED, DAMMIT. He may have been ENTICED into falling by being encouraged to chase someone across an open hatchway... but he TRIPPED. La, la, la, can't hear you!

#73 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:04 AM:

Tim, 71: Yes, I remember that too. But the Victorian Navy was different from Nelson's Navy; he was at the end of the long 18th century more than the beginning of the 19th, if that makes sense and IM(semi-educated)O.

#74 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:15 AM:

IreneD Jorge Luis Borges was descended from Europeans ancestors (Spanish, Portuguese and English, to be precise), so he was indeed white.

Yes. It was a joke.

But I but he wouldn't have been considered 'white' by many of the other authors on the list.

#75 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:35 AM:

TexAnne @ 73: he was at the end of the long 18th century more than the beginning of the 19th, if that makes sense

It does, and I'm sure you're right. I think that when I read Mote, Hornblower was my only reference point for "old British Navy" so I made that connection. In fact, I'm not even sure if I've actually read any Hornblower, or have just picked up some of its aura.

#76 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:30 AM:

DanR @ #56, I agree. It's provoked a lively discussion, though, so I don't mind.

#77 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:50 AM:

Now, here's interesting.

There have been 57 authors cited by name or by work in this thread. 45 of them (79%) are male, 12 (21%) female.

Male
Stephen King (1)
Kurt Vonnegut (14)
Russell Hoban (23)
Ernst Hemingway (24)
Philip Roth (26)
Cormac Macarthy (31)
Christopher Moore (31)
Peter Watts (33)
Jorge Luis Borges (39)
Dashiel Hammett (40)
James M. Cain (40)
Patrick O'Brian (40)
Joseph Conrad (44)
Vladimir Nabokov (44)
Geoffrey Chaucer (47)
Dan Brown (48)
Jeffrey Archer (48)
John Grisham (48)
Jasper Fforde (48)
Stepen Fry (48)
Macolm X (50)
Michael Herr (50)
Studs Terkel (50)
Hunter S Thompson (50)
James Agee (50)
Tom Wolfe (50)
Tobias Wolff (50)
Richard Ben Cramer (50)
Ray Bradbury (51)
John McPhee (32)
Mark Twain (53)
Fyodor Dostoyevski (53)
Herman Melville (53)
James Joyce (53)
Henry James (54)
C.S. Forester (54)
William Shakespeare (54)
George Orwell (57)

Larry Niven (58)
Jerry Pournelle (58)
Frederik Pohl (59)
Cyril M. Kornbluth (59)
David Weber (61)
Samuel R Delaney (65)
JRR Tolkien (65)

Female
Edith Wharton (0)
Ayn Rand (12)
Flannery O'Connor (12)
Margaret Atwood (14)
Marguerite Henry (23)
Madeline L'Engle (23)
Ursula K LeGuin (23)
Marie de France (47)
Jane Austen (47)
Helen Fielding (48)
Virginia Woolf (54)
CJ Cherryh (65)

Some of that is that people were discussing the authors on the Esquire list. But in many cases, the gender disparity also showed up when we talked about genre vs non-genre. The majority of the authors cited to explore that difference (with the notable exception of Margaret Atwood) are male.

Just an observation.

#78 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:57 AM:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that mentioning David Weber in the same context at Patrick O'Brian is like comparing American Cheese to rocquefort. Weber can't write a character who doesn't sound like a C20 American; O'Brian creates an atmosphere which is both immersive and plausible [and, though it is unfair to say this in comparison to an SF author, astonishingly accurate against the known record of both naval and cultural histories.]

#79 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 06:16 AM:

@ thomas #74:

"But I bet [Borges] wouldn't have been considered 'white' by many of the other authors on the list."

Bwuh? If what you surmise is true, then these guys are/were living in their own rarefied bubble. I know I'm speaking from a European context, not a USian one, but equating "white" not with "of European descent" but with "W.A.S.P." strikes me as not only bigoted but downright ignorant. Sigh.

#80 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 06:27 AM:

Re litfic vs. science-fiction and other genres: I remember reading a comment by Lois McMaster Bujold, probably on a mailing list:

"mainstream fiction, looked at with the right squint, [is] the world's largest shared-universe series"

;-)

#81 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 07:42 AM:

Just a few days earlier, Coates discussed one of the books on that list of seventy-five.

#82 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:02 AM:

abi, 77: What are the numbers in parentheses?

#83 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:10 AM:

IreneD: Yup, 'white' means 'not Spanish'. Right down to the bubble tests-- you can be 'white, non-Hispanic' but not, when I was growing up, both. It was one of the weirder things when I visited Costa Rica. Our guide described himself as half-white, and had he been in Illinois, no one else would have called him that. It's like the US has an extra step of paleness that we can call White, so we don't have to acknowledge what a lot of the rest of the world calls White. Ridiculous, but race is a moving target.

#84 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:45 AM:

TexAnne, I think those are comment numbers.

#85 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:56 AM:

TexAnne @61: Tim, 58: Honor Harrington is Horatio Nelson fanfic. So was Hornblower.

It would probably be better to put that the other way around: Weber conceived of the Harrington stories as basically "Hornblower in space", so if you can read it as Nelson fanfic it is only so because Hornblower was too...

@82: What are the numbers in parentheses?

Having just checked up on a couple, it looks like the number of the comment where the author was first mentioned.

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:04 AM:

Tim, I'm not claiming science fiction is not a genre, and privileging it academically.

Litfic is another goddam genre, and it's not one to my taste. I diss it not because it's intrinsically bad, but because people act like it's the only "real" literature, which is bullshit.

#87 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:21 AM:

Also, I consider it immoral to buy books written by utter scumbags, particularly when they're still living. Updike, for one, was such a scumbag; but I don't buy (or read) SFF books written by scumbags, either, even ones that lots of other people think are great.

I'm sure everyone can think of examples; I won't name them here.

#88 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:23 AM:

Xopher @ 65, 86:

Litfic may aspire to be literature, but it's just another goddam genre. It tends to thought more than action, distinctly less-than-heroic characters, and long descriptive passages. IME it's devoid of new ideas or serious social commentary, preferring to expound dully on the angsts of suburbia.

Xopher, this is silly stuff.

Does For Whom The Bell Tolls lack in action or heroism? Does it angst on suburbia? Does it stint on social commentary?

I grant you the long descriptive passages, which happen to be beautiful.

If Hemingway is too far back for you, ask yourself the same questions of Jim Harrison's work.

If some particular writer or work gives you the pip, say so, but please, stop already with the overgeneralizations.

#89 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:32 AM:

Speaking of living scumbags, I present V S Naipaul, last heard from being rejected in a blind taste-test.

#90 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:04 AM:

It's an uphill job getting women writers recognized. When Mary started A Celebration of Women Writers in the early 1990s, the percentage of women writers represented in the then-small collection of online books was in the low-to-mid teens. (That's a large reason she started it.)

A number of years later, the curated collection of The Online Books Page is up to 23.4% of its entries by women, not far off abi's figure in #77. (There are some factors depressing the figure, including catalog entries with no personal authors, and entries where we don't know the author's sex for sure. On the other hand, we've been making an effort to include books by women, and books with multiple authors count in the percentage tally above if at least one of the authors is a woman. The percentage in my catalog has been climbing over time, but slowly.)

#91 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:04 AM:

John, again, you're confusing litfic with actual literature. (I'm not familiar with Jim Harrison. Not my genre.)

I'm talking about the sort of stuff that gets praised, today, by academic literary critics. Works of topic and quality equivalent to Jane Austen would be rejected by such people as "romance," not embraced. Jane Austen is literature, but not litfic.

Of course, the academic literary critics and their partisans deny all this. They claim that the genre they prefer is not a genre at all. They're bullshitting.

#92 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:06 AM:

The John referred to above is John A Arkansawyer, not John Mark Ockerbloom, who posted while I was writing my previous.

#93 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:07 AM:

Xopher: Please explain to me either (1) how Song of Solomon,The Edible Woman, Empire Falls, and Midnight's Children are in the same genre, or (2) how they're not literary fiction.

#94 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:14 AM:

Tim Walters, just checking to see how close or far apart we are: Do you agree that Dhalgren, The Lord of the Rings, and Cyteen qualify as literature? Any of them?

If not, can you name something in the SFF genre that does qualify by your "better the second time" standard? I think there will be some, and they're not in the genre of litfic, and are excluded from the "literary" canon. Counterexamples to this are also welcome.

I was over the top in my attack on litfic. It's not ALL that bad. It's just that its most vocal proponents laud it beyond all sense.

#95 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:20 AM:

Cross-post, Tim. I don't know. Maybe I'm just wrong.

#96 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:26 AM:

But I'm still interested in your answer to my question.

#97 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:41 AM:

Xopher @ 94: I haven't read Cyteen, but the others are definitely literature. And, as it happens, both have made strong inroads in academia, precisely what you say is impossible.

If not, can you name something in the SFF genre that does qualify by your "better the second time" standard?

Sure.

I think there will be some, and they're not in the genre of litfic, and are excluded from the "literary" canon.

It would be impossible to canonize every book that's better the second time; there are an awful lot of them. That's a minimum requirement for literature, not a claim that the book is immortal.

On that list, some are studied in academia, some probably could be if they were better known there, and some would be a tough sell, not being very literary. (Not everyone uses my rough and ready criterion, for some reason.)

#98 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:56 AM:

I actually took an English course in college called "Tolkien and the Romance-Epic Tradition," so I guess you're right about that one. If Dhalgren is being treated as literature in academia, then I am, as feared, just flat-out wrong.

There is that icky genre of suburban angst, though. I think it gets more praise than it deserves, but maybe that really is the classic attitude of the person who doesn't "get" a genre toward things in the genre.

I guess it's mostly that I'm angry about the treatment of e.g. Atwood, whose work is considered literature and therefore not science fiction, which really is just plain bullshit (yes, I know that she's stopped saying this herself, but she's not exactly going to cons either).

#99 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 11:01 AM:

Irene D @79--and yet the white = WASP meme was a very common one in 19th-century America. Even to the extent that it was applied to Irish immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s, to Italian immigrants later on, as well as to the Spanish and Portuguese, as well as Latin Americans of all backgrounds. Oh, and while the French were white people, they were not Good White People (like the English, the Scots, the Germans [the Protestants ones, anyway], and, for the most part, the Dutch and Scandinavians, and Americans descended from such). The historian Francis Parkman spent quite a bit of his time in the several volumes of his France in England in North America pointing out that while many French indivduals were good and worthy people, the entire nation was by nature frivolous, corrupt, inefficient and generally unworthy, and therefore Bound To Lose All in the struggle to control North America. A good bit of this is residual anti-Catholic prejudice left over from the Puritans who settled the New England states, but the worldview was there and it was widespread and it was strongly-held. The Know Nothing Party was dedicated to applying this sort of notion to national politics. (The character Daniel Day-Lewis plays in Gangs of New York was of that ilk.)

I don't think I need to go into the attitudes prevalent at the same time towards anyone from Asia or Africa (both quite large continents with extremely diverse ethnic groupings), as well as Pacific Islanders, aboriginal Australians, or American Indians.

This sort of extreme insular bigotry was not limited to the US at that time, however peculiar it looks to us now.

#100 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:16 PM:

I guess it's mostly that I'm angry about the treatment of e.g. Atwood, whose work is considered literature and therefore not science fiction, which really is just plain bullshit (yes, I know that she's stopped saying this herself, but she's not exactly going to cons either).

She's said some goofy things about SF, but I don't think anything I've read could be paraphrased as "literature, therefore not science fiction." Certainly I've heard her defending SF on the radio, and pointing out a bunch of beloved Canadian writers who wrote SF.

In any case, I'm not sure what that has to do with academia. AFAIK, Le Guin and Dick are taught as being both literature and SF. Hence The Norton Anthology of SF, etc.

It might just be my piece of the elephant, but my impression is that academics don't spend a lot of time worrying about what's literature and what isn't. They just study the authors they want to study. Of course, there's herd behavior and self-selection, so SF isn't as popular as in the culture at large, but it's there. (My friend who teaches creative writing, and is a moderately well-known poet, also happens to be a big ol' fan, and will be coming with me to Worldcon this year.)

There is that icky genre of suburban angst, though.

Is there? I mean, Updike could be described that way (but he was very good for quite a while), and I'm sure there are others, but I've heard a lot more complaints about "suburban angst novels" than I've seen suburban angst novels. Does Babbitt count? Garp?

#101 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:24 PM:

Tim Walters @ 100:

I've heard a lot more complaints about "suburban angst novels" than I've seen suburban angst novels. Does Babbitt count? Garp?

Madame Bovary? The Awakening? Growing Up In Tier 3000?

#102 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:30 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @ 101: Madame Bovary? The Awakening? Growing Up In Tier 3000?

I would so read that paper.

#103 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:38 PM:

Thomas @39: there aren't any women in his stories

Not at all true -- "Emma Zunz" comes immediately to mind and I'm quite sure it is not unique among JLB's works in having a female protagonist. Many stories have women as minor characters.

#104 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:40 PM:

Irene D. @ #79, here in the U.S., I often see questionnaires with the choices "White, Hispanic" and "White, non-Hispanic" as distinct. (Also "Black, Hispanic" and "Black, non-Hispanic".)

#105 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:43 PM:

Speaking of Atwood - who I have noticed has tried to avoid this of late in her own work - her classic textbook for CanLit is Survival, which I have griped about before (short precis: she's right, but she spends 6 pages stating her thesis, and 250 proving it, over and over again. Even the Pure Math people are saying "enough already, we believe you.") That particular genre of literature fits perfectly in Xopher's argument, although there is no suburbia to be found.

Small farming town, with people whose backyards are comment for everybody else; and a winter happens. During the winter, all the fermenting issues boil over, people leave their spouses, crimes from years ago come to light and the consequences of hiding them come back to roost. The winter ends (eventually) with a new equilibrium, and (for the most part), while everyone's worse for what happened, EVERYONE SURVIVES - and that's a Good Thing, or at least, the Best Thing that people are entitled to.

Starting with the fact that I am *definitely* a city person, not a small-town person, and going downhill from there, I hate the stuff; and because it's "Our literature", I've got to read a whole lot of it.

#106 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:46 PM:

Rikibeth @1: I don't claim to have exquisite literary taste, but of most of what I recognize on that list, I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it.

Steven Pinker on TED. Relevant comments toward the end of the video.

#107 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 12:58 PM:

Mycroft W. @ 105: who I have noticed has tried to avoid this of late in her own work

Or "of early," or "of middle." One thing I like about Atwood is that all of her books that I've read (The Edible Woman, Surfacing, Bodily Harm, Cat's Eye, and The Handmaid's Tale) are quite different from each other.

That particular genre of literature fits perfectly in Xopher's argument, although there is no suburbia to be found.

It does? And one book is a genre?

#108 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 01:21 PM:

Tim Walters @100:

It might just be my piece of the elephant, but my impression is that academics don't spend a lot of time worrying about what's literature and what isn't. They just study the authors they want to study.

I agree with pretty much all the points you're making in this thread, but I think this one depends on whether you're talking about literature departments or creative writing departments. In my (of course limited) experience, those who teach and study in creative writing programs tend to be much less comfortable around genre, perhaps because the field of study has grown so dramatically in the last decade or two that they're afraid of being seen as a frivolous fad. My MFA program was much more genre friendly than what I understand to be the norm (judging from stories I've heard from a whole bunch of other programs), and even so, the fannish ones of us tended to discuss our leanings quietly, and any non-mainstream work that showed up in workshop had a good chance of befuddling the workshop leader. ("But where would you publish a thing like this?") I still get irked when I remember one department party just before Harry Potter 7 came out, wherein a large group of people bragged at the top of their lungs about how they had no idea what this whole deal was about.

I've heard a lot more complaints about "suburban angst novels" than I've seen suburban angst novels.

Yeah, me too. They exist, certainly, but they don't comprise the genre. Nor should a suburban setting and middle-aged male protagonist cause a novel to be automatically classed as a "suburban angst novel" and dismissed as whiny tripe, any more than a novel with important female characters should be automatically classed as "chick lit" and dismissed as a trite confection that's probably about shoe shopping.

#109 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 01:44 PM:

JM @ 108: I think this one depends on whether you're talking about literature departments or creative writing departments.

Fair enough.

#110 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 01:58 PM:

I've spent a lot more time at home listening to the radio lately (because of being first unemployed and then underemployed), and I've heard a number of interviews with the authors of books that would appear (I must say appear since I haven't read them) to fit my genre-notion (along with some others that sounded more interesting).

One that I recall in particular was described as the author's "new novel about the deterioration of a marriage following the death of the couple's young son." Oy.

Granted, that's what it's "about." It could well have something more interesting to be, as LMB has put it, "really about," and it could be filled with gorgeous writing. But I still think a book needs something more to be "about" than that descriptive sentence above indicates (that would be a fine subplot, but as a main plot it seems awfully thin, not to mention depressing as hell*).

I'm not dissing those who think that sounds like just their cup of tea, but I can't imagine who they might be. I mean I literally cannot wrap my mind around the idea that someone could hear or read that description and immediately think "wow, I want to read that."

*And here another of my biases comes up. I don't want to read things that depress me. My own life is quite depressing enough. If I'm not going to watch Game of Thrones, which if nothing else did not strike me as dull, I'm certainly not going to read something that sounds depressing and boring.

#111 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 02:25 PM:

Xopher @110: I might read that book. I'm eternally fascinated by human interaction, especially human interaction under stress. Also, despite the description, that book might not actually end unhappily. In real life, an acquaintance's husband died suddenly when their daughter was about 5; the mother had never had a full-time job and for many months she and the little girl were just shattered. But over time she put her life back together. If her story was a novel, it would probably be billed as "a woman's struggle after the unexpected death of her husband," but ultimately it would be a life-affirming piece of work.

#112 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 02:32 PM:

Not one book. One textbook which, as its essence, argued the thesis that the key idea behind Canadian Literature is "survival".

And then spending 250 pages proving the thesis with works recognized as Canadian Literature.

An entire year (Grade 11 English) of reading these books - which, as I said, seem to appeal to the kinds of academicians whom "people" gripe about, for walling off "literature", and, as I said, have too many tropes that instantly turn me off for anything but the pinnacle of plots or characterizations to overcome - really made the mandatory two sections of the year (we did one Shakespeare play every year, and we did one month of public speaking emphasis) shine.

#113 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 02:32 PM:

Xopher @110: I wouldn't gravitate toward that plot summary either. But if someone recommended it to me or made me read it for a class, I might absolutely find that the couple's personalities and relationship were so right and real and rich that the small details of their lives became huge and important and socked me in the gut.

Meanwhile, I keep coming home from the library with urban fantasy books with super-cool premises that sound fascinating in summary, but turn out to concern a boring cipher in a leather jacket (perhaps she is a half-werewolf PI who doesn't play well with others and has a scrappily androgynous name, something like Riley Nevada) stalking through a series of tired situations with stilted dialogue. ("Mock me, do you, girl? Mark my words, Riley Nevada, you will live to curse the day you offended the king of the Eagle folk!")

Does this mean that urban fantasy sucks? Nah. It just can't all be Sunshine or Perfect Circle. Nor can all literary fiction be Empire Falls or Skippy Dies. Some of it is boring or self-indulgent or Fond Memories of Vagina. But plenty of it is lively and worthwhile.

#114 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 02:47 PM:

Border arguments about litfic and sf are tiresome and pointless: of course there are works that straddle the divide, works from one that employ themes and techniques from the other. That is just as irrelevant to the existence of the two genres as the fact that you can find any number of sf stories that are also murder mysteries is to the existence of sf or murder mysteries. The Demolished Man! Murder mysteries don't exist! Yes, there is overlap between litfic and every other genre ever. It's still a coherent, self-referential* tradition.

Genres are best described by a shared set of concerns, a shared set of tools, and a shared set of readers. Litfic has those things as surely as sf does. We can point to Atwood all we want, but she is an outlier, a rare connection. Someone who has read The Paladin of Souls is far, far more likely to have read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress than The Witches of Eastwick.

And the "sf has made significant inroads" argument really just makes the point that genre as genre is throughly excluded from academia--sf is fairly unusual in its integration into academia, and that is both relatively recent and very patchy. Imagine walking into an MFA program and saying you want to write romance, for instance. There is a systematic bias in academia towards certain writers, certain themes, certain literary approaches.

* This isn't a slam. It's a description of what makes genres genres.

#115 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 02:47 PM:

Mycroft W @ 112: Sorry I misunderstood your point.

JM @ 113: I just read Empire Falls last month, after putting it off for years because, hey, it's about an underachieving short-order cook in a crumbling Maine industrial town, and I have to be in the mood for that.

Turns out that it's plot-driven and funny as hell, with some great larger-than-life characters; and the protagonist comes through for his daughter when she really needs him, and makes at least a good start on turning his life around.

It might also have been fine if none of those things were the case. What a book is about is less important than how it's about it, to me (although, yes, Weird Things Are Neat).

So: "new novel about the deterioration of a marriage following the death of the couple's young son"? No response either way. Convince me that you can rock that subject, and I'll be interested.

#116 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 02:53 PM:

heresiarch @ 114: Would you mind taking a crack at my question @ 93? It seems to me that "shared set of readers" is the only criterion of your three that litfic meets, but I'm open to persuasion otherwise.

#117 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:08 PM:

JM, #113: So, to sum up, what we're really discussing here is Sturgeon's Law? :-)

#118 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:23 PM:

I remember reading a discussion somewhere—it may well have been here—which talked about the toolsets of each genre. For example, "litfic" has its own conventions and concerns which science fiction doesn't share. It's very much about the internal journey (at least, one hopes there's an internal journey), while science fiction is very much external, and the readers of each are going to expect certain tropes.

If I watch Doctor Who and there's an ambiguous statement about a certain character's state of being, I know that statement is going to be resolved in some mind-bending manner later on. If it were in litfic, it might be resolved through the protagonist suddenly gaining some insight of how he (usually he) thoroughly misunderstood the original situation, so therefore there was no ambiguity except in the protagonist's head.

It's very important to know which genre you're reading. The Time-Traveler's Wife is not, despite its title, something that follows science fiction patterns; the core of the novel is about the two characters in the relationship learning to cope with being out of order. And Life In a Science Fictional Universe drove me nuts because I kept feeling like "damn, there's got to be a pony in there somewhere," and there was, a bit, but oh man, it was not anywhere near my expectations. Not so much Fond Memories of Vagina as I Was a Dick to My Dad.

#119 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:30 PM:

To get back to the argument that this genre -- "Fond Memories of Vagina" and its ilk -- are what is acceptable in academia and *our* stuff isn't -- I don't know about that. But then I'm a librarian, not an English professor, and I go to conferences on fantasy and popular culture, where you can hear papers about ANYTHING from the lyrics of the Grateful Dead to the geopolitics of the James Bond films to Shakespeare's knowledge of Plato and it's all equally good, and my friends in academia are generally of a similar bent. Maybe I just self-select colleagues who don't turn their noses up at anything. I suppose it's possible that if you did a study of the subject matter of the star professors -- named chairs, big travel budgets, the go-to guy for interviews and that sort of thing -- perhaps they would skew towards those who embraced the "litfic" canon. It's a safe thing to do if you're ambitious.

#120 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:46 PM:

Tim Walters #58:

I don't see why the rot13'd text w.r.t. _The Mote in God's Eye_ is implausible. I didn't take _Mote_'s meaning to be that this trait is an evolutionary winner always and everywhere, just that within the Mote, it had worked out that way for the sentient and semi-sentient Motie species and the societies they build. I assume it's an engineered-in trait, since the Motie castes are all engineered, and since some castes (Zrqvngbef naq Xrrcref) ner fgrevyr.

Vg'f pyrne gung gur Zbgvrf pbhyq ratvarre arj irefvbaf bs gurve pnfgrf gung qvqa'g unir guvf genvg, naq va snpg, guvf zhfg unir unccrarq znal gvzrf[1]. Ohg bapr lbh'ir tbg n cynarg naq fbyne flfgrz shyy bs Zbgvrf jvgu gur ercebqhpr-be-qvr genvg, nyy gung'f arrqrq sbe gur genvg gb fgvpx nebhaq va gur Zbgr flfgrz vf sbe vg gb or uneq sbe gur aba-ercebqhpr-be-qvr pnfgrf gb gnxr onpx bire sebz gur ercebqhpr-be-qvr pnfgrf.

Gur ercebqhpr-be-qvr genvg znxrf lbh cbbere naq tvirf lbh n ybj fgnaqneq bs yvivat, vg yrnqf lbh gb bppnfvbany Znyguhfvna qvfnfgref naq pbyyncfrf, ohg vg nyfb znxrf lbh rkgerzryl rkcnafvbavfg--lbh rvgure unir gb rkcnaq, qvr, be phyy lbhe bja xvqf/gevor zrzoref/jungrire.

Vzntvar gur jubyr flfgrz vf shyy bs ercebqhpr-be-qvr Zbgvrf. Lbhe pbzzhavgl onfrq va na nfgrebvq zbqvsvrf vgfrys gb trg evq bs guvf genvg. Abj, lbh jvyy unir n zhpu avpre yvsr guna lbhe arvtuobef. Lbh znl rira rkcnaq lbhe greevgbel jura lbhe arvtuobef pbyyncfr, gubhtu lbh qba'g ernyyl *unir* gb, naq svtugvat vf zhpu yrff nccrnyvat jura lbh nera'g onfvpnyyl ybbxvat sbe fbzr jnl gb phyy lbhe rkprff Jneevbef naq Ratvarref naq Znfgref. Vg frrzf irel cynhfvoyr gb zr gung lbh jvyy crefvfg sbe znal trarengvbaf, ohg riraghnyyl trg hayhpxl rabhtu gvzrf gb or jvcrq bhg--vg'f yvxr fbzr inevnag bs gur tnzoyre'f ehva.

[1] Uhzna fpvragvfgf, zhpu yrff vagryyvtrag guna Zbgvrf, znantrq vg va n trarengvba, ng bar jryy-shaqrq vafgvghgr, jvgu bayl guerr yvivat Zbgvrf nf fnzcyrf cyhf jungrire ovbybtvpny qngn jnf oebhtug onpx sebz gur Zbgr rkcrqvgvba.

#121 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:47 PM:

IreneD @49 and @80, when you say Borges "was indeed white", you are falling into the trap of thinking that racial categories are based on rationally-evaluated scientific evidence. The world is full of people who are "indeed white" by one set of criteria, while "indeed not white" by another.

The claim that Borges is obviously non-white because of his Spanish ancestry is bigoted and ignorant, because it's based in the notion that southern Europeans are of lesser status than northern Europeans. The claim that Borges is obviously white because of his European ancestry is also bigoted and ignorant, because it's based in the notion that "whiteness" is a high-status category associated with Europe, and the non-European people of the world are of lower status. (There's an irony here that I'm sure Borges himself would have appreciated.)

Objectively, one can say of Borges that he would be considered white by some people, and not by others. But the claim that he (or any other person) is definitely and objectively a member of one particular race imparts to racial categorization a degree of objective accuracy that it does not possess.

#122 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 03:58 PM:

B Dubin #118:

This is definitely true for SF. Imagine trying to read _A Deepness in the Sky_ with no SF tools or background knowledge and assumptions!

I think there's also a difference in readers' goals. I like books that immerse me in a new, different, interestingly weird world that I can understand and make sense of. I can get that from Bujold or Jordan or Austen or O'Brien or Turtledove or Rice, though the worlds involved and their rules are quite different. Some of the worlds actually existed once, in some more-or-less realistically conveyed form.

I suspect that many readers just flat don't find that interesting. They're not looking for a new world to be immersed in, and if you make them immerse themselves in that new world, they'll find that annoying and distracting rather than fun.

#123 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 04:14 PM:

albatross @ 120: I don't have the book to hand, but my recollection is that it's explicitly stated that gur zhgngvba nebfr orsber fragvrapr, naq pbairlrq ba vgf erpvcvragf n uhtr ercebqhpgvir nqinagntr. Ohg bs pbhefr, n aba-fragvrag orvat vf nyernql ercebqhpvat nf snfg nf vg pna jvguva vgf fcrpvrf' fgengrtl; gur zhgngvba whfg zrnaf gung vs lbh snvy lbh qba'g yvir gb gel nabgure qnl.

Rira qvfertneqvat gung, lbhe fpranevb qrcraqf ba qlvat Zbgvrf bhg-pbzcrgvat aba-qlvat Zbgvrf va beqre gb ohvyq hc n ubzbtrarbhf trar cbby jvguva n tvira fbpvrgl. Ohg gung'f rknpgyl jung jbhyqa'g unccra, V guvax. Srznyrf jvgubhg gur zhgngvba jbhyq or uvtuyl cevmrq. Birecbchyngrq snzvyvrf jbhyq erfbeg gb vasnagvpvqr, nf uhznaf qb jvgu engure yrff cebibpngvba.

#124 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 04:21 PM:

B. Durbin @ 118: [Litfic is] very much about the internal journey (at least, one hopes there's an internal journey),

I don't think that's true. White Noise,The Dead Father, The Ice-Shirt, and The Gold Bug Variations (off the top of my head) aren't any more about that than a typical SF novel is. Of course, in both cases, the characters change, but they're "about" the external events in the same way that an SF novel might be.

while science fiction is very much external

This is mostly true, but being external isn't enough to make something SF; it has to have SF stuff in it, which one can define well enough to get non-edge cases. There's no equivalent "litfic stuff" that I'm aware of.

Obviously, there's something that litfic novels share, or we wouldn't have the concept. It doesn't look genre-shaped to me, though.

#125 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 04:23 PM:

albatross @ 122: I suspect that many readers just flat don't find that interesting. They're not looking for a new world to be immersed in, and if you make them immerse themselves in that new world, they'll find that annoying and distracting rather than fun.

That may be true, but that readership doesn't overlap with litfic readership very well, given the popularity of Marquez, Rushdie and Faulkner.

#126 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 04:49 PM:

heresiarch writes: "genre as genre is thoroughly excluded from academia".

Maybe it's because I, like Janet Brennan Croft, work in a library, but I observe academics diving into genre all the time. But the academics I hear from are literature profs, not creative writing or MFA instructors; JM may well be right that there's a big difference in the respective cultures. (And it's also worth noting that the interests of "academia" as a whole are not the same as the interests of the New York Times Book Review, or other elite but not particularly academic publications.)

A lot of the genres being studied are not current popular ones. They can be genres like Anglo-American Victorian religious fiction, or French courtly love poetry, or abolitionist narratives of the formerly enslaved. Or 20th (and 21st) century SF. In each case, I see academics writing both about the particular readings, and the conventions and the themes typical to the genres in question.

Is this something others notice as absent in academia? Or am I referring to something different from what others have in mind?

#127 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 05:15 PM:

Tim #125:

Fair enough. I'm not trying to take any part in the Genre wars, since I don't really know enough to have an opinion. I'm just pointing out something I've noticed that seems like a defining feature of many books I like, and which tracks imperfectly with SF, fantasy, alternative history, horror, and in different ways with historical fiction, books written far away in time, place, or worldview, nonfiction and fiction books set in interestingly weird places (think John McPhee), etc.

#128 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 06:15 PM:

albatross @ 127: a defining feature of many books I like

Me too! One reason I get a bit carried away in this kind of discussion is that I think SF fans who think of litfic as dreary, mundane tales about their neighbors are missing out on some heady, immersively strange experiences akin to what they like in SF. Weird Stuff Is Neat, and Yoknapatawpha County is some very Weird Stuff.

#129 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 07:12 PM:

I don't think of Faulkner as litfic.

I think of Faulkner as literature.

Faulkner IS what litfic only has pretensions to.

#130 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 07:27 PM:

Lee @117: It did occur to me as I hit Post that my comment could have been exactly two words long, but by then it was too late. :)

#131 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 07:42 PM:

Tim Walters @ 116: "Would you mind taking a crack at my question @ 93? It seems to me that "shared set of readers" is the only criterion of your three that litfic meets, but I'm open to persuasion otherwise."

Certainly. Since you seemed convinced of the last category, I'll focus on the first two.

Shared set of concerns: litfic is often* concerned with the experience of mundane reality, the here-and-now everyday; this tendency is at its worst is evident in the middle-aged writer writes about middle-aged writer stuff throughly skewered earlier in this thread, but is as poor a synecdoche for litfic as OMGrocketships! is for sf. Litfic often centers around the experience of failure and loss, of mediocrity and ennui, and of coming to terms with all that: structurally, this is most apparent in the narrative Mycroft W and B. Durbin describe, where the climax is often a shift in the protagonist's internal perception more than a change in the story's reality. Litfic often aims to illuminate our own internal lives rather than the nature of reality or alternate ways of being.

Shared set of tools: Litfic emphasizes the mechanics of prose--it values experimentation and creativity in terms of style.** As such, techniques like stream of consciousness narrative, meticulous description, and playing with tense and perspective are all central to litfic in a way they really aren't to sf. (Likewise, tricks of worldbuilding and incluing are central to sf prose.) Litfic's vocabulary of emotional description and attention to fine nuances of mood and personality is quite refined.

The point isn't that these are bad things or that they are incompatible with sf--quite to the contrary, I think they can and ought to be juxtaposed with sf tropes. The point is that contrary to the argument frequently put forth by its partisans, litfic is not synonymous with good. It values certain qualities, and other genres value others.

* I'd like to ask that people not take this as a challenge to find counter-examples. It won't be hard, and proves little: if you feel it's a poor characterization of the field/genre as a whole then fair enough, but naming one or two titles isn't evidence either way.

** It's worth noting that the sf that first and most dramatically broke into academia was also the most experimental in prose and style.

#132 ::: HArai ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 07:49 PM:

Xopher#98: Here's a link to the webpage of a tenure-track professor who is teaching Tolkien as literature. My university didn't have a similar course, but they certainly exist.

#133 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 07:59 PM:

I really want to underline something John Mark Ockerbloom wrote@126:

(And it's also worth noting that the interests of "academia" as a whole are not the same as the interests of the New York Times Book Review, or other elite but not particularly academic publications.)

I have a friend who's an English literature professor, and he will gladly rant at a moment's notice about the tunnel vision he keeps running into in non-academic "high-brow" communities, where people really don't want to hear about the range of things academicians like himself find worthy of study, or why he and his colleagues find those things worthy.

In the 10-15 years he's been playing his trade, he's had far more problems getting approval and support for coursework on science fiction and fantasy from the non-academic authorities in the hierarchy than from any of his colleagues. This matches what I can see in the accounts of others in the field. In literature, at least, those with the firmest sense of what can't be deserving of scholarly attention are those who are not themselves doing the scholarship.


#134 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:09 PM:

Xopher @ 129: That's really no different from "if it's good, it's not SF." I can't buy it.

heresiarch @ 131: I'd like to ask that people not take this as a challenge to find counter-examples.

OK, but... your description doesn't match most of the literary fiction I read (although it matches some). Maybe you could give a few examples of the kind of book you're talking about, and some evidence that they're more prevalent than I think?

#135 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:12 PM:

heresiarch @ 131: It's worth noting that the sf that first and most dramatically broke into academia was also the most experimental in prose and style.

I forgot to address this, which also doesn't match my experience at all. When I think of "academically acceptable SF," the first names that come to mind are Le Guin and Dick, the first not experimental in any way, the second not in either prose or style. Ballard, sure, but he came later IIRC.

#136 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:24 PM:

Possibly relevant: I remember an article linked from here (I think) complaining that Booker Prize winners are always mopey and pessimistic. Reading the article, it was clear that the writer actually meant that Booker Prize winners are always mopey and pessimistic, except for all the ones that aren't.

And I'll just add that a book that matches your description quite well, 1982 Janine by Alasdair Gray, is one of my all-time favorites. If I'm wrong about how common books like that are, it's not because I'm avoiding them.

#137 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 08:51 PM:

JSTOR hits for:

Asimov: 2,725
Atwood: 14,114
Austen: 23,144
Borges: 16,091
(Ray) Bradbury: 4,008
Cherryh: 81
(Samuel) Delany: 2,113
Le Guin: 3,081
(Flannery) O'Connor: 3,974
Proust: 21,073
(Joanna) Russ: 1,301
Tolkien: 2,828
Updike: 4,785
Vonnegut: 3,160
Wharton: 39,998
Woolf: 26,843

But no, there's no systematic discrimination against genre in academia. Wharton is objectively 500 times more worth writing about than Cherryh.

Method: The search string was ((LASTNAME) NOT au:(LASTNAME)), with first name added to the initial string if a glance at the first page of results showed a lot of noise. Selected at semi-random from the list abi complied @ 77, plus Russ because she was on the mind.

#138 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:04 PM:

HArai @132, He's only one of many! (And he will be at Mythcon in Albuquerque in July.) Most of my pre-tenure publications were on Tolkien as well. Tolkien is almost a safe choice, really, because you can disguise it as part of a course on medieval literature, which is Respectable. (For those who might be interested, my friend Leslie Donovan is editing a book in the MLA Approaches to Teaching series on teaching Tolkien. Once you've got a book about you in this series, you are definitely Respectable.)

#139 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:08 PM:

But no, there's no systematic discrimination against genre in academia. Wharton is objectively 500 times more worth writing about than Cherryh.

Um... what? Of course writers of century-old acknowledged classics are going to outscore contemporary work.

Much more interesting are the comparisons among contemporaries, with the genre figures doing not much worse than Updike. That's considerably better than I would have guessed.

And low numbers for Cherryh (whose work I know very little of) don't prove systematic discrimination against her. For that, you would need to show that some academics wanted to write about Cherryh, but felt like they couldn't. More likely, she just hasn't appealed to non-specialists.

#140 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:08 PM:

That's really no different from "if it's good, it's not SF."

OK, whatever. You're right. You win.

#141 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:17 PM:

Xopher @ 129: That's not how I use the term--I would comfortably describe Faulkner as litfic. It's just good litfic. Well, some Faulkner.

Bruce Baugh @ 133: I think that makes a lot of sense--I would expect that scholars and writers of sf are probably much more widely-read and open to cross-pollination than the average sf fan. Why would litfic fandom be any different?

Tim Walters @ 134: "Maybe you could give a few examples of the kind of book you're talking about, and some evidence that they're more prevalent than I think?"

I'll not italicize, it would drive me crazy. The Blind Assassin, The Robber Bride, As I Lay Dying, The World According to Garp, The Witches of Eastwick, Wonderboys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Burmese Days, In A Free State, Lolita, Slaughterhouse Five, and any number of short stories from English literature back in high school. I'll note that there are several books I love on that list.

@ 135: I was thinking of Russ and Delany. But Le Guin and experimental--what about Always Coming Home? "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas"? If she didn't invent it she's certainly the foremost champion of exposition as narrative, which I would very much characterize as experimental.

FWIW, the string ((K. Dick) NOT au:(Dick) NOT (Melville)) yields 30,593 hits on JSTOR--though the top results are overwhelmingly from Science Fiction Studies.

#142 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:28 PM:

heresiarch @ 141: Of those, I've As I Lay Dying, Garp, Lolita, and Slaughterhouse-Five. The only one of those that I would say strongly matches your description of litfic is Garp. Nor do I see what makes these works particularly central or defining; one could just as easily pick A Fable, Pale Fire, and Cat's Cradle (I haven't read any other Irving books), and lose all resemblance to your description completely.

I'll accept some of LeGuin's work as experimental, but The Left Hand of Darkness is what got her the gig, I think.

#143 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 09:29 PM:

Late to the discussion, but would anyone here agree that Thorne Smith, or at least Topper (haven't read the others) is *both* suburban angst and SF, or at least Weird Fiction (also screwball comedy)?

#144 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:04 PM:

I've read maybe 2/3s of the books on the list and what strikes me more than anything else is how snarky-smarmy most of the side-comments in the slideshow are.

It reminds me of people who said you had to read "Tobacco Road" but were careful to dog-ear the pages that were semi-porn so you couldn't miss them.

After all, a great many of the books on the list deserve to be there. On the other hand, maybe more men should read Austen or Wharton or Russ or Morrison, and Cosmopolitan should recommend the Esquire list to women...

#145 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:05 PM:

Tim Walters @135 -- Dick is significantly earlier than Ballard for both novels and short stories; Le Guin is close to contemporaneous (they were both being published at the same time in the early 60s in FANTASTIC, for example). In terms of books, Ballard falls clearly between Dick and Le Guin (in a temporal sense). And from the point of view of anyone who isn't looking at this as a race -- they were all contemporaries, with most of their writing taking place in the same years.

#146 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:18 PM:

I meant that Ballard's academic acceptance came later, not his writing.

#147 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:28 PM:

Xopher @129:

"Faulkner IS what litfic only has pretensions to."

This is exactly it. Each section in the bookstore has giants and gnomes. The giants share a genre with the gnomes just as you might share a meadow with the field mice.

#148 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2011, 10:48 PM:

I'd argue that Ballard's literary acceptance came before Dick's, myself. Don't have citations to hand, but the early writings on Dick were basically by fans hiding as academics. Ballard was getting noticed around the time of Terminal Beach, which is similar to Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle; Dick isn't noticed academically until several years later, with his breakthrough book for academia being Ubik. Man in the High Castle wasn't a success for academia until significantly after it was published. Le Guin begins to be noticed academically not with Left Hand, but the next major book The Dispossessed; at least, that's the way I remember things.

#149 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:12 AM:

The first piece of litfic-like stuff I ever managed to enjoy reading was Zadie Smith's _White Teeth_. It was strange (experimenting with style, as others have said above), but her worldbuilding is actually complex and compelling, instead of just assuming "Ok, we're in our world, you fill in the blanks, I'm going to talk about something else."

I found a lot of my SF-reader toolkit useful, since she also throws you in the deep end in the middle of things with little explanation, and jumps you between multiple protagonist-threads while you are left to do the work of noticing how they are converging upon each other and similar stories.

This is highly distinctive, for me, from Atwood's _Catseye_, which (to the level I remember it now, over a decade later) I picked up and started to try to read, only to find the entire first chapter to be entirely in-head narration by someone standing on a bridge looking at water hating her life and considering suicide -- when I'd been given exactly zilch reason to care, and the author wasn't exactly helping me find one. I got to the end of the chapter, said, "Fine, so jump," and put the book back on the library shelf.

#150 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:12 AM:

In my creative writhing master's program at Uni (Thank you, I saw the typo. Creative, isn't it?) we had to meet to discuss and "peer review" the progress of our writing projects.

One of these was a novel in which all the characters turned out to be the same person, and no, it wasn't "All You Zombies". Not by half. No, this was all in his head.

One was a novel of character where the viewpoint character was severely autistic. Um... difficult. The author explained proudly that it demanded much from the reader.

One was a version of the plot where the protagonist does something innocent that turns out to be awful, cannot forgive himself, and spends the rest of the novel explaining why, over and over.

One was an exploration of exactly the same scene - a courtroom conversation - from (I think) eight different viewpoints. Sixty thousand words. It defied convention by not having a resolution, because there is no resolution.

One was a demonstration that any attempt at communication is useless. I don't remember much about that one, because I had pretty much fallen asleep by that time.

And there was mine, which was about what would happen if twin sisters invented the modern conventional submarine in 1875.

Guess which one was thought to have the unbelievable and unrealistic premise?

Sorry. Don't get me started. I know YMMV. Mine was as above.

#151 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:13 AM:

The first piece of litfic-like stuff I ever managed to enjoy reading was Zadie Smith's _White Teeth_. It was strange (experimenting with style, as others have said above), but her worldbuilding is actually complex and compelling, instead of just assuming "Ok, we're in our world, you fill in the blanks, I'm going to talk about something else."

I found a lot of my SF-reader toolkit useful, since she also throws you in the deep end in the middle of things with little explanation, and jumps you between multiple protagonist-threads while you are left to do the work of noticing how they are converging upon each other and similar stories.

This is highly distinctive, for me, from Atwood's _Catseye_, which (to the level I remember it now, over a decade later) I picked up and started to try to read, only to find the entire first chapter to be entirely in-head narration by someone standing on a bridge looking at water hating her life and considering suicide -- when I'd been given exactly zilch reason to care, and the author wasn't exactly helping me find one. I got to the end of the chapter, said, "Fine, so jump," and put the book back on the library shelf.

#152 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:14 AM:

Interesting. My double-post (149/151) was caused by getting the following error message upon my attempt to post, and then (as instructed) hitting 'post' again:

Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:

Publish failed: Renaming tempfile '/home/pnh/public_html/makinglight/archives/013031.html.new' failed: Renaming '/home/pnh/public_html/makinglight/archives/013031.html.new' to '/home/pnh/public_html/makinglight/archives/013031.html' failed: No such file or directory

Please correct the error in the form below, then press POST to post your comment.

#153 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:20 AM:

Xopher, I agree that there's an overrated genre of post-1950 middle-class U.S. suburban woe fiction, but I don't think the excess of attention to it is, at least at present, driven by "academia"—the press is a much bigger factor. I've only met a couple of English profs anywhere who indicated to me that they were interested in distinguishing "genre fiction" from "literature." Obviously older generations had more genre snobbery, and there are plenty of scholars who have yet to learn that SF isn't just Dick, Le Guin, Tiptree, Gibson, and Butler. But I just don't see the stigma that I've heard there used to be.

I should note that I work in an English department and that it may be an outlier, because our highest-paid professor not only knows Dhalgren but wrote it.

#154 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:03 AM:

Dave Luckett@150: Lewis Carroll got to that typo more than a century ago. Did you do creative reeling to go along with the creative writhing?

#155 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:04 AM:

Tom Whitmore @ 148: You may be right. I'm not sure how one would check such things.

#156 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:22 AM:

David @154, John Barth reports that students in the Johns Hopkins dept of Writing, Speech and Drama (now Writing Seminars), when they were suffering through Finnegans Wake, styled their program "Writhing, Screech, and Trauma."

#157 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:55 AM:

I've long since come to the conclusion that, while there can be a huge amount of cultural context which can be used to understand a work, there has to be a balance.

Maybe a list such as this is part of the context, but if there are no women, how can that context be complete.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author with a new book is in need of a reader.

#158 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:47 AM:

So, if I were to try Faulkner again, is there one in particular I should start with? I suspect he's another author ruined for me by being assigned reading. I can't even remember the title of the one I hated; I remember the recurring phrases "Cassie smelled like trees" and "the smell of honeysuckle all mixed up."

It wasn't that I minded decoding unconventional prose structures to extract a narrative, so much; at the time, I was reading Philip K. Dick on my own initiative (okay, what I was really doing, in retrospect, was opening all the boxes marked "Philip K. Dick" and shaking them, hoping some Ridley Scott would fall out, and being consistently disappointed, but finding some other interesting things along the way) - it was that, once I'd done the decoding, I couldn't see why I ought to give a damn about the characters. Are there more sympathetic ones in Faulkner's other books?

#159 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 08:21 AM:

158:

Rikibeth --you might want to try some of his short fiction before bearing down on a novel.

#160 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 08:40 AM:

@156:

At my school it was a cottage industry to rename the Core Curriculum humanities and social science survey courses, which all had names like "Power, Identity and Resistance" or "Human Being and Citizen."

"Self, Culture and Society" was considered one of the harder courses, and so it quickly became "Self-Torture and Anxiety."

#161 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 11:33 AM:

Rikibeth@158--The book you bounced off of was The Sound and the Fury, (the title riffs off of Macbeth's soliloquy, since the intial narrator is Benjy Compson, a man with severe mental disabilties). People nowadays talk mostly about Faulkner writing about the South, and fail to mention what an experimentalist he was; this novel uses multiple POV, multiple narrators, and stream-of-consciousness. Although it's a great work of literature, I don't think it's a good introduction to Faulkner's work, as a lot of people bounce off the experimental features. As I Lay Dying has a similar sort of split POV/narration.

My own favorite Absalom, Absalom! is simpler in structure. Flags in the Dust (originally published in a shorter version as Sartoris, is Faulkner's take on The Lost Generation, with a twist of Old South. The older characters in that book appear as their much younger, Civil War-era selves in The Unvanquished. Go Down, Moses is a novel made of a series of discrete stories involving the same people over a long period. Some of them also show up in Intruder in the Dust which has some elements in common with To Kill a Mockingbird. Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun involve a young woman named Temple Drake. The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion involve the memorable Snopes family, described by one of their number, Montgomery Ward Snopes, as every member striving to make the world recognize him as a son of a bitch's son of a bitch. The Reivers is Faulkner's last novel published in his lifetime; it is much lighter (and much slighter) than most of his work.


One of Faulkner's major themes is How does one, as a Southerner in the modern era, come to terms with the poisonous legacy of the Old South? Young Quentin Compson, in Absalom, Absalom! spends most of his time onstage wrestling with this problem, as does the rest of the family in The Sound and the Fury. Go Down, Moses also addresses this, with a different set of characters, although one of the component stories Pantaloon in Black is mostly about something else altogether. He's interested in other things as well, of course.

Yoknapatawpha County, although it is based on Faulkner's home Lafayette County, is one of the great imagined places in fiction; he had stories to tell, and he built a place to tell them in, which is both like and unlike the place that inspired it.

There are others I haven't mentioned; the list at Wikipedia I linked to has links that give a short outline of most of these; it also lists a lot of his short stores, without similar links for most of them. A Rose for Emily is one of the more famous short stories.

#162 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 11:41 AM:

@158, @159: A Faulkner short story to try is "A Rose For Emily", which is a genre piece (horror).

The book Rikibeth is thinking of is "The Sound and the Fury".

#163 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 12:29 PM:

Tim Walters @ 139: "Of course writers of century-old acknowledged classics are going to outscore contemporary work."

Why? Because they've been around longer, accumulating articles? Then let's narrow it down to articles on Wharton published since 1976, when Cherryh's first book came out: 21,654. But that's unfair--obviously scholarship would lag publication--let's bump the date up a decade, to allow time for critical percolation. Wharton articles between 1986 and now: 16,602. But that's not long enough? How about since 1996: 9,836. So I suppose Wharton is only somewhere between 250 and 100 times more worth writing about than Cherryh.

And I think you're missing the strong bias in my list towards the sf writers most likely to fit within litfic convention. Hits for McMaster Bujold: 18. For Connie Willis: 43.

(And "acknowledged classic"? Acknowledged by whom? A classic in what tradition? The legitimacy of these claims is what this entire discussion is about.)

#164 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 12:34 PM:

Realized this morning that I encountered a real-life FMOV scenario many years ago, when I was modelling for an artist in his sixties – he told me one day that he’d been visiting an old friend, who’d spent most of the conversation reminiscing about all the women he’d slept with in his life – a total of some eighty or so individuals. Late that night, my artist received a panicked phone call from his friend – he’d done the count again and now he could only recall fifty of his partners. My artist tried to explain to me how disturbing it would be to lose thirty people and a large chunk of one’s life in a matter of hours, but I, having grown up in the AIDS era, was too boggled by his friend’s history to really take anything in. In retrospect, I think I may also have been less worried than he and his friend about the lost memories – having an extensive but capricious recall myself, I probably figured his lovers would all pop back into his mind once he calmed down and stopped trying to force it.

#166 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:12 PM:

heresiarch #163: Power-law distributions aren't fair... they just happen.

Those what we're seeing any time an "established canon" comes up -- some of the works, and not necessarily the best ones, "caught on" and spread through the literary ecosystem.

There are also survival thresholds for any given time period. Names like Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh have mostly fallen by the wayside now, but I know they were popular -- I get to shelve them at my used-book store. The store owner is elderly enough, and well-read enough, that for those guys and a few others such as D.H. Lawrence, we actually keep multiple copies of their titles, especially when there's multiple editions or Modern Library versions. That's pretty tough on me as a shelver -- even those compact Modern Library editions are tough to get onto shelves that already have books wedged into the spaces above other books! (Don't get me started about those oversized bricks from Clancy, both Pattersons, Baldacci, etc. ad nauseum!)

#167 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:35 PM:

heresiarch @ 163: Why? Because they've been around longer, accumulating articles?

No, because fewer academics study contemporary work than older work. IME.

And I think you're missing the strong bias in my list towards the sf writers most likely to fit within litfic convention.

No, you're circularly defining "fits within litfic convention" as "the academy is interested in it," and back around. The idea that there's some preexisting literary convention that Asimov and Tolkien (or even Delany and Dick) all fit within, but that the three you list don't, makes no sense to me at all.

I suspect the inverse is true: Cherryh, Bujold, and Willis are successful among fans because they do the kind of thing fans are predisposed to like. The only one I've read is Willis (aside from one Cherryh book thirty years ago that I don't remember anything about), and I can't see any merit in her writing at all. But she's an outstanding Hugo toastmistress, seems like a really fun person, and works right at the center of fan taste.

And "acknowledged classic"? Acknowledged by whom?

Um, Ta-Nehisi Coates? Readers in general? Certainly not just the academy. (I haven't read her, myself, although this discussion has re-piqued my interest.) But sure, it's one of those things that "everybody knows" that deserves questioning. Are you questioning it? Is she overrated?

The legitimacy of these claims is what this entire discussion is about.

It is? I think most academics would be surprised to find out they were participating in some kind of contest. As I said upthread, they study what they want to study. If you think Willis is understudied, go out and study her. No one's stopping you. If you write an interesting paper about her, maybe other people will check her out, and if they get interested, they'll write papers too.

Why one should care about academic study numbers, when SF already does very well in attracting readers to its canon, I don't know. A fifty-year-old Hugo Winner is a lot more likely to be in print than a fifty-year-old Pulitzer prize winner, I think, and that's much more of a legitimacy victory than anything academia can offer.

#169 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:40 PM:

David Harmon @ 186: Names like Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh have mostly fallen by the wayside now, but I know they were popular

I've read (and enjoyed) both quite recently myself. So thanks for shelving them!

#170 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:41 PM:

Re scholarship: There's also the "you go first" effect. Once an author HAS been written about, he or is is more likely to be written about again. There's a kind of critical mass point after which it's self-sustaining and you see eventually get to the point where critics are commenting on what other critics said about what still other critics said. And you won't see the author written about by undergrads (or generally assigned by professors) until there is a fair amount of easily accessible critical material, because of all the assignments that start out with "prepare an annotated bibliography of 10 sources about your topic."

#171 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 01:55 PM:

I'd also be interested to see numbers for Disch and Crowley. Both seem to me to have more litficitude than Delany or Dick or even Le Guin, but I bet they're noticeably less studied.

#172 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:01 PM:

The only one I've read is Willis (aside from one Cherryh book thirty years ago that I don't remember anything about), and I can't see any merit in her writing at all.

If you say this not having read The Doomsday Book, go read it. If you say this and you have read TDB...then either I don't understand what you mean by 'merit', or we're just living on different taste planets.

#173 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:10 PM:

Xopher @ 172: It was The Doomsday Book that put me off. There was a decent novella in there struggling to get out, but it was padded out to 400 or so pages with re-explanations, re-explanations of re-explanations, and annoying subplots.

But conciseness is more important to me than to most readers, I think. ("Concise" doesn't mean "short," of course.)

#174 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:12 PM:

All this has me flashing back to those first-principles moments I would have in my teaching days. At the risk of being self-indulgent:

If a human made or devised it at least in part for its affect-effect, it's art.

If it's art made of words, it's literature.

Capitalizing these terms does not change their referents but only signals attempts to turn them into honorifics rather than descriptors.

Books (or songs or quartets or paintings or buildings or whatever) that reward repeated rounds of experiencing are (incrementally) good (or, in Minnesota, pretty good or not-too-bad) art. At some point, given enough experiencers voting with their feet/nervous systems (preferably over generations and across historical-period boundaries), it is considered great art.

Nearly all other commentary that diverges from these principles (and is not value-agnostically explanatory/analytical/descriptive) is marketing, gossip, parlor games, child-rearing, propaganda, anthropology, neurophysiology, or some other meta-discussion.

Genres and other categorical devices do not operate in art the same way they do in, say, botany.

I was in grad school just when SF/F was getting into the canon, at least for grad students, via Mark Hillegas's seminars, and I taught some of the first pop-lit-based undergrad English courses on our campus around 1968-69. Tom Whitmore's recollections of the wedge SF/F works matches mine--I got heartily weary of conferences where 60% of the papers were on Le Guin, Dick, or Tolkien (with a dash of Lewis). Now, in my dotage, I look at the IFCA program and grouse, "Who cares about Stephenie Meyers or J.K. Rowling or zombie-vampire-mashups?"

#175 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:18 PM:

Arrgh. ICFA. I'll cop to an agreement error elsewhere as well.

I did mention "dotage," didn't I?

#176 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:30 PM:

David Harmon (and everyone else): If you've not read Evelyn Waugh's novels, you are really missing out; they're virtually the definition of dark humor (excluding Brideshead Revisited). Think of him as something like the Hunter Thompson of the '20s. I picked one of his novels up (either Vile Bodies or Decline and Fall) to check it out in college in my teens; I'm still re-reading them.

"Time like an ever-rolling stream/bears all her sons away/Poor Prendy 'ollered fit to kill/For nearly 'alf an hour"

#177 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:31 PM:

Russell Letson @ 174: There's no more problem with "literature" meaning both "all text written for effect" and "all text worthy of close scrutiny" than there is with "friend" meaning both "close companion" and "person linked to me on Facebook." Context makes the difference clear in both cases.

#178 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:34 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 176: the Waugh I read was Put Out More Flags, which is a very sharp satire of the "Phony War" published in 1942. I'm surprised somebody didn't declare a paper shortage.

Also, his wife was named Evelyn as well. And his last name is a Monty Python sound effect. What's not to like?

#179 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:42 PM:

Tim Walters @167: "A fifty-year-old Hugo Winner is a lot more likely to be in print than a fifty-year-old Pulitzer prize winner, I think,"

You may well, but using availability in an in-print edition from Amazon as a guideline, you would be wrong. It's about the same for both groups.

Methodology: I used the lists for Hugo: Best Novel (1953--first year--to 1970) and Pulitzer: Best Fiction (they branched out to shorter works sometime in the 1940s, and as a result, some awards have been given to story collections) 1950 to 1970, and then searched on Amazon. Used books and remainders do not count; collector editions, e-editions and audio editions only do, which helps the Hugos a little. Those who are interested enough to take the time may apply the same technique to the Edgars, the Stokers, and the World Fantasy Awards, plus whatever else you can think up in the way of a genre-specific award. I did check the Nebulas for 1965-1970; they overlap very strongly with the Hugos for the related period.

#180 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:49 PM:

Rikibeth, I bounced off every novel of Faulkner's I ever read. And I'm a person who can usually get interested in anything, at least a little bit, if I'm assigned to read it. Light in August was the only assigned book that I never finished. I thought I'd finished it, but when I got into class there was a discussion of plot points I'd never heard of -- so I flipped through the book and found there were at least 50 pages I simply hadn't read. I guess I just stopped from sheer exhaustion and convinced myself I'd finished.

A friend of mine absolutely adored The Sound and the Fury, so I tried it, but I could not get that one either.

I was able to sort of get into a couple of his short stories ("That Evening Sun" and "A Rose for Emily", though I still don't really understand "That Evening Sun"). But his novels completely lost me. I felt like I was reading some kind of code. I couldn't understand what was going on or what anything or anyone meant. Seemingly random images were emphasized so much that I could tell they were supposed to symbolize something, but I was completely mystified about what. I saw a few other people not only understanding it, but enjoying it, and felt like I must be from a different planet.

It suddenly hit me that some people always felt this way in English class. That was a valuable realization. But it's all I got out of reading Faulkner.

#181 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 02:58 PM:

Faulkner's The Hamlet was the book that really sold me on the value of keeping a reading diary, fwiw. I love that book and Absalom, Absalom foremost among the Faulkner books I've read. I can understand how they would not be everyone's cuppa tea; but for me, I can spend hours immersed in those texts and consider it time well spent.

#182 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:00 PM:

At 89:27, the male/female ratio of authors cited by name or work on this thread is now 77%/23%.

Additional men since comment 77:
John Updike (87)
Jim Harrison (88)
VS Naipaul (89)
Richard Russo (93)
Salman Rushdie (93)
Philip K Dick (100)
John Irving (100)
Gustave Flaubert (101)
Felx C Gotschalk (101)
Sean Stewart (113)
Paul Murray (113)
Alfred Bester (114)
Robert A Heinlein (114)
Charles Yu (118)
Vernor Vinge (122)
Robert Jordan (122)
Harry Turtledove (122)
Don DeLillo (124)
Donald Barthelme (124)
William T. Vollmann(124)
Richard Powers (124)
Gabriel García Marquéz (125)
William Faulkner (125)
Alasdair Gray (136)
Isaac Asimov (137)
Ray Bradbury (137)
Samuel Delany (137)
Marcel Proust (137)
Michael Chabon (141)
George Orwell (141)
James Thorne Smith (143)
Erskine Caldwell (144)
JG Ballard (145)
William Gibson (153)
Lewis Carroll (154)
Somerset Maugham(166)
Evelyn Waugh (166)
DH Lawrence (166)
Tom Clancy (166)
James Patterson (166)
Richard North Patterson (166)
David Baldacci (166)
Thomas Disch (171)
John Crowley (171)

Additional women since comment 77:
Toni Morrison (93)
Kate Chopin (101)
JK Rowling (108)
Robin McKinley (113)
Lois McMaster Bujold (114)
Audrey Niffenegger (118)
Anne Rice (122)
Joanna Russ (137)
Virginia Woolf (137)
Zadie Smith (149)
James Tiptree (153)
Octavia Butler (153)
Harper Lee (161)
Connie Willis (163)
Stephane Meyers (174)

Does this seem strange to anyone else? That here we are in a thread about female authors, and a bunch of us, careful, aware, well-read us, fall so thoroughly back to majority-male citation habits when we discuss genre vs litfic or academe's attitude toward SF&F?

#183 ::: Steve C ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:05 PM:

Not that it actually means anything, but what's the gender ratio in SFWA?

#184 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:08 PM:

Tim Walters @177: "Literature" can also mean a small stack of promotional leaflets at a trade show, so of course context governs meaning. But in discussions about art-made-of-words, it can be useful to separate honorifics from descriptors, and parts those discussions often equivocate on honorific and descriptive senses, causing all manner of distraction. It happens with poetry a good bit--"X is pleasant enough as verse, but Y is real poetry." (Of course, the use of "real" is the tell in that case.) So when I was teaching, I tried to keep the evaluative and descriptive terms distinct and clearly marked. The notion I used to encounter, that in teaching, say, Hammett and Fraser and Heinlein I was not teaching "literature" (with or without the implied upper-case L), was rooted in just such an insistence on the honorific rather than descriptive sense of that term.

#185 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:25 PM:

Tim Walters #167:

"I suspect the inverse is true: Cherryh, Bujold, and Willis are successful among fans because they do the kind of thing fans are predisposed to like. The only one I've read is Willis (aside from one Cherryh book thirty years ago that I don't remember anything about), and I can't see any merit in her writing at all. But she's an outstanding Hugo toastmistress, seems like a really fun person, and works right at the center of fan taste."

Hello? You've just admitted that you didn't know much about what these three particular authors write, yet it doesn't stop you from making assumptions on why they seem to get so much fan acclaim. If you *had* read more than one book among Bujold, Cherryh and Willis (and a long time ago, at that), you might have discerned that these are three very different writers with original voices and talents. (And even, in the case of Bujold and especially Cherryh, with more than one set of arrows to her quiver. In the case of Bujold, compare and contrast the Vorkosigan universe with the world of Chalion, for instance. Or try Cherryh's Cyteen or the Foreigner series, and compare it to her Morgaine saga or to Faery in Shadow. If one knows anything about writing, it's impossible not to be a little bit in awe of such craft.)

But what they do have in common is being very good at storytelling, world-building and characterization, having plenty of imagination and knowing how to establish (and manipulate) atmosphere. Also, all three have a more or less steady output, which helps build fidelity in the fan-base!

@ Xopher:

Re The Doomsday Book, I happen to disagree on Tim's assessment, but I can understand why he would read the novel that way. I know people who just can't finish TDB, others who worship the book. Myself, I like it a lot more than the more whimsical stories in the vein of To Say Nothing of the Dog, but I'd put Passage above all the rest of Willis's production. Other people fall in love with TSNOTD but are bored by Passage. Go figure.

#186 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:27 PM:

abi:

I suppose it depends some on what the ratio of relatively well-known male/female writers is, either in SF/fantasy/etc. or in the broader category of literature. FWIW, having just read your post, I chose my examples to gender-balance. (This required changing Gaiman to Rice for my horror example, since I was already using Bujold and Austen as examples of different genres.)

#187 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:30 PM:

Russell Letson @ 184: But surely the response to "what you're studying doesn't repay study" should be "does too!" rather than "the value of study is not my criterion for studying something." In other words, the "honorific"* use is appropriate in that case.

*I dispute this word; I think a work can have plenty of value without repaying study, or at least critical study. I love roller-coaster rides, and some books that have similar aesthetic effects, but I don't particularly want to go to take a class on those subjects. (A roller-coaster designer, or thriller writer, would of course need to learn appropriate techniques.)

fidelio @ 179: I stand corrected. But I think "about the same" is enough to save my point.

#188 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:35 PM:

@ abi #182:

Interesting, but is this a only a thread about female writers, or even litfic vs genre in general?

After all, it started about a certain extremely gender-skewed list in a certain male-oriented magazine, about the assumptions made (voluntarily or not) by said list, and about the blog post written by one particular male author about it. That the commentators here devote an important amount of space to discuss the male authors on the list in probably not to be surprising.

#189 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:37 PM:

re 182: I'm puzzled as to the origins of an expectation that the numbers should be less unbalanced. I'm not keeping track of which of the men listed are in the Esquire list and which are not (the one woman in their list was discussed) but if all of the authors they listed were discussed (because IIRC correctly they had one book per author) then the discrepancy would be even greater than it is now. I'm actually curious as to which authors haven't been discussed, but at the moment I don't have the time to work that out.

#190 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:39 PM:

If you *had* read more than one book among Bujold, Cherryh and Willis (and a long time ago, at that)

To be fair, he said he'd only read one book by Cherryh, and that too long ago to remember. He read at least two, then, since he said he read TDB, and probably has read more of Willis.

But I have to admit, Tim, I find your proclaiming Willis to be both a) meritless and b) at the center of fan taste rather insulting.

#191 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 03:53 PM:

IreneD @ 185: You've just admitted that you didn't know much about what these three particular authors write, yet it doesn't stop you from making assumptions on why they seem to get so much fan acclaim.

I said "I suspect," and made it pretty clear where I was drawing from direct knowledge and where I wasn't. I haven't read Bujold, but I've heard her work described in a fair amount of detail, and had an academic tell me what he didn't like about it. I remember being unimpressed by the Cherryh book I read; I'm not sure how much that memory is worth, but it's not zero. Finally, you're assuming that The Doomsday Book is the only Willis I've read, which I didn't say, and which is not the case.

In this kind of conversation, it would be hard for heresiarch and I to negotiate our way to authors we both had read. So instead I'm open about what I know and when I'm just guessing.

#192 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 04:07 PM:

Xopher @ 190: But I have to admit, Tim, I find your proclaiming Willis to be both a) meritless and b) at the center of fan taste rather insulting.

Well, she wins skidillions of Hugos (isn't she the most so honored?), and I think she sucks. I can't change either of those things. I meant to put the most generous interpretation on them, which is that her subject matter triumphs over her poor technique. I don't think of this as an insult to her fans, because there are many writers that do the same for me (e.g. Dick), and of course "poor technique" is subjective.

But I shouldn't have said "merit"--that's much too sweeping. Sorry about that.

#193 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 04:08 PM:

Caroline @180--Faulkner was writing about very different times and places--either the rural South of the mid-nineteenth century, or of the early twentieth. People who have little familiarity with that world will often find cause to spin their wheels fairly quickly (and so will those that do!); when someone writes about so specific a place and time it can be hard to get a grip on it unless the writer exerts themselves to be particularly lucid, which Faulkner (as you have noticed) does not. As for symbolism and terms, dead mules aside (and thank you so much, Teresa, and by extension, Dr. Doyle), I think any writer who's strongly inclined in that direction can benefit from being read in connection with some sort of readers' guide, if using such will make it easier for the reader to get into the swim of things. Sometimes it helps to have a knife handy to cut the cotton bale open, so to speak...

His experimental approaches to narrative add to the problem, of course.

#194 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 04:26 PM:

One thing Connie Willis has in common with Michael Crichton (besides them each having written quite a few very financially-successful books) is that I find them to (a) have a very distinct prose style/set of habits and tics, which (b) I like in small doses, but strikes me as utterly toxic in too great a concentration.

For both of them (to me), it centers around the way they handle pacing and the structure of their plots. The Willises I like have a sort of madcap freewheeling nature, not unlike some Pratchett; but when she 'overdoes it' by my standards I can't finish the damn things because they're so scattershot and frenetic I can't even read them.

Also, the blog post of mine with the second-highest number of comments on it in its first week of publication was one in which I basically said, "Hrm. This is odd. i've hit a Willis I'm not entirely fond of, because A B C D." The amount of ... not vituperative, because my friendbase is nicer than that, but I will go so far as to call it vehement. The amount of vehement disagreement with my opinion (and citation of repeated Things That Are Ossim!! about the book I was mildly criticizing) was utterly staggering, and instant.

So some people adore her.

The ones of hers I like, I enjoy reading. The best (to me) of Bujold, on the other hand, teaches me to be a better human being.

Which isn't to say that Bujold's necessarily the better WRITER, just that I like her writing much more, and reread it. I've only ever reread one Willis (to see if it made more sense the second time knowing where the plot was going -- it didn't), and I didn't really get anything new out of it on the second go-round.

I may not be who she's aiming at. This is surely true of me and some other authors.

#195 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 04:29 PM:

me @182:

I see I duplicated three names between the two lists (Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Samuel R Delaney), which makes the ratio 86:27, or 76%.

generally:

Excluding the 75 names—in other words, looking at the names we have brought into the conversation that were not there previously, we have a ratio of 54:27, or exactly 2:1. This matches the number of cases where people have cited two male and one female author for a given topic.

That's what I'm interested in here. If we are arguing with the perception that only male authors are [interesting/worth discussing/relevant except in gender studies contexts], how are we doing in putting that into practice?

(Note that long discussions of a single author don't skew the statistics.)

#196 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 04:43 PM:

Ah, it appears that the definition of 'merit' is, in fact, what's in question here.

I'm sorry too, for the times I've been dismissive and/or unreasonable in this thread.

#197 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 04:51 PM:

abi, how does our ratio compare with the ratio of male to female published authors out there? In other words, are we disproportionately inclined to discuss male authors?

(NB: I am well aware that lots of women's writing doesn't get published because of gender prejudice, even today. But the number of UNpublished writers of either sex is impossible to determine accurately.)

#198 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 04:52 PM:

Elliott, I understand what you say about Willis and Bujold pretty well. It's pretty close to how I feel.
('Frenetic' is a good adjective. Wish I'd thought of it.)

#199 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 04:57 PM:

C Wingate @189:
I'm puzzled as to the origins of an expectation that the numbers should be less unbalanced. I'm not keeping track of which of the men listed are in the Esquire list and which are not (the one woman in their list was discussed) but if all of the authors they listed were discussed (because IIRC correctly they had one book per author) then the discrepancy would be even greater than it is now. I'm actually curious as to which authors haven't been discussed, but at the moment I don't have the time to work that out.

Well, I figured we were discussing who was off the list, and why, and whether that was a good idea more than who was on it.

So if we discuss the remaining members of the seventy-five, and they are all giants who bestride the landscape of literature, is it OK that Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, Isabelle Allende, Annie Dillard, or Edith Wharton aren't on it?

If you're curious, the names that were not discussed were:

Charles Bukowski
Cormac McCarthy
Daniel Woodrell
Edward P. Jones
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Frederick Exley
George Saunders
Graham Greene
Haruki Murakami
Henry Miller
Jack Kerouac
Jack London
James Dickey
James Ellroy
James Salter
Jim Harrison
John Cheever
John Kennedy Toole
John Le Carré
John Steinbeck
Ken Kesey
Kent Haruf
Kingsley Amis
Larry McMurtry
Leo Tolstoy
Malcolm Lowry
Mark Helprin
Martin Amis
Michael Shaara
Norman Mailer
Ralph Ellison
Raymond Carver
Richard Ford
Richard Wright
Richard Yates
Robert Penn Warren
Robert Stone
Russell Banks
Saul Bellow
Sherwood Anderson
Stephen King
Stephen Wright
Tim O'Brien
W. C. Heinz
Wallace Stegner
William Maxwell
William Styron

#200 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 05:04 PM:

Xopher @197:
how does our ratio compare with the ratio of male to female published authors out there? In other words, are we disproportionately inclined to discuss male authors?

I have absolutely zero idea in the world. Is it more OK, or less so if the proportions match?

I know the ratio of humans on the planet, and I suspect just about all of 'em tell stories. Which of those stories are any good? obRussell, that's a difficult matter to determine, even leaving the matter of publication aside.

#201 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 05:06 PM:

One entertaining sideline about this: the reality w.r.t. literature is that there is so much good stuff out there that nobody can read more than a tiny fraction. So, on one side, dumb criteria for not reading books (refusing to read anything with a female writer, or anything whose ISBN ends with an even number) doesn't keep you from having a lifetime's worth of good things to read. And on the other side, while the even-ISBN selection criterion just means there are some books you would have liked that you'll never pick up, the no girls allowed criterion means there are some experiences and insights you will never see reflected at first hand by a writer.

#202 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 05:38 PM:

abi #199:

"So if we discuss the remaining members of the seventy-five, and they are all giants who bestride the landscape of literature"

But did the commentators here make the assumption that the 75 authors of Esquire's list were all giants? That was not my impression. (I may be mistaken, of course.)

Also, people often like to talk about the undeserved literary status of some authors ;-)

#203 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 05:43 PM:

abi:

The current NYT bestseller fiction list shows 35 titles. Of those, by my quick count, 15 were written by women, 18 by men, one by a man/woman team, and one by someone whose gender I couldn't determine by name. So in terms of current popular literature, this doesn't seem consistent with a world where twice as many men as women write memorable books. The ratio is close to 1:1.

Another easy to get at dataset is the list of Hugo winners--I get 51 books written by women, and 221 by men, though that's skewed somewhat by the first couple decades, when there weren't many women in the list at all. It seems to have stabilized at a ratio of something around 20-25 percent women, which would give a ratio of about 3:1 if we were randomly talking about Hugo winners in the last couple decades, and 4:1 if we were talking about Hugo winners ever.

By way of comparison, among Pulitzer prizewinners in fiction, I got 17 women and 37 men running back to 1950, so if our discussions reflected this ratio, we'd see about a 2:1 ratio.

This is all error-prone by-hand counting, so don't trust it to be precise. And I'm not sure what it says, except that there are more prominent male than female authors, and that this ratio is a little more skewed in SF, and probably the skew is getting smaller(both in SF and in the big wide world) over time.

#204 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 05:45 PM:

IreneD @202
But did the commentators here make the assumption that the 75 authors of Esquire's list were all giants? That was not my impression.

They didn't. But if they were? Wouldn't matter.

That was my point. I don't know that I made it very clearly. I find myself somewhat vexed and rather substantially sunburned, both of which interfere with my ability to express things very well.

#205 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 05:50 PM:

Also, people often like to talk about the undeserved literary status of some authors

True. If I say "John Updike and Philip Roth both suck and no one should ever read them, much less study them in class; whereas Jane Austen is a gem beyond compare, a pearl without price, and anyone who hasn't read her is an undereducated moron," that's discussing them in a 2:1 ratio.

#206 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 05:53 PM:

Ooh! abi! You brought up Isabel Allende! She was a notable exception to the notion that being assigned reading spoils novels - I loved The House of the Spirits, which I was assigned in high school, and read new works by her as they were released.

As for Charlotte Bronte, though, we were assigned Jane Eyre in the same class, and I hated it. I just re-read it last month - since the recent film was so good - to see if I could appreciate it more now. I was doing just fine until the Fortuneteller Incident, and then I nearly rolled my eyes right out of my head. GOOD choice on the filmmaker's part to leave that out. My annoyance with it is more nuanced and specific than it was at fifteen, but it's at heart unchanged - Rochester is an ass.

It did make me all the more inclined to appreciate Wide Sargasso Sea later, though.

#207 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 05:53 PM:

@ Tim Walters #191:

About your having read TDB, I stand corrected. Sorry I conflated it from reading Xopher's post immediately after yours.

However, regarding the main issue, I restate that if you make sweeping judgments about authors after stating that you haven't read much of them but rely mainly on hearsay, or if you lump three different authors together because they share the superficial characteristics of being a) female b) loved by lots of fans, don't be surprised if the answers lack empathy.

I readily admit that there are authors that don't seem like attractive reading for me, and that I'm not motivated to devote time to try and read them (sometimes even for trivial reasons, like they write military space operas and I'm not mad about the genre). But then, I'm not going to say things like "author X's reputation is undeserved" on such a subjective basis, either.

#208 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:04 PM:

Is it more OK, or less so if the proportions match?

Well, more, since it's exactly what you'd get if we discussed writers entirely on their merits, without any gender prejudice on our part at all. Can't claim that, of course; and it's probably not appropriate to discuss men and women equally when the discussion is primarily about the lack of inclusion of women in a) a reprehensibly sexist magazine's list and/or b) the "literary canon." But it would be even worse to discuss men more than their proportions in published works in such a context!

I know the ratio of humans on the planet, and I suspect just about all of 'em tell stories. Which of those stories are any good? obRussell, that's a difficult matter to determine, even leaving the matter of publication aside.

Well, I know some people who can't make a story out of anything, from whom you can only get FACTS by asking direct questions. But that's beside the point.

My point is that unless we know people personally, if their stories are unpublished (even on the net) we don't know about them and thus cannot discuss their merits or lack thereof.

#209 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:06 PM:

Xopher @205
If I say "John Updike and Philip Roth both suck and no one should ever read them, much less study them in class; whereas Jane Austen is a gem beyond compare, a pearl without price, and anyone who hasn't read her is an undereducated moron," that's discussing them in a 2:1 ratio.

Yea, verily, and if on first read of the thread I had come away with the overwhelming impression that that was the character of the discussion, I probably would not have put the time into analyzing the data.

But what I saw was a lot of, "and by the way, genre work is also omitted, for instance [male author], [male author], and [female author]". Or simply "for instance, [male author]".

It's our old friend the unmarked state again. As soon as we are testing for the variable of genre, there's an impulse not to let all those messy gender elements get in the way*. Particularly in a genre that was, for so long, substantially male-dominated (vide albatross @203).

And of course, we can't discuss a woman-dominated genre, because the most common example of that is neatly pre-deprecated for our convenience.

-----
* It reminds me of the story that breast cancer trials in the late 70's and early 80's were conducted primarily on men because the menstrual cycle would interfere with the results. (That's not entirely accurate; the actual issue was the risk of pregnancy and damage to the fetus from untested drugs.)

#210 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:07 PM:

Hmm. On the subject of litfic vs genre, I'm surprised nobody brought up the Brontë sisters yet. Didn't Charlotte, Emily and Anne, as teenagers, begin by writing stories set in imaginary kingdoms, as much as practice novels as for their own amusement?

#211 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:09 PM:

me @200:

Russ, as in Joanna, not Russell, duh.

#212 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:14 PM:

Ah! I see now.

But once again: if we select an author of quality from the SFF canon with no gender bias at all, we're more likely to come up with a male author, because it HAS been male-dominated. That's bad, but it's not OUR bad.

Again, of course, I'm speaking in the context where the discussion has moved on from gender-exclusion to other kinds of exclusion. And given the basic topic of this thread, it may be appropriate to watch the gender bias even so.

#213 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:34 PM:

abi @209: "And, of course, we can't discuss a woman-dominated genre, because the most common example of that is neatly pre-deprecated for our convenience."

Indeed. And yet I contend that "A Civil Contract" has as much to say to men about the human condition as does "Lonesome Dove," if they could just get past the Icky Girl Cooties. The Esquire list was certainly guilty of genre tokenism, and it's no great surprise which genre they left out.

My best friend and I have recently discovered a need to consider the undefined backstory of a certain secondary character in a historical fiction, as the few textual clues contain some assumptions that aren't entirely straightforward, when you examine them. My friend doesn't touch historical romances (or Jane Austen for that matter), so she was surprised at the facility with which I spun plausible explanations to tie the clues together. I said, "You may scoff at my romances, but when you get right down to it, at their core they're about people coping with harsh economic realities. The dresses and the dancing? That's just the decoration. If the author gets the economics wrong, I wind up tossing the book against the wall for being implausible."

I do know some straight men who read and enjoy Georgette Heyer and will admit it, but they do seem like outliers.

#214 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:40 PM:

Xopher @212:
But once again: if we select an author of quality from the SFF canon with no gender bias at all, we're more likely to come up with a male author, because it HAS been male-dominated. That's bad, but it's not OUR bad.

I'm sure the authors of the Esquire article were pretty much on the same page as you there.

Again, of course, I'm speaking in the context where the discussion has moved on from gender-exclusion to other kinds of exclusion.

I guess my contention is that it hasn't. It's just moved from word to deed.

And given the basic topic of this thread, it may be appropriate to watch the gender bias even so.

Ya think?

#215 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:44 PM:

Abi, did I mention that I liked The Time Traveler's Wife but was rather surprised that I bothered to finish the Yu? :)

—I know for a fact that the only reason that Anne Rice was shelved in Literature instead of Horror at my Borders is that her readers liked to buy her backlist in hardback, and there wasn't room to shelve that in Horror.

—Is Winter's Tale the only novel that Mark Helprin has written? It's the only one I've ever seen cited on his byline—he's a columnist. Winter's Tale is that weird fantasy offshoot called "magical realism", though I think it would do quite well palling along with urban fantasy stuff.

—I rather like Jane Eyre, but then I have a thing for neglected orphan stories. Not quite sure why. But I've taken several stabs at Wuthering Heights and can't get into it. Incidentally, Charlotte Bronte thought that Jane Austen was a surpassingly boring writer.

—I love marketing differences. Somehow, I managed to score a copy of Frankenstein that wasn't packaged as a classic. Instead, it's the most trope-filled modern pulp cover imaginable, right down to the bit on the front— "It's alive! It's alive! OH GOD, IT'S ALIVE!"

I had to keep it.

#216 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:48 PM:

Rikibeth @213:
I contend that "A Civil Contract" has as much to say to men about the human condition as does "Lonesome Dove," if they could just get past the Icky Girl Cooties.

A Civil Contract taught me a hell of a lot more about how to live my life than pretty much any officially blessed literature that I've run across. I'm coming up on 18 years married now, partly because my pseudo-grandfather gave me that book when I was 14 and impressionable about things like the nature of marriage*.

The complete disconnect between the historical fiction for the boys and the historical fiction set in the same period for the girls was kind of the point of the opening of the latest Open Thread.

(Hey, Xopher, while we're on the subject, did you finish Frederica? What did you think?)

-----
* Irony alert: he did it because he was trying to wean me off of SF. It wasn't ladylike enough for him.

#217 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 06:55 PM:

Incidentally, I see from Boing Boing that Jeff VanderMeer has a nice new column in the New York Times Book Book Review on various recent SF books. For what it's worth, 3 by women, 1 by a man.

#218 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:01 PM:

IreneD @ 207: "I suspect the inverse is true: Cherryh, Bujold, and Willis are successful among fans because they do the kind of thing fans are predisposed to like." is not a sweeping judgment.

you lump three different authors together because they share the superficial characteristics of being a) female

I didn't lump them together; heresiarch did. What evidence you think you have for their femaleness being the cause I can't imagine.

If heresiarch's examples had been Joan Vinge, C.L. Moore, and Ellen Kushner--three writers I like a lot--my response would have been the same (but with more confidence). If they had been Vernor Vinge, Poul Anderson, and John Myers Myers (ditto)? Still the same.

I am completely failing to see why saying that a writer might be of more interest to SF fandom than to generalist literary academics is either insulting or controversial.

#219 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:07 PM:

B. Durbin @215, the neglected-orphan part of Jane Eyre was fine! I have a soft spot for that trope as well, ever since reading A Little Princess in second grade. It was asking me to believe that anyone could fall in love with Mr. Rochester, when he was only ever shown acting like an entitled jerk, that made it fail for me.

Well, that and the heavy-handed Gothic elements juxtaposed with a passionate explication of a moral/religious code that held very little emotional weight for me - the Gothic elements might have been entertaining in a book that was only trying to be spooky, but put side-by-side with Victorian Christianity, they came across as ludicrous. As an adult, it's easier for me to follow the logic of a belief system not my own and to credit the importance the characters put in it, but for some reason at fifteen I could only do that if the characters had funny, unpronounceable names. As for my adult reaction to the Gothic elements, now that I've read earlier Gothic novels, my take was, if you're going to muck about with Highly Symbolic lightning-blasted trees, just go all out and bring on the bleeding nun ghosts, okay?

I suspect Charlotte Bronte thought Jane Austen was boring because of a distinct lack of bleeding nun ghosts. ;-)

#220 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:09 PM:

B. Durbin @ 215: Is Winter's Tale the only novel that Mark Helprin has written?

No, he has more: the only one I remember the title of is Memoirs From Ant-Proof Case. I like the title, but since I thought Winter's Tale was (loosely) Little, Big with way too much sugar and libertarianism added, I never read it.

#221 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:12 PM:

I'm going to try to be as un-prejudging as I possibly can in this comment, but I'm working with old ingrained biases, so if I screw up, believe that it wasn't malicious and I'm actually interested in knowing I missed one?

Ok.

That said, one of my biggest problems with books that both (a) I've been handed that are shelved in un-adjectived 'Fiction' and/or are taught in English classes as 'worthy' or 'interesting' works and (b) I disliked☀ is this:

They seem to expect me to already care about the book, the characters, and the plot enough to stick with them for 3-5 chapters without the author having to actually, y'know, hook me on the book in any way. I'm guessing this is a genre-protocols mismatch, but I find it feels to me as a reader as if the author is being somewhere between lazy and actively conceited: "Well, I already KNOW they value MY deathless prose, so I shall show them the depths of my skill at digression, sidelong description, and rambling atmospherics, since clearly that is what they are here for."

Only I'm not. Yawn. Give me a book whose first paragraphs actively intrigue me, and you've got me for another eight chapters of drivel (sometimes). I'm willing to suspend my disbelief by the neck until dead. I'm willing to do all kinds of heavy lifting through bizarre artificial dialect (I'm looking at you, _The Book of Dave_, and well worth it too IMO). All you have to do is give me ANY of:

* a character I want to spend time with
* a world I want to know more about
* a plot or mystery I want to see elaborated
* a prose style so funny or beautifully twisted that I'd enjoy listening to it read the phone book

I don't even ask for MORE than one. And I've read (and enjoyed) some pretty dire books that were awful except for their one thing-that-hooked-me. Still, I do need SOMETHING to make it worth my while, or ... well, there are lots of books out there, and time exists in a finite universe.

--
☀ I did enjoy some few of the books I've been assigned to read for class, like _The Scarlet Letter_. I hated others, like _The Disposessed_ (which also falls under the category named above) ... actually, that last is also an example of another interesting feature of my book liking/disliking: authors where I like ONE or VERY FEW of their works and detest or am utterly bored (I realize those are different axes) with anything else of theirs I've tried. The only LeGuin I've ever genuinely enjoyed and read over and over is _Always Coming Home_. Disposessed? Hated it, couldn't see the point, had to write a paper, can't even remember any of its plot points. Earthsea? Bounced off it repeatedly. Left Hand of Darkness? If it were the book the back cover describes, I'd like it, but I can't seem to find the Awesome by actually reading it ... etc.

Gordy Dickson is another of those authors, with the only work of his I liked being a novella from the point of view of the youngest surviving member of the Loch Ness Monster population, whose title Google is not helping me find. Every-damn-thing else he's ever written that I've held a copy of? Bounced off within the first chapter, couldn't stand it. No idea. I love the Loch Ness story, though.

#222 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:17 PM:

Rikibeth @ 213: I do know some straight men who read and enjoy Georgette Heyer and will admit it, but they do seem like outliers.

She's been on my to-check-out list, so there's a reasonable chance of adding one more to your count. From this thread, it sounds as if A Civil Contract is the best place to start—true?

#223 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:20 PM:

abi @216: And yet the historical fiction for the boys, if that's what O'Brian counts as - I"ll grant that it doesn't share the same Girl Cooties kiss of death as Heyer - is just full of the elements of romances, whenever they're on shore and sometimes at sea. Which is why your crossover was so brilliant and I instantly decided it had to be undiscovered canon.

It's telling that the "Listen to this!" passages I read out to my friend, as bait to get her to read the Aubrey/Maturin books, were pretty much never from the battle scenes that make it boy-palatable. No, they were Jack dealing with cute animals ("debauched my sloth," of course, but also the wombat that tried to eat his hat) and with his babies, and with his overbearing mother-in-law. None of them were heroic parts at ALL.

#224 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:21 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 221: They seem to expect me to already care about the book, the characters, and the plot enough to stick with them for 3-5 chapters without the author having to actually, y'know, hook me on the book in any way.

Well, I think Cat's Eye had a really strong opening hook, so maybe these books just have their Velcro in places that line up with yours.

#225 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:23 PM:

Errata: make that "don't line up with yours." And above, "on my to-check-out list for a while now."

#226 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:23 PM:

I'm sure the authors of the Esquire article were pretty much on the same page as you there.

Oh, come ON. Their numbers ARE disproportionate, unless there really are 74 times as many books by men as by women.

(Hey, Xopher, while we're on the subject, did you finish Frederica? What did you think?)

I did finish it, and I liked most of it. I liked Frederica and Alverstoke and Frederica's two brothers.

She did her historical research, of course, but I think she showed her work a little too much for my taste. For example, she seems to have discovered about two thirds of the way through writing it that the word 'ain't' was not deprecated in period, and suddenly everyone uses it; no one has used it at all before that point.

I would have liked her to develop Frederica's character more. She's well fleshed out, but she's very static. Gura fhqqrayl ng gur raq (va gur ynfg gjb cntrf!) fur ernyvmrf fur'f orra va ybir jvgu Nyirefgbxr nyy nybat, naq nterrf gb zneel uvz. I'm not sure why that annoyed me so much, but it really did.

Overall it was fun! Hated the ending. I'd read another book about those characters in later years, especially Felix trying very hard not to blow up the house...too often.

I'll probably try one of her murder mysteries next, and see if that has less of the "look at my research!" problem.

#227 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:28 PM:

Tim Walters @222, I'd say A Civil Contract is among the more thoughtful and lasting of her books. I find pretty much all of them enjoyable, but some of them are more or less lightweight.

#228 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:32 PM:

Eliot at 221:
. All you have to do is give me ANY of:
...
* a prose style so funny or beautifully twisted that I'd enjoy listening to it read the phone book

This reminds me of a problem I recently began having with the Bulwer-Lytton contest - most of the winners aren't bad writing, they're *weird, funny* writing - If I encountered them as the opening line of a real novel, I'd definitely keep reading.

#229 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:35 PM:

Tim Walters @224: Oh, I know these books are hooky for SOMEONE, they're just epic fails at hooky for ME. Hence my mention of genre toolboxes -- they absolutely require for enjoyment genre tools I don't currently possess.

Which makes it extra hilarious to me that they're shelved under un-adjectived 'Fiction' and claim not to be part of any particular genre, most of them. :->

I bet there are several different unacknowledged genres hiding in the 'Fiction' section, since self-evidently all the books there sure ain't the same as each other.

And one of them is Fond Memories of Vagina, of course ... I wonder what some of the others are?

#230 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:36 PM:

Xopher, 226: The "gosh, I've been in love with him all along!" is not an uncommon trope in Regency romances. I think Heyer liked it a lot, and then everybody who grew up reading Heyer thought it was part of the furniture. I wish she'd done more research into forms of address--there's one book I absolutely can't reread because of people saying "Duke" instead of "Your Grace."

I'm far less fond of Heyer's mysteries, but I can't remember why. I can tell you firmly to stay away from the books set in the Middle Ages, however. Read Chrétien instead.

#231 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:39 PM:

abi, passim: I would guess that my library has around the same ratio of male to female authors (counting would take a long time, and I'm rather afraid of what I might find out). I can say with confidence that I don't have a conscious bias against woman writers, but it could be that:

(1) I have an unconscious bias
(2) Male writers come to my attention more often, due to recommendation bias
(3) Social forces have channeled women's writing and my preferences into some degree of divergence

My best guess is (2), but neither of the others would surprise me.

Keeping this in mind while considering which books to read seems worthwhile. I will try to do more of that. (Reading Dorothy Dunnett right now, as it happens.)

#232 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:43 PM:

And once again I have made a consequential edito: by "same ratio" I mean the same ratio abi is finding in this thread (2 or 3 to 1), not fifty-fifty.

#233 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 07:53 PM:

TexAnne, one of the blurbs in the back of my (borrowed) copy of Frederica is for a book set in "the early 15th Century" that claims to be written in "period language." Yeah. 200 years prior to Shakespeare. I don't think so.

#234 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 08:03 PM:

227
I'd say to avoid anything of hers set before the 18th century; Beauvallet is so 'forsoothly' written that it's nearly unreadable, IMO, and Simon the Conqueror, while it lacks that fault, isn't particularly interesting. (Her mysteries also aren't as good as her historical fiction.)

#235 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 08:17 PM:

Tim Walters @ #231, if you cataloged your library in Library Thing you could easily determine the male/female ratio. I just did mine: 82% Male, 18% female, with 96 authors undetermined. That last seems odd, but I haven't looked into the calculation methods.

I'm surprised at that ratio, frankly. I'd have thought it was more balanced than that.

#236 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 08:27 PM:

Xoper @233 -- they didn't say which period, though, did they?

#237 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 08:36 PM:

Linkmeister @ 235: Hey! I do catalog my library at LibraryThing!

Male: 1020 : Female: 189 : Other/Contested/Unknown: 9 : N/A: 15 : Not set 124

Oh, dear.

Did I mention something about being rather afraid of what I'd find out?

#238 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 08:43 PM:

And:

Dead: 533 / Alive: 521 / Unknown: 288 / Not a Person: 15

God is considered alive and of unknown sex.

#239 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 08:43 PM:

Someone I know once said that Period Language means "GODDAMMIT, I'm out of tampons!!!!"

#240 ::: Sylvia Sotomayor ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 09:07 PM:

I've been reading this thread with a great deal of interest and enjoyment. Some responses, in no particular order:

Civil Contract is probably the best Heyer, though I tend to reread the ones that are full of laughter, like Sprig Muslin and Talisman Ring.

Librarything says that my library, which only has about 10% of my books in it (I add things as I reread them) is 52% female, 48% male.

I remember once being exasperated with my god-daughter who was reading Tamora Pierce, and trying to interest her in a book by some male author (my memory sucks) which she rejected on the grounds that it was written by a guy. I have noticed (ironies) that I, too, tend to choose female authors and disregard male ones, though it depends on who is doing the recommending. Yet, counting my 5-star books in librarything, 12 are by men and 9 are by women.

An unadjectived fiction author that I like is Mary Wesley - I wouldn't call any of it great literature (and I have no definition of that, either), but I enjoy her stories. They are generally about women who don't really fit in, though they might fake it well.

Also, abi, you left out Terry McMillan in your statistics. Someone mentioned her early on, but only by title (How Stella Got Her Groove Back).

Okay, back to lurking.

#241 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 09:24 PM:

234
Correction: Simon the Coldheart. The Conqueror was a different book.

#242 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 09:33 PM:

I'm amused to see that (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) is classified as "Not a Person" by LibraryThing.

So is Manning Coles (Two British co-authors who wrote the wonderful Tommy Hambledon spy novels in the '30s and '40s).

#243 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 09:51 PM:

Strange.
Of that list of 75 I have read perhaps only 8 straight through. But I have read many books. I must have read hundreds, probably thousands, of novels. (Heck, I've written published reviews of about 500). I certainly own some thousands of books, more non-fiction than fiction.

But there are also about 8 of the list that I have read part but not all of. Which is odd, because that is only about twenty-odd books. I nearly always finish even books I don't like. And there are quite a few books in that list that I have never even heard of. Which is odd, because I honestly am very well-read.

So whoever compiled it seems to have the exact opposite taste in books to me. What they think is important isn't even on my radar.

Which is odd.

#244 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 09:54 PM:

242
How does LibraryThing classify Ellery Queen?

#245 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 10:04 PM:

Ken:

I counted seven I'd read, and maybe about that many more that are on my mental "I ought to read that sometime" list. I think of myself as passably well-read, though my tastes are mostly SF with a smattering of other stuff, so I'm probably rather narrowly and deep rather than broad in my reading pattern.

#246 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 10:07 PM:

PJ Evans @ #244, Sorry, I don't know, since I don't own anything by Dannay and Lee.

#247 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 10:14 PM:

I've read twenty-two of them; in seven other cases, I've read something by that author, but not the book listed; in yet another two cases, I've seen the film but not read the book.

I don't read Esquire.

#248 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 10:27 PM:

I haven't finished cataloging everything on LibraryThing, but anything new within the past few years is included. My stats are:

Male: 365
Female: 311
N/A: 7
Not set 27

Percent male: 54% : Percent female: 46%

#249 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 11:11 PM:

Tim Walters @ 142: "The only one of those that I would say strongly matches your description of litfic is Garp."

You wouldn't describe As I Lay Dying as involving experimental prose? Do the words "My mother is a fish" ring a bell? The chapter narrated by the dead woman? You wouldn't say that a novel about transporting one's mother's corpse to be buried involves themes of loss? You don't think it is set in mundane reality? You wouldn't describe the narrative structure of Slaughterhouse Five as experimental? You wouldn't say that it addresses themes of failure and loss?

@ 167: "No, you're circularly defining "fits within litfic convention" as "the academy is interested in it," and back around."

That's a silly, not to mention infuriating, thing to say in a conversation where *per your request* I've just defined a set of themes and approaches I think are characteristic of litfic. I don't think Asimov and Tolkien are typically litfic at all--the point of including these two giants of sf was to draw attention to the fact that despite their influence and age they're considerably less studied than a relatively minor contemporary litficcer (Updike). It is the other sf folk I think exhibit litfic-iness. The points are: a) even among sf that draws on litfic themes and techniques and is regularly held up as examples of sf that has "broken into" the academy, they are still much less studied than "pure" litfic*, and b) that what the academy studies is not in any way synonymous with "great." It's largely synonymous with "things written to please the academy."

"I suspect the inverse is true: Cherryh, Bujold, and Willis are successful among fans because they do the kind of thing fans are predisposed to like."

Well, duh. Just like Updike and litfic writers do the kind of thing litfic fans are predisposed to like.

"As I said upthread, they study what they want to study."

That's just such a cheerfully naive vision of academia I'm loathe to quash it.

"Certainly not just the academy."

Of course not--I think the observations made by Bruce Baugh and J M are quite interesting and strike me as likely correct, that the maintenance of the litfic genre happens in "high-brow" literary circles and creative writing programs more than in English departments. Simply because I am taking issue with the tendentious claim that all anti-genre bias has vanished from academia doesn't mean that staking out the opposite end of the spectrum.

More to the point, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an acknowledged classic too. Within sf. Why is it that some "classics" need that qualifier, and others don't? I'm not sure I'd heard of Wharton, much less read her, before this conversation began. And yet she's unproblematically classic, even to you who also hasn't read her. That's privilege, is what it is.

"A fifty-year-old Hugo Winner is a lot more likely to be in print than a fifty-year-old Pulitzer prize winner, I think, and that's much more of a legitimacy victory than anything academia can offer."

Oh, I don't know, institutional money and tenure for authors and fan writers wouldn't hurt.

@ 171: (Thomas) Disch: 1,128; "John Crowley": 350

* Except Dick. He's the real outlier.

#250 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 11:35 PM:

re 215/220: I re-read Winter's Tale every few years but my impression is that most critics would rank A Soldier of the Great War higher, and I would generally agree with that assessment. The latter is also considerably more in line with the Esquire gestalt; one suspects that nobody there has ever read it.

re 199: It would appear from your list that only about 25 of the Esquire authors are being discussed, which leaves about 65 non-list male authors vs. the 26 non-list female authors. I have no idea what that signifies, nor could I say why 2/3s of the list seems to have escaped mention.

#251 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 11:43 PM:

249
I've heard of a lot of authors, including Wharton, that I've never read.

I think part of the problem is that when they dump one of these 'litfic classics' on a high school student, or even a college freshman, the background information needed to appreciate it isn't there. (Sometimes you need more age and experience. Sometimes, you need more historical background.)

---
I count thirteen or fourteen of the 75 that I've read, at one or another time, and for most of the rest I recognize either the title or the author.

#252 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2011, 11:56 PM:

re 249: I'm suspecting in all of this that the whole notion of litfic has become a little antique in about the same way that the contents of the "gourmet" section of the supermarket forty years ago no longer corresponds to the tastes of actual foodies. It's telling to read the other "what a man should do" lists on their site, because they very clearly present a picture of someone who is half James Bond and half Ernest Hemingway, with a dash of Buckley on top. It's not really surprising therefore that the literary tastes represented are those of an English department of half a century ago, a department which was very much approving of a scotch and a cigar, consumed in one of the big leather chairs at the club (men only) before the trip home in the evening. Helprin's book makes the cut because it's something of a throwback and also because Helprin himself is a rather Hemingway-esque figure. I suspect that Edith Wharton might have been left out (a) because she's a woman, but also (b) because the big revival of her didn't happen until the early 1980s IIRC. I suspect the Flannery O'Connor book is there more for the title than anything else. The English department itself has moved on (or through) a postmodern disregard for classics.

#253 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:11 AM:

What's Not A Person, Tim? Collections? Academic texts with no named author?

#254 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:18 AM:

Abi - Well, we could have begun working and arguing our own counter-list to Esquire's, of mostly women or of gender parity, and of international scope, but it seemed to me that with the recent Jim Macdonald thread doing so for SF short fiction, it might feel like retrodden ground.

This is not to say that when choosing our examples of writers when discussing most genres and subgenres (except possibly Fond Memories of Vagina) we could not be more consciously inclusive.

But I do also wonder, how the proportions change when you examine who's been held up and lauded more than criticized? It seems to me that most female authors, even if disliked by one or two readers (As every author will be in a reasonably rounded discussion), have been initially cited as examples of excellence, and several of the males have been cited initially as examples of badness.

Xopher - On Heyer: the mysteries are usually worse than the Regencies; the only one I read was a very obvious country house mystery whose main merit was the quirky characters. I find a lot more merits in her historicals (And I don't like all of those -- The Reluctant Widow and April Lady were both vastly frustrating).

I'd suggest the Talisman Ring, as it's got as much adventure as romance to it. (It's pretty obvious what and where the thing they're searching for is early on, but there's a lot more *fun* involved in it than in most.)

So far, my favourites have been The Grand Sophy (With obvious warning for skipping the moneylender scene or bracing yourself for anti-semitism), Venetia, The Talisman Ring, and Cotillion. Cotillion probably hits the same buttons that bothered you in Frederica, and Venetia is 'a woman redeems a supposedly bad man', which i know annoys many.

I haven't read Frederica or A Civil Contract - the latter because it's *also* strongly disliked by some of her fans, even as it's lauded as her best by others. Personally, I think it's a good sign that it rouses strong feelings in both directions, unlike with her historicals, which seem nigh-universally disliked.

(Another reason to avoid Simon the Coldheart is that it has a strong implication of conflating homosexuality and pedophilia. At least, that's the reason why I read one cited excerpt and chose to skip.)

#255 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:27 AM:

C Wingate and etc., I suspect you are correct. I don't read much modern lit fic, unless it's presented in a really easy way to get to it, because I tend to read in our genres. Unless someone outside makes a big deal of it, I don't read a lot outside the genre.

But I do know a lot about other, older lit fic, because I had to read it for classes, etc. And am not adverse to reading occasional fiction that comes across my path in that kind of genre. It's just that it does 't come across that thresold.

#256 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:28 AM:

C Wingate and etc., I suspect you are correct. I don't read much modern lit fic, unless it's presented in a really easy way to get to it, because I tend to read in our genres. Unless someone outside makes a big deal of it, I don't read a lot outside the genre.

But I do know a lot about other, older lit fic, because I had to read it for classes, etc. And am not adverse to reading occasional fiction that comes across my path in that kind of genre. It's just that it does 't come across that thresold.

#257 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:30 AM:

sorry for the double post. things hung up in a weird way.

#258 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:31 AM:

As I Lay Dying:

the experience of mundane reality, the here-and-now everyday: nope*

centers around the experience of failure and loss, of mediocrity and ennui, and of coming to terms with all that: has some. I wouldn't necessarily say centers, but sure, close enough.

the climax is often a shift in the protagonist's internal perception more than a change in the story's reality: not particularly

aims to illuminate our own internal lives rather than the nature of reality: some of each

experimentation and creativity in terms of style: yep

vocabulary of emotional description and attention to fine nuances of mood and personality is quite refined: yep

Slaughterhouse-Five:

the experience of mundane reality, the here-and-now everyday: nope

centers around the experience of failure and loss, of mediocrity and ennui, and of coming to terms with all that: yep

the climax is often a shift in the protagonist's internal perception more than a change in the story's reality: not particularly

aims to illuminate our own internal lives rather than the nature of reality: not particularly

experimentation and creativity in terms of style: yep

vocabulary of emotional description and attention to fine nuances of mood and personality is quite refined: not particularly

And these are your hand-picked examples, which you still have done nothing to establish as more defining or central than the plenitude of litfic books that meet the criteria even less well.

I don't think Asimov and Tolkien are typically litfic at all

Sorry I misunderstood you on that, but I did say "or even Delany and Dick". And the question was whether they met pre-existing litfic expectations--see below.

It is the other sf folk I think exhibit litfic-iness.

They don't match many of your criteria. And they didn't meet a different set of existing litfic criteria. They expanded the idea of litfic by being successfully championed to litfic readers. This is precisely why litfic isn't a genre. No argument is going to turn Rabbit, Run into SF, but any work can aspire to the state of litfic. For whatever that's worth.

what the academy studies is not in any way synonymous with "great."

I certainly agree with that. What I don't understand is, given that, why academic recognition of SF is so fervently desired. Do we look to conservatories for the legitimacy of punk rock?

More to the point, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an acknowledged classic too. Within sf. Why is it that some "classics" need that qualifier, and others don't?

I'm not sure what the age requirement is for "generally acknowledged classic," but I'm not sure any of SF's best works are old enough to meet it. And my own experience is that "classic" SF hasn't aged very well--precisely why we have the test of time. Ask again in fifty or a hundred years.

That's privilege, is what it is.

I guess I've internalized my oppression, then.

Let's say you're right, and that SF is undervalued by the academy, and that this is important. I'm not sure how to search for it, but I remember TNC saying that the way to deal with the lack of black representation in the arts is not to complain about the refs, or to wait for someone else to tell your story, but to get out there and do it yourself. Punk rockers would agree. If you want the world to love The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, write something that makes the case for its excellence.

*You might want to argue with me on this one. Be warned that I have little sympathy for the way that some SF fans label any non-supernatural/weird-science scenario, no matter how outré or extreme, as "mundane." If you really just meant "of the world," then sure--but a huge amount of litfic doesn't do that, and a huge amount of non-litfic does.

#259 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:44 AM:

Oh, and:

That's just such a cheerfully naive vision of academia I'm loathe to quash it.

I do have a (music-related) M.F.A. I don't claim that that makes me an expert on literary academic infighting, but my experience certainly isn't going to be gainsaid by a sneer.

And a possibly relevant anecdote from those days: a student was giving a talk about rhythmic complexity, and used an XTC song with a pretty straightforward polyrhythm as an example. The professor's response was "I would probably enjoyed that song just to listen to, but as an example of rhythmic complexity? Seriously?" The student moved on to "Discipline" by King Crimson, and the professor said, "OK, now we're getting somewhere."

The question in academia is not, or shouldn't be, whether something is good, much less "great." It's whether (and how) it repays study.

#260 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 12:48 AM:

Xopher @ 253: Here's the "Not A Person" list:

The Arabian Nights
Berlitz Publishing Company
Editors of American Heritage
Editors of Consumer Guide
Harvard Lampoon
Analog & Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
Rand McNally
Grant Naylor
Alexei and Cory Panshin
Larry Niven And Jerry Pournelle
Monty Python
Concord Reference
Marketing - Sales
Worldwide Media Service
National Trust

Not the cleanest database in the world, perhaps.

#261 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 01:10 AM:

Tim Walters @218: "'I suspect the inverse is true: Cherryh, Bujold, and Willis are successful among fans because they do the kind of thing fans are predisposed to like.' is not a sweeping judgment.
...
I am completely failing to see why saying that a writer might be of more interest to SF fandom than to generalist literary academics is either insulting or controversial."

That wasn't the insult. The insult was in your next two sentences: "I can't see any merit in [Willis'] writing at all. But she's an outstanding Hugo toastmistress, seems like a really fun person, and works right at the center of fan taste." The insult to Willis is direct: "can't see any merit ... at all" (rather than "not an author I enjoy", say). The insult to fans lies in the implications (1) that "the center of fan taste" is without merit, and (2) that fans are reading her books because she's a good toastmistress, rather than because she's a good author.

Possibly relevant: I've never been able to get into Willis myself. I have a vague memory that some decades ago I thought she'd be like R. A. MacAvoy (because she, MacAvoy, recommended her, Willis?) but was disappointed.

#262 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 01:31 AM:

Yarrow @ 261: I addressed (1) at 192. As for (2), that's not an insult--it's Marketing 101. People buy things from people they like and have a personal connection with. Are publishers insulting readers when they send authors on book tours?

I don't think fans would read her books if they didn't like them, and I don't think I said that. I do think her presence in fandom helps her sell books and win Hugos. I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all, and I don't think that's why she does it.

But it's irrelevant, and I shouldn't have thrown it in there. My bad.

#263 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 01:32 AM:

That all makes sense except the co-authors, tempting as it is to make a case for Niven and Pournelle not being people. But of course in terms of assigning a gender, age, or living/dead status, co-authors aren't people in any of those senses.

#264 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 01:45 AM:

David Harmon @ 166: "Power-law distributions aren't fair... they just happen."

Well, no. If all we were dealing with was academic work clustering around randomly-occuring power-law distributions, then you'd expect to see those clusters spread evenly across all fiction. This is decidedly not the case--certain types of fiction have clusters of academic work far denser and orders of magnitude larger than others. There's a selective bias evident alongside random chance.

Janet Brennan Croft @ 170: "There's a kind of critical mass point after which it's self-sustaining and you see eventually get to the point where critics are commenting on what other critics said about what still other critics said."

Yes. Why are those clusters quite regularly around certain types of fiction, and not around others? Founder's effect only explains so much.

Russel Letson @ 174: "At the risk of being self-indulgent:"

We're having an argument about genre on the internet. That ship has sailed. (This isn't really directed at you--I'm mostly making fun of myself.)

abi @ 195: It is strange. This is a pervasive thing. I made sure the names I searched @ 137 were half and half, but it was deliberate. I had to think about it.

#265 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 02:02 AM:

One more thing:

heresiarch @ 249: what the academy studies is.... largely synonymous with "things written to please the academy."

Of the heavy hitters in your list (which divides cleanly into three populations based on number of digits), the only ones who could have literally written for the (English-lit) academy without time travel are Atwood and Borges, both of whom sell loads of books to non-academics. Speaking more figuratively, I'm pretty sure that Austen and Wharton were quite popular as well, and before they were critically acclaimed. That leaves Proust and Woolf--two out of six--who were clearly writing to please the for-lack-of-a-better-word literati.

#266 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 02:13 AM:

heresiarch @ 265: I made sure the names I searched @ 137 were half and half, but it was deliberate. I had to think about it.

I did the same thing at 93, but not anywhere else... and look at the results.

#267 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 02:40 AM:

Tim Walters @260

The key word here is "a." Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is "not a person," it is two people. Likewise, one trusts that the Berlitz Publishing Company is made up of people, but it's clear that we shouldn't assign a gender, age, or vital status to that entity. On those grounds, the db looks clean.

Sure, you could assign a gender to Niven and Pournelle. But then what do you do for Doyle and MacDonald? Do we make a rule that same-gender collaborators have a gender but mixed-gender groups don't? What about groups that change composition over time? It's cleaner just to say "these stats here are only for single-human authors, authors that are not exactly one human being get these other stats instead."

(Now, if you're suggesting that "Marketing-Sales" and "The Arabian Nights" are perhaps not the authors of the works suggested, yeah, probably some garbage in that sample. But Niven & Pournelle, Grant Naylor, Rand McNally, and the Pythons are all correctly categorized.)

#268 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 02:58 AM:

Now, if you're suggesting that "Marketing-Sales" and "The Arabian Nights" are perhaps not the authors of the works suggested, yeah, probably some garbage in that sample.

That's what I was thinking. Also, I thought Grant Naylor was a person (which makes their database cleaner in that regard than the one in my head).

#269 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:01 AM:

Tim @268

I did too! But I checked it on the wikipedia, and now I know.

#270 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:24 AM:

Devin @ #267, I think your analysis of the LT database is accurate, but I do wonder how it could figure out that a pseudonym like "Manning Coles" (see my comment @ #242) is used by co-authors and thus is not a person. I suppose I could email Tim Spalding to ask, but it seems almost magical that it could figure that out, so I think I'll leave it alone.

#271 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:44 AM:

Linkmeister @270

I don't think "it" figured most of this stuff out. I don't think the gender is automated, obviously the dead/alive status can't easily be (I mean, I guess you could check against Wikipedia articles on that name in the hopes that they'll contain machine-parsable infoboxes, but...)

It looks like this stuff is pretty much crowdsourced. When I clicked through on one of the uncategorized authors on your link, there was a spot where a logged-in user could add some of that data.

It's certainly possible to write a heuristic that can identify many personal names and tell them apart from other entities, but it'd be very impressive to write one that could correctly identify not only Manning Coles, but also Grant Naylor, Monty Python, and Rand McNally as group pseudonyms without a very high false positive rate. To do all that for the sole purpose of categorizing LibraryThing authors would be like inventing faster-than-light travel to shorten your daily commute, and never using it for anything else.

#272 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:46 AM:

Xopher @226:
Oh, come ON. Their numbers ARE disproportionate, unless there really are 74 times as many books by men as by women.

Coates' point, and mine, is that it's not about "by the numbers", because you can define the population whence you take the numbers pretty much any way you like. The point is that a discussion that happens to end up with particular weird proportions reflects particular omissions and, quite probably, particular poverties.

My numbers were diagnostic, not a target for quotas against any absolute statistical profile because, in point of fact, there is no single absolute profile with which to compare them.

She did her historical research, of course, but I think she showed her work a little too much for my taste. For example, she seems to have discovered about two thirds of the way through writing it that the word 'ain't' was not deprecated in period, and suddenly everyone uses it; no one has used it at all before that point.

Frederica is quite a late Heyer (1965). Whatever was going on with "ain't" in the book was not the product of a research discovery midway through the writing process.

Whatever one bounces off of, one bounces off of, of course, and once one bounces one continues to bounce.

I bounced off of her pre-Regency stuff, and found her mysteries pretty ordinary. But YMMV.

#273 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 06:00 AM:

I really think this discussion has revealed some very confused ideas about how cultural cachet gets formed in our society. And I further think that many people here are grossly overvaluing the role played by "the academy."

#274 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 07:51 AM:

C. Wingate #252: re 249: I'm suspecting in all of this that the whole notion of litfic has become a little antique in about the same way that the contents of the "gourmet" section of the supermarket forty years ago no longer corresponds to the tastes of actual foodies.

Yes. This!

heresiarch #264: (re: me#166: "Power-law distributions aren't fair... they just happen.")

Well, no. If all we were dealing with was academic work clustering around randomly-occuring power-law distributions, then you'd expect to see those clusters spread evenly across all fiction. This is decidedly not the case--certain types of fiction have clusters of academic work far denser and orders of magnitude larger than others. There's a selective bias evident alongside random chance.

I am fairly sure you have misunderstood either or both of what a power-law distribution is, and/or how it occurs. Note in that link, that the exponent k doesn't have to be something piddly like 1.3 or even 2, it can be 3 or 4 or higher. You've also neglected the role of the thresholds and categories, which are effectively lines drawn on (different views of) the chart.

1) Unevenness is the most visible characteristic of PLD's, frequently extreme unevenness. When you draw lines, especially multiple lines across them, it's really easy to clip the diagram right down to the biggest nodes.

In this case, you (we) are adding genre lines, while both history and publishing constraints are adding survival thresholds. Besides the obvious, granularity itself is a survival threshold -- yes, you can study part of a book, but if only one part ever gets studied (see below), the rest of the book (being the publishing unit) falls off the chart. Likewise if the "interest" in the work falls below "one academic".

2) "Bias" is integral to where these distributions come from. Academics look preferentially at books that other academics pointed them to. Professors tend to hand out books for class study, that are already popular for class study. Publishers reprint books that sold well in the previous edition. Gender, race, and topic biases are just more of the same. That is, focusing on "black literature", or "speculative fiction", or "women's lit", does not counter the overall distribution, it just narrows the focus to one section of the map, and helps fill out the edges of that (self-similar) section. That's if the larger diagram doesn't just clip off your sub-graph.

#275 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 08:46 AM:

When I wrote the joke @ 101, I consciously decided on using a male author and a female author to lead up to my punch line. I thought about using four books instead of three, for balance's sake, but the line itself wanted three books and I couldn't outwit it.

(The book I was considering adding, by the way, was The Dollmaker. Perhaps that book is too sad to joke about anyway.)

abi @ 272:

Coates' point, and mine, is that it's not about "by the numbers", because you can define the population whence you take the numbers pretty much any way you like. The point is that a discussion that happens to end up with particular weird proportions reflects particular omissions and, quite probably, particular poverties.

Just on the the grounds of making fun of other people's troubles being unseemly, I registered a mild protest against the Fond Memories of Vagina line of discussion. The argument I considered making was that I don't make fun of menopause. That of course led me to trying to make an equivalence with woman writers who've written about menopause. I couldn't. While I don't have nothing to say on the subject, I didn't have much. I just didn't have the cultural facility to discuss it.

(And I do still think anyone who thinks Philip Roth sucks should look up the short story "Defender of the Faith" and think again.)

#276 ::: Seth E. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 10:32 AM:

Hi, I pop in to Making Light every once in a while; I thought I'd delurk to make a couple of observations about "the academy" in its current form.

I'm a college professor. Specifically, I teach both art and design, both of which have complex relationships with the non-academic versions of their disciplines. In art, the past fifteen or twenty years has seen an ongoing fragmentation of the art world, and a shift in what it means to be an artist. Plenty of people are now neither exhibiting in the big-name galleries, nor teaching in the big-name art schools, and yet still working and exerting influence as artists. New illustrators who show their work in a small L.A. gallery that gets a write-up on Boingboing, potentially driving thousands to the gallery's website, are never going to be individually as wealthy as, say, Damien Hirst. But the general phenomenon of pop-surrealist illustration is at least as much of a player in the larger cultural conversation as Hirst is (thank God, because Hirst's an ass). Meanwhile, art as practiced by academics is an academic discipline, not a commercial one; to some degree it's as insular as the study of French literature, for roughly similar reasons. Why would those young illustrators want into academia, unless they like academia for its own sake?

And as current educators, we teach students of all these different kinds. There was a time when you could get kicked out of art school for failing to paint Abstract Expressionism in oils, but that was fifty years ago, and those art school rejects just went on to become influential illustrators anyway. Blaming "the academy" for the state of culture is out of date, to the degree that it was ever really true.

The second point is to heresiarch's implied idea of what academics can, or must, study. I have a friend whose art history degree is in Italian Renaissance painting, the most traditional of disciplines. She's currently spending most of her time writing about Pixar. All her elder colleagues think this is a great idea. If she doesn't get tenure, I'll be shocked.

Of course academics have to strategize what they write and how they write about it, just as in any other field. But in precisely those terms, writing about Pixar is a good academic move; the Italian Renaissance is a saturated field, and there are plenty of interesting things to say about contemporary animation.

#277 ::: Seth E. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 10:39 AM:

Forgot a point about academic research, and why Wharton might have more articles written about her than Willis or Le Guin. It's not just that Wharton's books themselves have been around longer, it's that scholarship, like the law, rests on precedent. Scholars aren't just writing about Wharton, they're writing about all the things other scholars have written about Wharton. It's easier to engage in a field of study when the field already exists. People writing about current authors, artists, etc. are often charting their own way, which not everyone is willing to do.

#278 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 11:02 AM:

271
I seem to recall actually doing that for one author, who has a given name which is both unusual and not gender-obvious. (Also was my S-I-L's grandmother, which is how I knew the name.)

#279 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 11:58 AM:

Seth E. @77, you put it much more elegantly than I managed to -- yes, scholarship rests to a great extent on precedent. Someone has to take the risk of being the first to write about, say, Bujold. Then someone else writes something, maybe or maybe not citing the first paper. Then a few papers appear citing both of the previous ones -- the start of a scholarly conversation about the topic. Then maybe someone proposes a special issue of a journal or (hello!) a book of critical essays. From there, you're likely to see a steady increase in scholarship, or possibly a boom if you're lucky. But it has to start somewhere, and for a non-tenured academic, being the first is not always the safest path. (It can be done, but you'd better be very confident and very good at what you do.)

I think, though, in some areas and departments it's safer than it used to be, as in your example in art and design. In my case, because a previous librarian in my department built a respectable reputation publishing solely in Classics, it paved the way for me to publish outside of librarianship, on Tolkien. Without his precedent, it would have been difficult for me to make the case that my scholarship was an asset to the department's reputation. And because of me, incoming library faculty have even broader possibilities open to them.

#280 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 01:15 PM:

Isn't that where the "compare and contrast" approach can work. You want to write about a different writer, and you find a way of using an already OK-to-write-about-author as a hook to hang a discussion on.

#281 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 01:37 PM:

Tim Walters @ 258: "And these are your hand-picked examples, which you still have done nothing to establish as more defining or central than the plenitude of litfic books that meet the criteria even less well."

I've been wondering if you remember our previous conversation on this same topic from a few years ago, and I thought I finally ought to just ask. Do you remember? Because my first comment on this thread sort of assumed that conversation as backdrop, and I feel that assumption has been hounding me.

Anyway. I don't think it's particularly problematic to claim that Faulkner is central or defining for litfic. Atwood, Naipaul, Nabokov and Updike are also rather significant names. YMMV, I suppose. If you don't think they as a group show an unusually high concentration of experimental prose and narrative, attention to language*, and a high concentration of themes of loss, failure, mediocrity and ennui, then I'm afraid we're just not perceiving the same reality.

"No argument is going to turn Rabbit, Run into SF, but any work can aspire to the state of litfic."

My point is that it can't. It doesn't matter how mindblowing a work of literature Permanence is, because litfic isn't interested in mindblowing meditations on the viability of sentience over extremely long time frames. Litfic is interested in a subset of awesome; some great sf falls into that subset, and some doesn't. (And why should it "aspire"? Do works "aspire" to sf genre status?)

"I'm not sure what the age requirement is for "generally acknowledged classic," but I'm not sure any of SF's best works are old enough to meet it."

(("Mary Shelley") NOT au:(Shelley)): 4,444.

"If you want the world to love The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, write something that makes the case for its excellence."

People already have. The problem here isn't that there isn't anyone out there studying sf, or that sf study isn't yielding interesting insights. I mean, fanzines! It's just not happening in the academy.

Now, this conversation has disappeared down a bit of a rabbit hole when it comes to the academy. I don't think the academy is a secret cabal that controls all from their cigar-scented overstuffed leather armchairs. I think two excellent points about the limits of the academy have been made in this conversation: the academy is not the center of litfic chauvanism, and the academy's power to direct social perceptions of what is Worthy Literature is quite constrained. Both of these are, in my humble, quite true. But the argument that the academy has no bias and that they play no role in determining what is promoted is just as silly as the cabal idea.

The reason this matters is that the academy, "high-brow" literary circles, and the public education system collectively have an incredibly powerful and pervasive influence on how people perceive reading. I don't think it's very radical to observe that influence consistently inclines people towards believing that reading is an unpleasant, hateful activity, that anything that can be critiqued isn't enjoyable and anything enjoyable can't/shouldn't be critiqued, and that artistic experimentation is a bunch of deliberately obscurantist nonsense with nothing to show but how clever the authors are. This is a bad thing! The equation of a particular set of artistic concerns with general worthiness is deeply implicated in this.

*I borrowed this phrase from the (tentative, reluctant) definition of lit fic you offer here.

#282 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 02:11 PM:

(I have a post being held for review)

Tim Walters @ 265: Key word being "largely," and yes that's more a description of things being written now than of things being studied now. I ought to have been clearer. Still, Shelley wasn't writing for sf fans--nonetheless.

Seth E. @ 276, 277: Thank you Seth, for neatly juxtaposing the "academics do what they want!" argument with the "people just study what's already been studied" argument. By putting them right next to each other like that, in the words of the same person no less, you've really emphasized the contradictions between arguing simultaneously that academics freely choose their topic of study and that academics' choice of study is constrained by precedent.

#283 ::: Seth E. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 02:51 PM:

heresiarch, #283: You're welcome! But if you're comparing my points to each other, you might want to look at them a little more closely. I hate to break it to you, but "tend to study" and "just study" don't mean the same thing, as your mis-summary suggests. The fact that many people tend to study in established disciplines doesn't mean that academics, as a whole, "just study what's already been studied." New areas of study take a while to become established; this doesn't mean they don't exist, and it doesn't even mean they're undervalued. It's just how the accumulation of knowledge works. Look at Janet Brennan Croft's excellent, specific example.

You might as well point to a jet that's still on the runway and say, "if this is so fast, why hasn't it broken the sound barrier yet?"

#284 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:00 PM:

heresiarch @ 281: I've been wondering if you remember our previous conversation on this same topic from a few years ago, and I thought I finally ought to just ask. Do you remember?

Vaguely. I didn't go back and re-read it. My posts on this thread have all been made in haste when I really should be doing something else, unfortunately.

I don't think it's particularly problematic to claim that Faulkner is central or defining for litfic. Atwood, Naipaul, Nabokov and Updike are also rather significant names.

Well, I do. I've been trying to honor your request not to get into counterexamples, but I have to now. Those people are all certainly litfic, but no more so than Barth, Russo, Morrison, Le Guin, Rushdie, or any number of other people that don't resemble them (or your definition) at all.

It doesn't matter how mindblowing a work of literature Permanence is, because litfic isn't interested in mindblowing meditations on the viability of sentience over extremely long time frames.

Litfic didn't use to be interested in strange combinations of whaling and philosophy, either. Melville was critically dismissed for decades. There's no way to know if the body of SF with strong SFnal virtues but not strong traditional literary virtues will enter the academic mainstream in time or not. Some (like Dick) already has, which I see as an equally low-probability event.

(And why should it "aspire"? Do works "aspire" to sf genre status?)

I was trying for mild sarcasm there (hence the "for what it's worth").

(("Mary Shelley") NOT au:(Shelley)): 4,444.

That seems fine to me.

The problem here isn't that there isn't anyone out there studying sf, or that sf study isn't yielding interesting insights. I mean, fanzines! It's just not happening in the academy.

I'm not sure how much of this Heinlein action is "real" academia. But does it matter?

I don't think it's very radical to observe that influence consistently inclines people towards believing that reading is an unpleasant, hateful activity, that anything that can be critiqued isn't enjoyable and anything enjoyable can't/shouldn't be critiqued, and that artistic experimentation is a bunch of deliberately obscurantist nonsense with nothing to show but how clever the authors are.

I don't think it's very radical, either--one hears it a lot--but I don't feel that it's anything like proven. My own experience was the opposite--I went into high school English with a very bad attitude, and came out with a respect for "mainstream" literature, a respect that later blossomed into love. I don't claim to be more representative than anyone else, but you can see why I'd want hard evidence to believe what you're saying.

I borrowed this phrase from the (tentative, reluctant) definition of lit fic you offer here.

Which I still like pretty well: promoting language, character exploration, and setting to full partners in the enterprise rather than making them secondary to the payload of plot or idea. If you want to say that meeting that criterion helps get the academy interested in one's books, I'll agree. But still, you know, Philip K. Dick.

#285 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:02 PM:

heresiarch #282: By putting them right next to each other like that, in the words of the same person no less, you've really emphasized the contradictions between arguing simultaneously that academics freely choose their topic of study and that academics' choice of study is constrained by precedent.

Um, no. That's not a contradiction, that's a tension. Academics do get wide freedom, but they also need to get their articles into the journals for their fields. If they focus too heavily on stuff that doesn't interest their peers), they'll just be standing there alone, and the department chair may well wonder why they haven't gotten any papers published lately.

#286 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:04 PM:

And I see that Seth beat me to it, with (unsurprisingly) better arguments.

#287 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:29 PM:

There's also the problem of new ideas upsetting tenured applecarts and the people who push them. I'm aware of at least one person who has noticed some very interesting things, which are very probably true, but which are 180 degrees away from the field's received wisdom. This scholar is having a *very* difficult time getting published; people say "good paper!" at every conference, but don't accept them for established journals.

#288 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 03:39 PM:

Seth E. @ 283: If the difference between "just" and "tend" means so much to you, then please have it your way: my point still stands. Insofar as precedent inclines academics towards certain fields of study and away from others, it is in and of itself a form of institutionalized bias preventing academics from freely studying what they wish. Noting that change is happening is heartening, and I think it's great to hear all the people who're incorporating genre into academia. But just as with noting the increased incorporation of female authors and authors of color, the very fact that they are being incorporated now is symptomatic of previous marginalization.

David Harmon @ 285: "If they focus too heavily on stuff that doesn't interest their peers, they'll just be standing there alone, and the department chair may well wonder why they haven't gotten any papers published lately."

Which is exactly the kind of institutional bias I'm arguing exists! If people go, "Well, I could study X, which has established journals and recognized status and would certainly get me a job in any number of departments, or I could study Y, which would be unusual and put people off and wouldn't forward my career," then that's a set of social institutions that is limiting and constraining people's free choice. There are any number of real social constraints that fall short of being engraved in stone and enforced with the death penalty.

#289 ::: Seth E. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 04:27 PM:

heresiarch, #288: Insofar as precedent inclines academics towards certain fields of study and away from others, it is in and of itself a form of institutionalized bias preventing academics from freely studying what they wish.

Eh. The nature of science fiction publishing cruelly prevents authors from publishing large hardcovers consisting entirely of the words OH MY GOD ROCKETS ARE AWESOME in huge fonts. In fact, the current nature of genre fiction is such that, I suspect, rather more mid-list authors who want to make a living are writing vampire-based urban fantasy than would necessarily choose to do so on their own.

Large institutions have institutional natures, individuals navigate through them, and when the institutions change, they do it pretty slowly. Goodness me.

But just as with noting the increased incorporation of female authors and authors of color, the very fact that they are being incorporated now is symptomatic of previous marginalization. (my emphasis)

Yep. Therefore, the only reasonable thing to do is to keep complaining about it forever.

Pointing out continuing bias is a good thing, but in order to do it effectively, you have to understand the actual nature of contemporary institutions and the way they currently show bias (such as the original OP did so efficiently). You haven't really demonstrated that; you did just enough number-crunching to give the illusion of support to a pre-existing attitude, one that turned out to be out of date.

I'd also suggest that science fiction not getting invited to the hoity-toity parties in the past isn't quite the same kind of marginalization as the still-systematic exclusion of women and people of color, including in science fiction. Not that you were saying that.

#290 ::: Seth E. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 04:37 PM:

TexAnne, there is institutional inertia, definitely. As Janet Brennan Croft said above, it can vary pretty widely from one discipline to another, and over time as well. There's less of that in my field right now, but ten or fifteen years ago, working with computers (which I do) would have been seen by some older faculty as inherently anti-artistic. That battle's been pretty much won now, though.

#291 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 04:58 PM:

heresiarch @ 281: My longish response has been in moderation limbo for a few hours now, but I'll add this:

a high concentration of themes of loss, failure, mediocrity and ennui

Litfic has what I would consider a normal concentration of those things--dark and light in roughly equal balance. SF has what I could consider a very low concentration of those things. That's not a problem, any more than film noir's high concentration is a problem--"depressing" and "mind-blowing" is a really hard combination to pull off. But it's litfic that's in line with (at least) the Western literary tradition.

#292 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 05:05 PM:

Tim @291:
My longish response has been in moderation limbo for a few hours now

It does very much help matters if you mention that a post has gone into moderation immediately. That way if one of the moderators is reading along, we know to go into the back end and fish it out before we then have to go spend a bunch of time cleaning up comment references.

#293 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 05:40 PM:

abi @ 292: Sorry about that! I was under the impression that you were automatically notified, and that adding an immediate complaint would be a bit naggy.

#294 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 05:56 PM:

The term "litfic" is an example of the kind of terminological ambiguity that haunts non-technical discussions of literature. The view that any particular science fiction text is ineligible for "litfic" status because it addresses topics outside of "litfic" genre boundaries strikes me as being a sociological view--that is, it attempts to define or categorize a text according to the interests of its audience(s). This is not a very useful taxonomic principle if we are interested in the qualities of texts or genres beyond their subject-matter or the makeup of their audiences. It also tends to reduce the "literary" part of the "litfic" label to "the tastes and interests of X demographic"--which implies that what is not "litfic" is not literary or maybe even not literature. I don't find this way of talking about art-made-from-words very useful if what I am trying to do is to account for the texts or the genres to which they might belong with minimal reference to the demographic slices that make up their audiences. (That is an interesting field of study, but it as much a study of audiences as of texts.)

While I was in grad school, "the canon" was loosening up, partly as a result of pressures to attend to work by/about women and African-Americans and gradually other identity groups. At about the same time, a few senior academics were suggesting that various popular genres were worth looking at, which is why, say, Gary K. Wolfe and I were able to turn our interests in SF/F into acceptable academic practice. My first professional publications were essays on Silverberg, Farmer, and Heinlein, and in for the first two, they were among the earliest academic articles on those writers. But I was not a lone pioneer--SFRA, PCA (Popular Culture Association), and even regional MLA conferences were populated by grad students and young assistant profs doing papers on SF--and we were all following our noses *and* wading along behind some even-earlier pioneers who had broken trail with work on Tolkien, Lewis, Le Guin, Sayers, and other "category" writers who were close enough to the traditional literary mainstream to be wedge topics.

There turned out to be few jobs labeled "SF/F specialist" circa 1975, but then there were few jobs of any kind for a couple of decades. Nevertheless, once it was established that genre fiction was an acceptable area of research, teachers with an interest in SF/F were no longer quite the oddballs they had been in the mid-60s. In grad school and as a part-timer in my wife's department later on, I never got any serious heat about teaching SF or publishing essays about it--though, of course, some of my colleagues must have thought I was slumming or slacking or pandering. But that was not the official position in either department, and in the 25 years since I last taught, attitudes are even more relaxed.

#295 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 07:01 PM:

abi 272: My numbers were diagnostic, not a target for quotas against any absolute statistical profile because, in point of fact, there is no single absolute profile with which to compare them.

I was trying to figure out whether we were showing more bias than the market (not quite the right word, but my brain isn't finding the right one at the moment). You compared me to the authors of the Esquire list ("I'm sure the authors of the Esquire article were pretty much on the same page as you there"). If you weren't really angry at me, that was a damned harsh and IMO unfair thing to do. If you were really angry at me, I find your statement cited above a little odd.

Frederica is quite a late Heyer (1965). Whatever was going on with "ain't" in the book was not the product of a research discovery midway through the writing process.

I was speculating about why she committed the infelicity of suddenly changing everyone's dialect partway through the book. Another example: someone uses the expression "I'm more than seven" (apparently meaning roughly "I wasn't born yesterday"); someone else uses it a couple of pages later, then no one uses it again for the rest of the book. The point is it seems like she wasn't so much just trying to be authentic as trying to show off her rock collection (where 'rock' is a metaphor for cool words and expressions found in historical research).

Whatever one bounces off of, one bounces off of, of course, and once one bounces one continues to bounce.

I wouldn't say I've entirely bounced off Heyer. I may give her Regency stuff another try; I wish I'd had more of a grasp of the genre conventions before reading Frederica, because (for example) I hadn't been aware that "she suddenly realizes at the end that she's been in love with him all along" was a genre convention. I honestly think this would not have bothered me nearly as much (or at all) had I been aware of that fact. Instead of expecting a Pride and Prejudice-style gradual conversion and open courtship by the hero, I'd've collected signs that her heart was being engaged by him (they're there, I just wasn't looking for them).

I'm like a person who reads a cozy without knowing to expect the detective to get everyone together at the end and explain exactly how the murder happened. That person would say "now wait a minute. Police (or whatever) don't do that! They just arrest the murderer, and the rest of everyone has to wait for the trial to find out what happened" and be upset by the implausibility.

Frederica was my first Regency Romance (unless Austen counts). I'll probably give the genre (and Heyer) at least one more try before I give up on it (and her) entirely.

Seth 276: I have a friend whose art history degree is in Italian Renaissance painting, the most traditional of disciplines.

I'm not in a position to contest the rest of what you say here, but I do have a friend with an MFA in Russian Orthodox Icon Painting.

Yeah. Traditional.

Not sure what she does for a living these days (we see each other rarely, and we usually talk about food or films), but I'm reasonably sure that if someone suddenly needed a Russian Orthodox icon painted, she'd be the go-to woman.

#296 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 07:04 PM:

Off topic but: every time I click on this thread I find myself whistling or humming a few bars from Syd Barrett's "It is Obvious (may I say oh baby)"

#297 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 07:14 PM:

The Modesto Kid @ 296: For me it's Aztec Camera ("I hear your footsteps in the street/it won't be long before we meet/it's obvious").

#298 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 07:24 PM:

Tim Walters @ 284: "Those people are all certainly litfic, but no more so than Barth, Russo, Morrison, Le Guin, Rushdie, or any number of other people that don't resemble them (or your definition) at all."

Of those I've read Le Guin and Morrison, and I think they fit my definition on at least a few major axes. It's possible I've just been improbably biased in my litfic reading, I suppose--but more likely it's that we're looking at the same works and seeing different things.

"There's no way to know if the body of SF with strong SFnal virtues but not strong traditional literary virtues will enter the academic mainstream in time or not."

I confess I don't know what you mean by "traditional literary virtues." I thought your position was that the virtues of traditional literature were synonymous with literary virtue, period. If you agree that traditional literary virtues are distinct from, a subset of, all potential literary virtue, then we're not arguing about what I thought we are arguing about.

"That seems fine to me."

I can't agree. Leaving aside Frankenstein's enormous cultural influence, she opened up the fundamental question of modernity--can we control the forces we unleash? It's been a central problematic of modern civilization ever since. And, contra to your "lack of age" argument, she wrote it nearly two centuries ago.

"I don't claim to be more representative than anyone else, but you can see why I'd want hard evidence to believe what you're saying."

I thought calculus was great, mind-expanding stuff, but I didn't miss the rhythmic thumping sound of my classmates' heads against their desks. Given the frequency with which conversations about litfic degenerate into "I LOATHED book X in high school," it's decidedly odd you haven't picked up on the trend.

#299 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 07:45 PM:

fidelio @ 193: I think you are right on with the reader's guide suggestion for Faulkner. In school I disdained any sort of Cliff Notes-y thing (my household generally considered them For Cheaters); maybe that was a mistake.

Re: Faulkner writing about rural South in 19th and 20th centuries: I considered that maybe I was just not Southern enough to grasp things. But my friend who adored Faulkner is Polish-Canadian (born in Montreal), quite urban and continental/Eastern-European in her experiences and tastes -- so clearly one can come at Faulkner from a place very different to the one he's writing about, and still get into it.

It's also true that I last tried to read Faulkner when I was 16. It might be worth another shot. (My tastes at 16 ran more to Baudelaire and Camus.)

You know, our fiction/literature shelf really is sadly lacking in books written by women. We've got Susanna Clarke, Jo Walton, Connie Willis, J.K. Rowling, Wisława Szymborska, Shirley Jackson, Raina Telgemeier, Marjane Satrapi.

Non-fiction: Jane McGonigal, Barbara Ehrenreich, Linda Babcock, Catherine Bell, Elizabeth Johnson, Judith Plaskow & Carol Christ, Catherine Keller, Kamy Wicoff, Cordelia Fine.

Self, I am disappoint.

#300 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 07:48 PM:

Seth E. @ 289: "Eh."

A telling point! But go on.

"The nature of science fiction publishing cruelly prevents authors from publishing large hardcovers consisting entirely of the words OH MY GOD ROCKETS ARE AWESOME in huge fonts."

Yes! Exactly! This is the precise attitude that is buried at the heart of the litfic/genre dichotomy: genre works are excluded from literary criticism for the same reasons that childish scrawlings are not published, i.e. because they suck. There's no bias--your stuff isn't discussed because it sucks.

"Yep. Therefore, the only reasonable thing to do is to keep complaining about it forever."

As if rolling my eyes with great vigor at people declaiming the perfectly egalitarian nature of today's academia equals "complaining about it forever." Apparently even you agree that there's institutional bias in certain directions, and yet everyone and their mom feels the need to talk about the one guy they know teaching a class on Tolkien. I mean, rock on Tolkien-teaching dude, but as giving "the illusion of support to a pre-existing attitude" goes it beats my little literature search all to pieces.

#301 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 08:31 PM:

heresiarch @ 298: I confess I don't know what you mean by "traditional literary virtues."

I mean something like "literary virtues accepted by old fogeys." To a sufficiently old fogey, being mind-blowing is not a literary virtue; a mind-blowing book with crude characters, prose, etc. is therefore not literary. If today's young turks grow up with SF and consider mind-blowing-ness as good a thing as the others (I'm not saying that's the case yet), when they become old fogeys, mind-blowing-ness will be a traditional literary virtue. They might still prefer a book that's firing on all cylinders, but being sufficiently mind-blowing will be enough to give a book literary interest.

Literary virtues can also be deprecated (allegory, perhaps), but, over time, more get added than subtracted, and thus there are more ways to be literary.

This is, I think, a postmodern way of looking at it. A modernist would be more likely to think that there's a right way to write literature, we should be working on getting closer to it, and anything that doesn't further that goal is fucking up the program. My hunch is that a lot of what SF readers are reacting to when they feel slighted is the lingering scent of modernism.

I thought calculus was great, mind-expanding stuff, but I didn't miss the rhythmic thumping sound of my classmates' heads against their desks.

Was it bad pedagogy, or just that calculus is inherently difficult for some people?

Given the frequency with which conversations about litfic degenerate into "I LOATHED book X in high school," it's decidedly odd you haven't picked up on the trend.

People who feel this way about a book: would you have been fine if the teacher had presented the book in a different way, or did you just not like the book? Did it turn you off reading in general, or just send you to a different type of reading? Where would you like to be in your reading now that you're not because of something like this?

What, in short, is the nature of the harm? Just a bad experience with book X, or something worse?

#302 ::: Seth E. ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 08:40 PM:

heresiarch, at the magic #300: I've said neither that academia is "perfectly egalitarian," nor that "there's institutional bias in certain directions." You've set up a binary argument in which either all scholars are completely free to do whatever they please, or else "institutional bias" is preventing them from doing so. You've chosen the second position, and since I disagree, you're assigning me to the first. But both positions are wrong, it's a false dichotomy. And you keep swinging around the phrase "institutional bias" like a magic wand when you're actually talking about other things, from "the nature of institutions" to "some people's opinions."

But it's clearly important to you to feel belittled by academia--in fact, you insist on it--so I'll stop insisting otherwise. One last thing, though: perhaps, if "everyone and their mom" is talking about that one Tolkien dude, it's not just one Tolkien dude any more.

#303 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 09:17 PM:

heresiarch@300: everyone and their mom feels the need to talk about the one guy they know teaching a class on Tolkien.

[strives mightily to resist pun]

#304 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 09:26 PM:

Tim #301:

I think it's often a case of not being ready to read the book, at whatever level. I loved Pride and Prejudice reading it in my late 20s, but I think I'd have found it hard to enjoy as assigned reading in high school. Certainly, I remember a lot of books I didn't much like in high school (Billy Budd and The Scarlet Letter come to mind), which I might very well have found interesting to read as an adult. Also, there's just a different feel to things you're reading because you want to than things you're reading because someone's going to give you a bad grade if you don't.

#305 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 09:32 PM:

Adrian Smith @ 303: Why would you do such a thing!?Adrian, this is Making Light! Resist a pun indeed...

#306 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 09:39 PM:

Folks interested in women authors and SF may be interested in the exhibit that Mary's just uploaded: "Pre-1923 Utopias and Science Fiction by Women: A Reading List of Online Editions".

It has a few particular points of relevance to this thread. SF wasn't really perceived as a genre of its own through most of the time period surveyed; indeed, the name "science fiction" would not be adopted until a bit later. Also, utopias represent a particularly interesting type of literature to look at from women's perspectives, since to a large extent they reflect the author's experience of contemporary society (with the utopias presented as contrasting alternatives), and women's experiences of their societies was often quite different from that of men living at the time, or of men or women living now.

The new exhibit will be officially announced next week, but we thought folks in this discussion might like an early look.

#307 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 09:56 PM:

albatross @ 304: Both of those issues make sense, but both also seem to apply to most subjects, not just literature.

#308 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 10:12 PM:

heresiarch@305: Well, it's a bit facile *and* it calls attention to the fact that I don't have anything else to contribute to the thread. And Serge might want it, though admittedly probably not any more.

#309 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 10:26 PM:

But if this thread doesn't include any puns at all, we might be accused of institutionalized anti-pun bias! If we had just one Tolkien pun it would help shield us from that horrible, awful, unthinkable accusation.

#310 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 10:34 PM:

I'm just concerned that we make sure we have the same proportion of puns as in the average ML thread. As long as we do that, we're blameless and pure and saintly and all like that.

#311 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2011, 11:00 PM:

heresiarch @309 -- are you just calling for Tolkien integration?

#312 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 12:52 AM:

Oh, cool, thank you for the link, John! I have citations for a bunch of these, but scattered. Curating is a wonderful thing.

#313 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 01:54 AM:

everywhere we go they say "damn,
SFWA's fuckin' up the program"

#314 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 02:59 AM:

Xopher @295:
I was trying to figure out whether we were showing more bias than the market (not quite the right word, but my brain isn't finding the right one at the moment). You compared me to the authors of the Esquire list ("I'm sure the authors of the Esquire article were pretty much on the same page as you there"). If you weren't really angry at me, that was a damned harsh and IMO unfair thing to do. If you were really angry at me, I find your statement cited above a little odd.

At the time I made comment 214, yes, I was white-hot furious with you. That was about the fifth draft of a reply to 212, which came across to me as "oh, please, are we still discussing women authors? I thought we'd moved onto something interesting."

Shortly afterward, I went to bed. When I got up, I wrote comment 272.

There is a thing in there that I want to tease out, because I do think there's a problem with the line you were taking, and I think it's the same problem that the Esquire guys have. Bear with me.

It's perfectly defensible to talk about the proportions of a subset of a particular class or genre of literature being representative of that class or genre as a whole. It feels, when one does, like one is being fair. It isn't automatically leaping to citing men rather than women because they're men, after all.

The problem, the bite, is in "particular class or genre of literature". As we've been arguing at length here, and have discussed more than once before, that's a misty and amorphous term. It's perfectly easy to have a definition of a class or genre in your head that reflects a bucketload of hidden biases: mind-blowing science fiction, books about being a man, genre fiction suitable for academic study.

Sticking with the writers of the Esquire list, they had a shape of literature in their minds. We've talked about it here as "Fond Memories of a Vagina", 1950's angst fiction, and cigar smoke and leather armchair stuff, but those are just facets on a more complex, amorphous but coherent shape of literature between people's ears. And in that chunk of stuff, taken as a whole, I imagine the gender ratio is pretty heavily tilted toward the men.

So the gender ratio of the 75 is probably representative. It's impoverished, but the impoverishment is in the shape of the construct in someone's head, not in the subset that made it onto the slideshow.

It's true that some subsets of literature are neatly and firmly set out (Hugo winners). And some are constrained by time and circumstances (Golden-age Roman poets with extant corpores of work).

Your impulse to broaden the net—to go for "all published authors" is one way to try to get out of the mess, but I don't think it's one we can fruitfully pursue. The information simply isn't available.

In the end, the only real answer is to (a) look at what you get out at the end (even my very crude lists of names) and use it to ask yourself what you put into the beginning, and (b) read unexpected things, edge cases, and exceptions that prove the rule to try to refine and clarify the shape of literature between your ears.

In both cases, a negative answer should be possible: "Actually, that gender ratio is about what I'd expect from car repair manuals"; "This isn't what I'm looking for out of a book."

So that's what I was trying to get at there, in both comments. I'm sorry I became so angry with you in the early 200's, and sorry that I didn't clean up the mess properly the next morning. There really is no excuse for that kind of uncharity.

#315 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 03:09 AM:

abi@314: "Fond Memories of a Vagina"

I don't think there's ever just one.

#316 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 03:48 AM:

abi@314: Shouldn't that be "corpora"?

#317 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 03:55 AM:

I really should not write long comments before I have my coffee.

Any more? Or could we talk about what I was talking about too?

#318 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 07:22 AM:

abi @ 317, 315: I used up most of what I had to say above. But this:

The impoverishment is in the shape of the construct in someone's head, not in the subset that made it onto the slideshow

put me back to looking at the original list with an eye toward what that inner construct told me. Perhaps I'm preoccupied with aging lately, but those books (so far as I know, broadly, with execptions) deal with men no older than the prime of their life.*

That takes me back to:

Sticking with the writers of the Esquire list, they had a shape of literature in their minds.**

I believe they did. I also think they had a shape of an article their editors expected. The list is a product of both those factors.

There's also an audience, but it's an audience selected by editor, publisher, and advertiser. There's a broader readership (am I in their audience? I don't think so), and now I'm getting into publics and other stuff I'm still trying to fully understand.

*I'm also pretty sure there's much more Contemporaneous Vagina than there is Fond Memory Thereof.

**I so wanted to edit this down to "The writers of the Esquire list, they had a shape of literature in their minds." I just couldn't convince myself I wasn't doing an injustice to your voice.

#319 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 07:53 AM:

Mostly have quit following this thread, but this jumped out at me: The problem here isn't that there isn't anyone out there studying sf, or that sf study isn't yielding interesting insights. I mean, fanzines! It's just not happening in the academy.

Um, Henry Jenkins, anyone? I mean, here's at least one academic who's made a full-time study, not of SF, but of FANDOM. Textual Poachers came out in 1992. (I read it in 1999.)

Or does MIT not count as "the academy" because it's an engineering school?

#320 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 08:21 AM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @318:

It's entirely possible I, or we, have mischaracterized the internalized shape of literature the writers have. I haven't read enough of the books on the list to be able to derive its shape from the shadows it's left on the internet wall.

And you're absolutely correct that the intended audience, both editorial and commercial, should be taken into account in any examination of the construction of the list.

And there's probably some writer-selection as well as filtering of outputs. I suspect that someone whose internal shape of relevant literature includes rather more Austen, Brontë, Bujold and Heyer would not be working for Esquire in a capacity that allows them to produce such articles. That's back to the audience influencing writing, on a larger scale.

I so wanted to edit this down to "The writers of the Esquire list, they had a shape of literature in their minds." I just couldn't convince myself I wasn't doing an injustice to your voice.

That sounds like the kind of early Twentieth-century narrative grammar one hears from the old bluesmen. You want to make me sound like one of those guys, you go right on ahead. Might learn me some good guitar playing by osmosis.

#321 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 09:27 AM:

abi @320:

I've sat down and had drinks with the Esquire fiction editor at the time this list was put out, Tom Chiarella, and my suspicion is the "75" have been passed through his editorial filter... that is, made more palatable for Esquire readers. He's a supremely well-read guy, and doesn't seem the type to limit himself to "dangling" participles.

A better reflection of his own taste in modern literature might be found here:

Napkin Project

Without straining myself too much (numbers make me dizzy), this one amounts to approximately 15% women authors.

#322 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 09:45 AM:

Couple of scattered thoughts.

The description of the Esquire ideal as "half James Bond, half Ernest Hemingway" is about right. Men who don't think they're manly enough are pretty much the target audience. (I have various thoughts on masculinity, competence, and adulthood which need to be untangled and laid out to dry before I present them anywhere, never mind here.)

So they're going to give you the Big Damn Manly List of Big Damn Manly Books. Or in the case of Jack London, Big Damn Man-Dogly Books.

As far as genre and Waspy Suburban Angst, there is some truth in the stereotypes; I remember picking a once-popular literary-seeming book (from the late 70's, maybe?) off of my mother-in-law's shelf and reading two random pages in the middle. It was two people who lived in a Northeastern US suburb, cheating on their spouses, doing nothing but talk about their spouses. It seemed a fairly accurate representation of those sorts of people, who bore the kidneys out of me. I've forgotten the name.

I occasionally do find something that seems like litfic and grabs me and drags me off to finish the book. "Life of Pi" comes to mind. But you literally can't get farther from a suburban living room in the Northeastern United States than that. Does it still count? [further digression: I really did NOT like "Beatrice and Virgil." Opinions?]

Miserable Cliches and Such: I've seen during my lifetime at least two cases where a breakout book opens up a genre to the public, and people immediately set out to write enough of that genre for Sturgeon's Law to come into effect. (Extremely Tolkienesque Fantasy is one, and fangbanger romance is the other. Possible third: Silence of the Lambs serial-killer-supervillain stuff.)

Is there an archetypal "WASPy suburban living room book", a brilliant trendsetter which inspired the rest?

#323 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 10:07 AM:

Sandy B. @ 322: Is there an archetypal "WASPy suburban living room book", a brilliant trendsetter which inspired the rest?

John Updike is the only author of this sort book that I could name (not to say there aren't others); he has several books that fit that description (and several that don't). I'll pick Couples as representative of the former, mostly for the title.

#324 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 10:08 AM:

I've been lurking on this discussion, but I have some random observations:

1. I agree with the people who've pointed out that, to the extent that SF is actually deprecated, it isn't "the academy" doing it. Go to the website for David Langford's newsletter Ansible and check out the "As Others See Us" sections of a few random back issues. Not many of those put-downs come from academics. Rather than people who study books, they're mostly people who write about books in popular media--critics, pundits, and authors or creators who want to disassociate themselves from SF. (Sometimes justifiably--the SF/fantasy audience isn't always who those authors are writing for. I'm as tired as anyone else of writers who claim their futuristic novels aren't SF, but I also try to keep in mind that this is, to an extent, a marketing strategy--a way of signaling to a "litfic" audience that might overlook an unabashed genre book that this one is for them.)

2. I think in this discussion "literary fiction" is being used in two different ways, and as a result some people are talking past each other. In one case, "literary fiction" is the name of a genre, a group of novels sharing certain characteristics. Some of them are good books, some aren't. In this case, "literary" is descriptive, not evaluative. To call a book "litfic" is neither a compliment nor an insult, just an observation.

In the other case, "literary" is a value judgement. It's usually positive--a "literary" book has achieved, or at least aspires to, the status of great literature. This gets more complicated when you're arguing whether SF gets enough respect from The Man. There are SF fans out there who have chips on their shoulders about "literature" and who seem to use the word as a synonym for "sissy books." Sometimes, whether or not it's really there, those of us who like both genre and literary fiction hear SF partisans sneering when they talk about "literature," just like the SF partisan hears a maybe-illusory sneer when Margaret Atwood talks about science fiction.

3. Genres aren't fixed categories--they're fuzzy and fluid. Claiming a book for one genre doesn't take it away from any of the others. (I'd argue that any really interesting book will inevitably bear a family resemblance to multiple genres.) It's even possible for a novel to be both litfic and SF.

On the other hand, no book in a genre will have every characteristic of that genre, no matter what definition you're working from. That doesn't mean it's not part of the family. Discussing genre isn't like identifying trees with a field guide. It's not about comparing points on a checklist. It's more about asking the question "Is grouping these books in this way interesting?"

#325 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 10:33 AM:

Going back to the original post...

The Esquire list is, in its lopsidedness, similar to the best SF list from the Guardian that provoked some justifiably annoyed commentary on SF blogs. In the interests of pushing back against incuriosity, does anyone have underappreciated work by female authors that they wish would get more attention in SF fandom? Either SF/fantasy, or work from other genres that would appeal to the same audience?

My nominee: Fire Logic and its sequels by Laurie J. Marks. They're epic fantasy novels of the "True King and plucky allies defend the land from invading armies" variety, but with an interesting take on the genre: the solution to the problem is to integrate the invaders into the local civilization, and the heroes are as concerned with carving out a stable, ordinary family life for themselves as they are with war and politics. Currently only the third book is in print--the series jumped publishers after the first two--but Small Beer Press is reprinting the others next year, and they mentioned in their newsletter that Marks has finished the first draft of volume four.

#326 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 10:34 AM:

Wesley @ 324: In one case, "literary fiction" is the name of a genre, a group of novels sharing certain characteristics.

I would have said that the question (between me and heresiarch, at least) is whether sharing certain characteristics is enough to make a genre. It's clear that there are cases where it's not (albatross' example of books with even ISBN numbers* is a reductio ad absurdum here); is "literariness" one of them? I say yes.

(We also disagree on which characteristics literary books share, of course; but my position is that even if it turned out that 90% of a random litfic sample centered around themes of grief and loss, it wouldn't make A Confederacy Of Dunces or Fear Of Flying—or Growing Up Weightless—any less literary.)

*But even this is more complicated than it appears, because of that base-11 check digit...

#327 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 10:52 AM:

Wesley @ 325: In the interests of pushing back against incuriosity, does anyone have underappreciated work by female authors that they wish would get more attention in SF fandom? Either SF/fantasy, or work from other genres that would appeal to the same audience?

Rhoda Lerman's The Book Of The Night is, for my money, better magic realism than Marquez and better medieval geek-out than The Name Of The Rose.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' Reindeer Moon is a brilliant novel of prehistory. Anne Eliot Crompton's The Sorcerer is also very good in that domain.

Doris Piserchia's Earthchild is an outstanding far-future novel, like Hothouse but even weirder.

Carol Emshwiller and Kelly Link are better known, but still, to my mind, underappreciated. They deserve Nobel Prizes and MacArthur genius grants.

#328 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 10:57 AM:

Also: anything appearing under the SF imprint of The Women's Press is worth a look.

#329 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 11:00 AM:

I fear we're getting into Wittgensteinian territory here; just as it's incredibly hard to create a definition of "game" that includes Solitaire and chess and Call of Cthulhu and tag while also excluding things that aren't games, it's incredibly hard to create a definition of litfic. Especially if you have to somehow justify including 1984 and Oryx and Crake while excluding Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand or The Left Hand of Darkness.

We can say, here is a group of books that are in conversation with each other, and here is another group of books that are in conversation with each other -- and there are books of fabulist writing that are more in conversation with mundane books than with SF books. I think we could work with that if not for "literary" being looked on as signifying "better." In high school, the preppy kids talked mostly with one another and the goth kids talked mostly with one another, and there might not have been any problems with it except for the idea -- internalized by both groups -- that one group was cooler than the other.

#330 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 11:50 AM:

I went back to Catcher in the Rye at 40 and it was completely different than reading it at 16.

It might be interesting to go back to A Confederacy of Dunces because the impression it gave me in my youth was of a classic carny geek show: Let us now laugh at the broken, the wrong, the useless. The people, I thought, like me.

#331 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 12:43 PM:

Emily H @325: I heard an interesting definition of 'game' recently on a podcast:

A game is a set of unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to tackle.

It works well for golf (the 'easy version' of golf would involve walking over and dropping the ball in the hole, none of this "stand waaay over there and only hit it with this specific stick! Oh, and I'm putting water between you and it to make it interesting" stuff), solitaire card games (most of which are, at heart, ways of sorting cards into suit stacks with a numerical ordering -- much simpler without the extra rules), jacks, and World of Warcraft, at least.

RPGs and other such interactive fiction is more complicated because it's basically playing pretend -- which, as a whole, does fit the definition in the wider sense.

#332 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 12:43 PM:

I appear to have just used sufficient words of power to get my preceding post moderated.

#333 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 12:45 PM:

SandyB (322): a breakout book opens up a genre to the public, and people immediately set out to write enough of that genre for Sturgeon's Law to come into effect

Tom Clancy did that for technothrillers, too. Although his career may demonstrate Sturgeon's Law all by itself.

#334 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 01:01 PM:

(Elliott, if you're wondering why the post was held: the gnomes are twitchy about the Ball of Bushido. To many elemental agriculturists have attempted to post irrelevant advertisements on our threads.)

#335 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 01:51 PM:

#327 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 10:52 AM:

Wesley #325: does anyone have underappreciated work by female authors that they wish would get more attention in SF fandom? Either SF/fantasy, or work from other genres that would appeal to the same audience?

Faith Hunter -- I liked her Bloodring trilogy, not sure about her shapeshifter-PI series yet.

I don't think Andre Norton has been mentioned yet... R.I.P., but she left a huge "corpus". ;-)

Doris Piserchia: She actually had a whole bunch of books, including several more starring preadolescent orphan girls with dimension-hopping powers and/or animal companions. (Freud to the courtesy phone, please!) Spacechild isn't even close to the wierdest of her stuff. Now, Spinner will smoke your wierdometer!

Lin Carter: The Green Star series, among others; peer and occasional collaborator with Burroughs and Howard.

#336 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 01:53 PM:

Random observation: I have met all of one male who liked Pride & Prejudice. (He self-identified with Mr. Darcy.) I have yet to meet a female who liked Catcher in the Rye*. Obviously, this won't be a universal thing, but are some books strongly skewed to be liked by one gender over the other? Is this perhaps what's really going on with the Esquire list—it's not so much "these appeal to guys" as "these won't much appeal to women"?

*Holden Caulfield strikes me as an angsty jerk. Maybe that's just me.

#337 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 01:58 PM:

David Harmon @ 335: I've read The Dimensioneers. Enjoyable, but more normal than Earthchild (which, to be sure, is not saying much). I will try Spinners for sure.

I'm pretty sure Lin Carter was a dude.

#338 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 02:03 PM:

I loved P&P. I even liked Mansfield Park. And I loved Catcher (as an adult—never read it as a teen). Caulfield is an angsty jerk—the book is about him breaking out of the cycle where being miserable makes him an angsty jerk and being an angsty jerk makes him miserable. I, um, can relate.)

#339 ::: Teemu Kalvas ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 02:15 PM:

B. Durbin @ 336:

Hey, I like Pride and Prejudice, and I'm male. But the point is valid. P&P does not really have any other identification target than Elizabeth. So if you are a male and can't identify with a female protagonist for one book, you are out of luck. I guess many readers can't, but many can. No matter what the split is exactly, this will mean that trying to appeal to as many men as possible, you end up with lists like Esquire's.

I mean, I really have more difficulty with thinking about your friend identifying with Darcy than anything else here.

Holden was an angsty jerk, except for the last page. I liked it, but I might have been of an impressionable age. I can't remember if I've read it again, as an adult.

#340 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 02:40 PM:

Tim Walters @ 301: "I mean something like "literary virtues accepted by old fogeys." To a sufficiently old fogey, being mind-blowing is not a literary virtue; a mind-blowing book with crude characters, prose, etc. is therefore not literary."

I feel that's a distinction less sensitive to age than to literary context--there are, at this point, fogeys as old as fogeys get who've been championing mind-blowingness their whole lives. Similarly, I'm sure there are any number of young folk who couldn't care less about mind-blowingness. It depends what you're reading, and what groups you read within. And if it doesn't break down along generational lines, but along social lines, isn't it the sort of "shared set of concerns" that I was talking about back @ 114?

"This is, I think, a postmodern way of looking at it."

I'm very much on board with that (for certain values of "post-modern".) Something I've been assuming, but maybe not laying out clearly enough, is that all of these things, from different techniques, norms and narrative structures, concerns, virtues and so on, all exist within a particular context, and do not have an objective existence beyond them.

"Was it bad pedagogy, or just that calculus is inherently difficult for some people?"

Similar to the argument above, I don't think there's a clear distinction between the two. Whether or not calculus is "inherently difficult" depends on how well one understands the entire edifice of formal mathematic logic and symbolism upon which it is built--an edifice that must be built. For me, "inherent difficulty" is a highly dubious theoretical concept.

"What, in short, is the nature of the harm? Just a bad experience with book X, or something worse?"

Setting people challenges they don't have the skill and understanding to overcome teaches people that challenges are things that can't be overcome. If you understand that Faulkner isn't Great Literature in some inherent, immediately apparent sense, but Great Literature in a "being a complex and masterful elaboration and play upon and within a long and rich literary tradition" sense, it becomes obvious that putting it in front of students who are at best weakly acquainted with that tradition isn't going to communicate much of what makes it worthwhile.

Lila @ 319: While it's a good thing that we can now point to a number of people studying sf and sf culture in academia, that is just proof that there isn't total exclusion, not proof of parity.* I can point to a lot of female and minority academics; that doesn't mean they aren't still underrepresented.

* And there are any number of arguments to be had over what counts as parity. It seems to me however that whatever criteria is chosen, academia still comes up short.

Teemu Kalvas @ 339: "So if you are a male and can't identify with a female protagonist for one book, you are out of luck."

I'm always struck by how the discussion of people (men) not being able to identify with protagonists of the opposite (fairer) sex is just sort of noted as a matter of fact reality, rather than as a problem to be solved. I mean, whole swathes of sexism basically come down to inability/unwillingness to empathize with the opposite sex--shouldn't we actively try to promote cross-gender (and cross-category) reading?

#341 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 02:54 PM:

Well, I can't claim credit for #318 (that was John A Arkansawyer) but I do want to respond and expand on this bit in abi's comment at #314:

Your impulse to broaden the net—to go for "all published authors" is one way to try to get out of the mess, but I don't think it's one we can fruitfully pursue. The information simply isn't available.

And, as grows increasingly obvious to those of us who reach a certain age, the time isn't available. With finite time to live and to read, none of us can hope to do better than sample a subset of all the work out there that's potentially worth reading.

So if we want our reading to broaden our experiences and perspectives, it's worth reflecting on the characteristics of our reading sample, which is I think one of the things that you're getting at. Hopefully this doesn't shame us into avoiding certain books (I'd actually like a recommendation for a *good* book, that respects the characters, in the Northeastern-suburban-midlife-crisis-and-adultery subgenre) but instead encourages us to find new books that imagine and observe the world in ways that we might have otherwise missed. It's like the Bechdel test for movies; I agree with the observation others have made that it's not necessarily bad for a particular movie (particularly one with a narrow focus) not to pass the test, but there's probably something wrong when a *lot* of the movies in a culture, or in one's personal viewing, fail it.

That broader survey can be important not just for our reading enjoyment, but also for our engagement with the rest of the world. That's part of what motivates the digital curation that Mary and I do. The first online exhibit I created back in 1994, linking to banned books, was a response to my university contemplating online censorship. The women's-utopias exhibit that Mary's just created shows not just how women perceive the world, but how they imagine it could be different. In both of these I see an implicit statement: "There's an important set of perspectives that are being overlooked. Here they are: explore and read them for yourself."

And that's why I value folks recommending books and authors in forums like this one. There are a lot of thoughtful readers online who've collectively have found a much broader set of books and perspectives than I have. That even includes the Esquire perspectives: Ta-Nehisi Coates, for instance, is convincing me to read Moby-Dick, which is on their list. I'd love to hear about other books to try as well, outside the usual canonical lists.

#342 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 03:29 PM:

You know, the quantity of screwups I'm making at present is getting excessive. I'd fall on my sword, but the darned thing would probably shatter, scratch my nice recently-refinished floor, and leave me unscathed.

I'd like to humbly apologize to both John A Arkansawyer and John Mark Ockerbloom, who have very little in common but their first names, their outstanding intellect, and my affection. I'm sorry.

#343 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 03:55 PM:

David Harmon @335 -- Carter was male, indeed (I met him a few times) and was hardly a "peer and collaborator" of either Burroughs or Howard -- he wrote pastiches based on their work long after they were dead. He was a remarkably important editor of the field, for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series and some anthologies, but not a particularly inventive or important writer. And I've read a lot of his work (including his early poetry)....

#344 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 04:13 PM:

heresiarch @ 340: I feel that's a distinction less sensitive to age than to literary context--there are, at this point, fogeys as old as fogeys get who've been championing mind-blowingness their whole lives.

This seems isomorphic to the ongoing discussion about institutional inertia, and whether SF is fully accepted, accepted as well as one could expect given the time and the process, or still not accepted enough by any measure. I'm going to defer to our actual academics at this point.

I can also think of a more objective argument against mind-blowingness as a literary virtue, which is that other forms (film & essay) can do it as well or better than the novel, and if the novel doesn't have anything but mind-blowingness happening, maybe it's a failure as a novel. (We don't call the broadcast of a great baseball game a great film, do we?) Why is Rendezvous With Rama a novel instead of a think-piece?

As it happens, I love RWR, and I prefer it by quite a bit to Robinson's Mars trilogy, which has an equally cool scenario weighed down with mediocre novelistic bric-a-brac. But I'm not sure I could defend RWR.

heresiarch @ 340: Whether or not calculus is "inherently difficult" depends on how well one understands the entire edifice of formal mathematic logic and symbolism upon which it is built--an edifice that must be built.

But that's why they make you take algebra and geometry first, right?

If you understand that Faulkner isn't Great Literature in some inherent, immediately apparent sense, but Great Literature in a "being a complex and masterful elaboration and play upon and within a long and rich literary tradition" sense, it becomes obvious that putting it in front of students who are at best weakly acquainted with that tradition isn't going to communicate much of what makes it worthwhile.

I would say that if your teaching involves the concept of Great Literature at all, ur doin it rong. Teach people how to read well, and the history of the field, and let them figure out what's great. I don't remember getting that particular bit of hooey from any of my teachers.

And, just as with calculus, you have to do things in order (Faulkner may be too advanced for most high-schoolers regardless). Which, again, is more or less how I remember it happening. First the Hawthorne, then the Dostoevsky, not the other way around!

I'm not saying our educational system is a well-oiled machine; far from it. But the concept everywhere I went (and I went to twelve different schools for my twelve grades) was that of working through progressively more difficult works, not expecting that things would be immediately apparent.

I mean, whole swathes of sexism basically come down to inability/unwillingness to empathize with the opposite sex--shouldn't we actively try to promote cross-gender (and cross-category) reading?

+1. The article is billed as what men "should read," and if you're having trouble identifying with half the human race, books by and about women are exactly what you "should be" reading, to the extent that such a concept makes sense.

#345 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 05:37 PM:

Upon further thought, I didn't quite end up saying what I wanted to say at the end of 340. I do think that literature is an important opportunity to expand our understandings of difference, but I also want to highlight how much hanging out in other people's skulls is vital to *all kinds* of literature. Trying to see things from the point of view of a sailor on a whaling vessel in the mid-19th century or that of a woman from the landed gentry a few decades earlier is something of a feat for most 21st century Americans regardless of their gender. Yet in my experience failing to connect across time and class and circumstance is remarkable, but drawing the line at gender is not.

#346 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 06:47 PM:

heresiarch @ #340: what a good thing, then, that I wasn't talking about parity, but rather responding to a claim that "there isn't anyone out there studying SF". I even quoted it.

#347 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 08:04 PM:

Lila @ 346: What was I thinking, with my hyperbole.

#348 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 08:34 PM:

abi 314: OK, that all makes sense. Fair enough.

I'm sorry for the gender-insensitivity of my comment 212.

Tim 326: Huh. I thought Fear Of Flying was trashy and sensationalistic. But maybe I was too young (16, maybe?) when I read it to appreciate its quality.

B. 336: I have met all of one male who liked Pride & Prejudice.

Have we met? (Have to be at a Worldcon if so.) Assuming not: if we ever meet (and I hope we will, someday), that will be two. And I thought Lizzy's takedown of Darcy when he first proposes was completely awesome and absolutely well-deserved; I rooted for her the whole way through. I loved him by the end, but he acts like a jerk for most of the book, she tells him so, and he listens and changes his behavior. That's just made of win.

And I didn't like Holden Caulfield either. I think he was a closet case homophobe, among other annoying qualities.

abi 342: I'd fall on my sword, but the darned thing would probably shatter, scratch my nice recently-refinished floor, and leave me unscathed.

Fall on your pen, instead. It's mightier. Be sure to put the cap on, and lay the pen flat on the bed. We can't have you injuring yourself.

#349 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 09:01 PM:

Re: Lin Carter: I may be confused there; I didn't hit the scene until the 80's or so, and certainly never met him.

#350 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2011, 11:49 PM:

'Nother male who likes Pride and Prejudice. Are we really that rare? Wow!

#351 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 12:18 AM:

Certainly not, Yarrow, although I prefer Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. I suspect B. Durbin has not conducted a scientifically valid survey of the reading preferences of every male he's met.

#352 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 12:21 AM:

FWIW, I'm another man who loves Austen's work. (I think I like Persuasion a bit more than Pride and Prejudice, but both are wonderful.) And my office-mate (another mathy, techie middle-class white guy) is probably even more of a fan than I am.

#353 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 12:54 AM:

Yarrow @ 350: Apparently not. Though for me it wasn't quite straightforward: I peered into it in my teens, bounced hard, and didn't fall in love with it until my thirties.

heresiarch and Tim Walters @ 340, 344: On a maybe not unconnected note, I doubt everything one needs to appreciate some stories can be taught, with or without additional context. Just as there are children's books and ageless books, there are books that rely on the reader's having kicked around a bit, and had certain common experiences graven on their bones. Some readers have empathy and imagination enough to give those books most of their power anyhow from the start, and some writers are so evocative that they can communicate most of what they want to say to any truly receptive ear - but imagining the bicycle will never provide the whole deal until one has mounted one, fallen off it a bit, and taken it round some giddy corners.

Breadth of empathy itself seems to me to be one of those empirical learnings, or certainly was for me. Lessa of Pern was well within my parameters at school; Therese Desqueyroux was a big stretch; Elizabeth Bennet was so far outside them, I didn't really see her at all. And, FWIW, Holden Caufield produced so much contact irritation that I didn't even try, nor have tried again even yet.

I think the principle is as likely to generalize as my particular starting-points are not.

#354 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 01:44 AM:

On the topic of men who like Jane Austen
The libraries of various famous people have been cataloged (posthumously) in LibraryThing. One of the website's features is "Legacy Libraries" -- a list of your books which are also in the famous libraries. So I can tell you that Ernest Hemingway's library included "Pride and Prejudice." Of course, I don't know if he actually liked it, and it is suspicious that he doesn't appear to have any of her other novels. He had all of the Horatio Hornblower books, as one should, and also Peter S. Beagle's "A Fine and Private Place" and Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles."

Another man who loves Austen is Ta-Nahesi Coates.

I shall now stop piling on B. Durbin with counter-examples to #336, because it's quite correct that more women than men snatch up copies of Jane Austen novels.

#356 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:58 AM:

Well, I haven't yet found the right hook, so I'm just going to put this out as a "these books are awesome and you ought to read them."

Willa Cather is a superb writer. I think her short stories are better than her novels, and her novels are great. The Bohemian Girl is the best book I've ever read about feeling trapped.

#357 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 09:07 AM:

Apparently, Jane Austen hasn't always been read and loved almost exclusively by women. I finally remembered the title so I could hunt and link it--there's a Kipling story about the Great War with a group of soldiers who are great fans of Jane Austen-- The Janeites.

#358 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 09:08 AM:

SamChevre @356: I have been similarly looking for and failing to find a hook on which I could hang a mention that Jennifer Egan is a fabulous writer -- her few novels to date are mostly well worth reading, and she will (Fates willing) be writing for a long time to come. In particular her latest, A Visit From the Goon Squad, just amazing. I've written a fair amount about reading her books at my blog, this link should take you there if you're interested.

#359 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 09:37 AM:

Oh and also: Zadie Smith gets a lot of deserved acclaim for White Teeth; but her mostly ignored second novel The Autograph Man is something that deserves for you to seek it out and read it. She also is a fantastic critic and essayist, I'm happy whenever I run into one of her pieces.

#360 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 10:12 AM:

I'll claim membership in two groups: males who like Jane Austen and straight males who like Heyer.

I will also add a note that the LibraryThing breakdown weights authors, not books, so a single volume by a male weighs the same as, say, all of Heyer's or Dunnett's books, so it's not a very useful measure of one's weighted tastes in a personal library.

#361 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 10:44 AM:

Not so much unsung authors, but there are two mystery novels (speaking of genre fiction) that I think deserve wider notice: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, which is in print, and A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstong, which is not.

In the former, a temporarily disabled detective, working from his hospital bed, investigates a centuries-old murder to which everyone already "knows" the solution. In the latter, a man loses a vial of poison (labeled "olive oil") and tries to get it back, accompanied by an increasing number of helpers whom he accumulates in Katamari-Damacy-like fashion.

#362 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 11:41 AM:

Given the frequency with which conversations about litfic degenerate into "I LOATHED book X in high school," it's decidedly odd you haven't picked up on the trend...

What, in short, is the nature of the harm? Just a bad experience with book X, or something worse?

The nature of the harm? To me, none -- because I knew there were other books out there that I enjoyed reading.

However the harm to my high school classmates who left high school never to read another book again if they could help it?

It's more than harm, it's a crime -- turning what should be a pleasure into major torture -- why not allow the student(s) to choose the book, or for Goddess sake, teach from what is popular in that age range in the bookstore?

There is nothing on the face of this earth that will ever make me love (or re-read) "Great Expectations" or "A Tale of Two Cities"* or "A Separate Peace." I had a wonderful English teacher that year, but each of the above embodies the eight deadly words: "I don't care what happens to these people."

*Note: I have liked film versions of some of Dickens' works, but the only one I enjoy reading is "A Christmas Carol."

#363 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 12:00 PM:

*Note: I have liked film versions of some of Dickens' works, but the only one I enjoy reading is "A Christmas Carol."

Ah, but have you read Bleak House? Because that book is an utter joy to read.

Agreed about the criminal nature of high school English class curricula... Best ever teacher in my h.s. English career was Mr. Wollman, tenth grade, who (a) was pretty open with the class about his dislike for the bureaucracy that forced him to force "ToTC" on us and (b) had the class decide what book we would spend much of our second semester reading and analyzing; the decision was Goldman's The Princess Bride, and that semester was a blast.

#364 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 12:16 PM:

While also wishing to avoid a pile-on, I would like to mention to Steve DesJardins @ 351 that (I'm fairly sure) B.Durbin is not a member of the class 'men who like Jane Austen'. (Another internalised image?)

FWIW I suspect that the first few times I read P and P I identified with Mr. Bennett. (I wouldn't like to suggest that that speaks well of me.)

#365 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 12:24 PM:

Oh, blast—I'd meant to write my earlier comment in a gender-neutral fashion (since I neither know, nor care, what the correct pronoun is), but slipped up.

#366 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 12:36 PM:

Does anyone have any experience reading Elizabeth Gaskell? I'm quite enjoying the BBC miniseries of North & South*, but I'm curious about her prose.

* highly evocative of the "we already had a singularity, it was the long 19th" argument.

#367 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 12:53 PM:

I was introduced to Jane Austen's work by a man.

It was twenty years and a very few weeks ago. A group of us was lounging about on picnic blankets under the trees, behind my hall of residence in St Andrews. It was as picturesque as you can possibly imagine*

I had just confessed that I had never read any Austen; my 19th Century Prose Fiction course in high school had started rather later than her works.

"Really?" drawled J in his native South of England accent. "I happen to have a copy right here." And he reached into his bag, and pulled out a paperback copy right then and there.

He read us the scene where Mr Collins proposes to Lizzy, and the scene where Lizzy pwns† Lady Catherine. He had a magnificent falsetto, nay, two, for someone whose speaking voice was so very deep. I ended up choking on my drink, and borrowed his copy forthwith.

-----
* unless you insist on putting us all in boaters.
† for pwnage it was, and now we have a word for it!

#368 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 01:09 PM:

Modesto Kid: I will consider trying "Bleak House" but I find most Dickens tough going. I much prefer Kipling, Godden and Goudge.

I wish I could figure out what exactly it is in Dickens' writing style that leaves me cold -- I've bounced off almost everything of his I've tried reading. To be fair there are some SF writers I have the same problem with, so it has to be me, not the text, that is the problem.

#369 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 01:18 PM:

Caroline @299--I have very mixed feeings about CLiff's Notes sorts of things. Too many people I knew in school did use them to cheat, and too many of these guides are a little too superficial. However, a good selection of critical writing about a work can be a big help in tackling a challenging writer, especially if the challenges they present are not familiar ones, and a good guide should offer that selection, condensed, to the user. If that still feels too much like cheating, a critic who has invested considerable time and effort into a writer's works (and, I would add, who likes them!) is surely not cheating at all--the excellent and insightful Cleanth Brooks wrote numerous essays and three books specifically about Faulkner, and any of these might be useful to someone starting to travel through Faulkner's world.

#370 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 01:18 PM:

Lori Coulson @ 362: I'm not out of shape because I was traumatized in gym class (although, for a kid who didn't reach puberty until halfway through 11th grade, it was rather worse than reading a few dull books). I'm out of shape because I don't like exercise very much.

Similarly, I think anyone who gives up reading because of high school English wasn't that into reading in the first place. The most one could say is that a chance to turn someone into a reader was missed.

We also were shown stodgy films and taken on field trips to stodgy museums and stodgy operas. I've never heard that anyone stopped liking movies or paintings or music because of that. Why should books be different?

Without exception, everyone I've ever heard complain about high school English was an avid reader. But that could be selection bias.

why not allow the student(s) to choose the book, or for Goddess sake, teach from what is popular in that age range in the bookstore?

I had plenty of both of those, albeit more in junior high than in high school.

Modesto Kid @ 363: My current favorite Dickens is Sketches By Boz. All the wonderful portraits of London and its denizens, none (or almost none) of the sentimental gloop. None of it quite matches the best passages in Bleak House, though.

#371 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 01:26 PM:

Devin @271:

It looks like this stuff is pretty much crowdsourced. When I clicked through on one of the uncategorized authors on your link, there was a spot where a logged-in user could add some of that data.

It's all crowdsourced. In addition, the complaints about a bad database resulting in things like "Arabian Nights" as an author are misaimed -- a cardinal principle of LibraryThing is that individual users can do whatever they want with their data and nobody else can change it. So if Tim Walters sees "Arabian Nights" as an author in his list, that's because that's the way it appears on his copy of the book in his catalog (which means that's how it was on his source, probably Amazon.) He could change this if he wanted, but nobody else can.

(As for my own statistics, 70% male, 30% female; 3 authors as "Other", for individuals not identifying as male or female, plus a few dozen unknown or Not Set.)

#372 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 01:29 PM:

Add me to the men who like Georgette Heyer's books, though I haven't read any in a long time; I was introduced to her books by my ex, Karen. They're fluffy, but great fluff. I keep bouncing off Jane Austen, though I'm not sure why; they seem like the kind of thing I would like, but somehow I miss the tone of the humor. (In fact, I did not even recognize that they were supposed to be drily humorous until Karen pointed it out to me.) I retry periodically and perhaps one day they will click.

(And I do wonder how the discussion drifted off of visibility of male vs. female writers onto the familiar "Poor old SF vs. Those litfic people!" That does seem to happen a lot.)

#373 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 01:40 PM:

@Everybody recalling the awfulness of required novels in high school and suggesting that it turns some people away from reading thereafter:

There is some evidence that some non-readers don't read because they cannot read with the kind of ease and comfort that most of the folk who post here do, and that the problem starts much earlier than high school. Not that this lets badly-flawed English curricula off the hook, but I suspect that anyone who has taught English has observed a non-trivial number of students who are barely able to decode sentences, who have reading vocabularies a decade behind their calendar ages, who cannot make head or tail even of the course syllabus. My wife sees them every term in her undergrad classes--and some of them are seniors. You could have offered these kids Harry Potter with Stephenie Meyer for dessert (or Heinlein juveniles or Nancy Drew or name-your-favorite-brain-candy) and it wouldn't have helped. Of course, forcing High Culture Monuments on readers who are not intellectually or emotionally ready for them, even if their reading skills are up to the task, is likely to be counter-productive, but you can't spoil the literary tastes of people who can't read to start with. Nor can you expect some non-reading-disabled people to read fiction for pleasure when so much in their environment is more easily absorbed and offers so much more immediate bang for the effort.

#374 ::: scorbet ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 01:40 PM:

lorax @371

I think the author's names given on the Male or Female and Dead or Alive lists are actually the overall Author Name and not the name in the catalogue. "Arabian Nighs" for example is the Canonical Author Name for the split of "Anonymous" that wrote the Arabian Nights. So changing it in the catalogue won't actually do anything.

#375 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 02:02 PM:

On the subject of English classes spoiling things ... When I was in 8th grade, my father suggested I might enjoy "A Tale of Two Cities." I checked it out of the library, read it, and enjoyed it. In 9th grade we read it in English class, and I really disliked it. In my case, what I disliked was the pulling apart of motifs and foreshadowing and such. We were taking the living novel I had enjoyed, smothering it, and dissecting the corpse.

I freely admit this may have been a bad case of adolescent "Don't tell me what to think!" mindset. Possibly now I would find the look under the hood, so to speak, more interesting. That's worth considering.

Also, on Cliff Notes and so forth - I also always viewed them as cheating, but fidelio @369 has a good point about it enhancing the reading. I may try that. I've been at a point with my fiction reading that I was sticking with genre, and fairly light genre at that. But this approach might be interesting. I have recently started using a Bible commentary with my scripture reading and am finding it adds a lot of depth.

#376 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 02:13 PM:

Russell Letson @ #373. Good point. My brief experience as a substutute teacher (10th grade English) certainly backs you up--a lot of those kids could barely read out loud, and they were assigned "Julius Caesar".

I wonder if audiobooks would help at all? They weren't available when I was in high school (except for blind students), but they are now.

I myself, although I like audiobooks, have difficulty remembering things I've heard vs. things I've read. (I'm one of those people who remembers the look of the word on the page, so a fairly good speller; also I can usually remember that the info I want for this test question was in the upper third of the left-hand page of the textbook, which is usually no help at all.)

#377 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 03:40 PM:

I just finished Anna Karenina and really wish I'd used a CliffsNotes guide or some such as I read it. I like Tolstoy, but didn't get much out of it. (And was annoyed by the implied moralizing of Anna's story arc, though that's probably my own culture and values getting in the way.)

The only way I made it through Vanity Fair a couple of years ago was the annotated version I'd bought. I enjoy reading things set in that time period, and even so, I was missing most of the vital context that allows the reader to make sense of the welter of people and places and events and culture.

#378 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 03:49 PM:

I read through this, and a few things come to mind.

On 'the canon' or other comments about 'literary is a genre': I must admit that I am arguing from my educational experience of 30 years ago, and from my mother's colleagues (high school english teachers of 40-20 years ago). Things may have changed significantly. Also, one of the institutional biases is that today's high school english/literature teachers are the people who took the college professor's literature courses 5-15+ years ago; so changes at the college level tend not to get down to high school for another 5-10 years. And, since people like me who might have gone into literature studies if they hadn't been turned way off by the books we were reading, the essay we were writing (same essay, 300 times, different topics in the "compare" and "contrast" boxes), what's happening in universities might not be less important than what's happening in the high schools - the last time many people will be academically looking at this stuff.

Also, I'm sure I've hit a few "because I had to read it, it sucked" books, along with "come back when you're 30 and learned all the stuff we expect you to have figured out by 16" (or, we've forgotten that we didn't know at 16, but figured out by 22 when we read it in College) books, and throw in the odd "No, I see no reason why I should read, or be expected to enjoy, my life taken to extremes" (Lord of the Flies, I'm looking at you here). Some of them I've tried again, most I haven't; and have no interest in trying. Yeah, that's stupid and selfish. On the other hand, some of those books sucked at the time and still do.

I would suggest on the "odd writing" scale, that Catch-22 is much newer than a lot of "acknowledged [genre] classics". Oddly enough, I enjoyed that when I should have been much too young to get it - but it *wasn't* assigned at school.

On Esquire, I had a great topic set up, and then Sandy B@322 beat me to it. Esquire put out a list of books that their target audience "should read/have read". And, because of the nature of Esquire's audience, they called their target audience "men". Of course, they don't mean me or Xopher or many other XY humans; their target audience is men who think they're "the right kind of man" or, more carefully, could be "the right kind of man" if they owned this and that $1000 Hugo Boss Suit, or that or this $100 000 BMW, Mercedes or Porsche. Perenially "almost good enough, except for one thing".

And that class of "men", you see, don't think they need to learn anything about society that doesn't fit their worldview (so, A Civil Contract, while something they could learn as much from as For Whom the Bell Tolls, isn't a book they "should read"); and they can get away with that because, well, they're men and they can get away with it in our society. Plus, when these men are with males who haven't read that list, or worse, have read a different list, well, they aren't real men, and can be looked down on from the heights of his $5.75 magazine.

So I can see that list, aimed at that audience, and labelled as "men" without differentiator, coming out of Esquire. Is it wrong? Probably, but probably no more wrong than Cosmopolitan putting out 12 episodes a year of "Men are such scum. Here's how you get yours!" (Rita Rudner, if I remember correctly).

I also note that, purely by coincidence, I am currently reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - for the first time, may I add (as it looked like another one of those books I "should read").

#379 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:07 PM:

heresiarch: I got halfway through a friend's copy of Cranford before I had to give it back when I moved. I liked it very much, and I'm not sure why I forgot about it until just now. (Well. Picking up sticks and going halfway across the country might have had something to do with it.) If I put it on my phone, I'm likely to read it. O the joys of living in THE FUTURE.

Persephone: In a similar vein, thanks for reminding me of Vanity Fair. Have you tried The Rose and the Ring? It's a satirical fairy tale that ought to go over very well with the Fluorosphere, I think.

#380 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:14 PM:

I had to read Pride and Prejudice in high school. I then went on to read and enjoy the other novels by Jane Austen. But I don't think I made it through all of Northanger Abbey.

#381 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:16 PM:

Mycroft W @ 378 I would suggest on the "odd writing" scale, that Catch-22 is much newer than a lot of "acknowledged [genre] classics".

I'm under the impression, though, that the reputation of this and other "hippie" novels is on the wane. Then again, I may be projecting, based on trying to re-read Giles Goat-Boy only to find that the Suck Fairy had not just paid it a visit, but had stolen the silver and set fire to the drapes.

#382 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:24 PM:

Tim@381: Possibly, but then, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest again :-)

#383 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:31 PM:

75 Books Men Should Read

Are we not Men?
We are Devo!

#384 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:36 PM:

me, 379: If you look for The Rose and the Ring, make sure you get one with Thackeray's own illustrations, or you miss half the wonderfulness.

Henry Troup, 380: Northanger Abbey* is much funnier if you've also read The Castle of Otranto and other Gothic novels. Imagine trying to watch Shaun of the Dead without ever having seen any Romero.

*ObKnitting.

#385 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:36 PM:

I've been talking a bit irl with people about reading and children and getting children to love reading. Most--but not all--of the adults are avid readers. Many of their children are, but not all.

We were talking about the various approaches to teaching reading and require elementary school students to read for a specific amount of time each day or to complete a specific number of books in the course of a school year. All this has to be documented, of course, with a log, or by writing book reports, etc.

We parents have seen a number of dismal fails in the last few years. Children for whom reading, presented as "must do" schoolwork, becomes nothing more than "more work," rather than something they seek out on their own. Children who read _more_ than required, but can't turn in a weekly report on a new book because they're making their way through Harry Potter or Twilight or something else that will take several weeks...and who won't hit the required number of "complete" books for the year either, for the same reason...and therefore won't qualify for whatever the reward is....

Children who, in an effort to read the required number of books/finish the report, skim rather than read, and then never go back to actually read the book later. Children who are just fine doing the reading, but who can't be bothered to fill in the log or who fall asleep right after reading and therefore don't fill in the log or just make up their entries.

One thing I've noticed this year is that many 9th graders don't have good analytical skills when it comes to looking at texts. Some people say this is because their brains aren't capable of it yet. Others say it's because they've just been taught to read, not to think about what they're reading.

Mycroft cited Lord of the Flies, above. My daughter's 9th grade English class is reading that as their final book of the year. Many of the students are struggling with the allegorical elements, the social commentary, etc. The teacher has tried a variety of methods to get them to think more deeply about the book, including a "build your own community" exercise where she provided them with about 20 different character "types" to use (the judge, the farmer, the police officer, the teacher, the priest, etc.). Nothing seems to work. She's very frustrated.

I agree that the way things are taught can turn one off not just a particular book but an entire author. I never liked Hemingway after being bored mindless by The Old Man and the Sea in high school. OTOH, the same teacher taught us Dickens, Wilde, and Jackson, all of whom I like a lot. So it isn't just the teacher or the method.

fwiw

#386 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:38 PM:

Hippie novels

Hm... I'm stumbling over this referent. It's a genre I'm pretty familiar with (I think) but have never really thought of it in those terms before. (I asked myself "what is a hippie novel" just now and the only thing I could really come up with is The Fan Man, which is probably a minor member of the genre Mr. Walters is referring to, but... I would put Heller and Kesey and Pynchon and a bunch of other novelists in the same box but I don't think I would have written "hippie" on the outside of the box. But sure, it will serve.

#387 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:46 PM:

Oh by the way -- on the topic of "female authors you ought to read" it is always worth mentioning Tove Jansson, whose Moomintroll books everyone should read.

#388 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 04:49 PM:

The Modesto Kid @ 386 I would put Heller and Kesey and Pynchon and a bunch of other novelists in the same box but I don't think I would have written "hippie" on the outside of the box.

Just a spur-of-the-moment term, not a recognized one as far as I know. I've been playing with a psychedelic-era cover band lately, so hippies are on my mind.

#389 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:05 PM:

Hippie novels? My associations:

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Teachings of Don Juan (et seq)
Stranger in a Strange Land
Lord of Light
Illusions of a Reluctant Messiah

Hmmm...I think far too much of my hippie childhood was taken up by my parents' spiritual journey.

#390 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:14 PM:

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
In Watermelon Sugar
Illuminatus!
Steppenwolf
Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up To Me
Engine Summer
The Dispossessed

There must be more by female authors, but I'm not coming up with any (that were written at the time, that is—I can think of some retrospective ones like The Dream Years and Bold As Love).

#391 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:17 PM:

Yeah I was thinking just the same thing about there being a dearth of female novelists in that category. I wouldn't really put Hesse in the box although there is a large overlap in readership.

#392 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:23 PM:

Melissa Singer @#385, the only useful approach I can think of in trying to get 9th graders to 'get' allegory, symbolism, etc., is to use song lyrics. They'd have to be song lyrics the kids are already familiar with. "So what does he mean, 'I'm holdin' on your rope, got me 10 feet off the ground'?"

#393 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:23 PM:

I haven't read Woman On The Edge Of Time (although it's on my to-read shelf). Maybe that would qualify?

#394 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:24 PM:

(I haven't read Bold As Love, either, so I may be overly influenced by the title.)

#395 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:26 PM:

Clifton @372: I will freely admit that the humor in Jane Austen comes across much better if you already have a sense of the vocal delivery and the conversational conventions of the period. Have you tried the A&E miniseries of Pride & Prejudice? Highly faithful to the text, and GLORIOUSLY acted. Well worth it.

#396 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:31 PM:

abi:

My parents weren't remotely hippies, and I grew up in the midwest in a place that was probably pretty unfriendly to them, and yet, I read all those books except _Zen_ either in high school or in early college. (I'm not sure I got through all the Casteñeda books, but I read several, and a couple of Richard Bach's other books.)

How about _The Harrad Experiment_? I found that in my parents' bookshelves and read it in high school[1]. It sure seems like it ought to be a hippie book. _Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas_ (which I have read) and _On the Road_ (which I haven't) seem like good examples of hippie-literature.

I also seem to have been influenced by what I'd think of as the disillusioned hippie literature that came around the same time or a bit later--Harry Browne's _How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World_ (and his fun financial/economic books), Ringer's Looking out for #1 and Winning through Intimidation, the I'm OK/you're OK and Games People Play books, etc. Auntie Ayn had to wait till college, but then I read all of her stuff I didn't have to buy a newsletter for.

A great deal of all this was, as best I could/can tell, utter bullshit. But it was interestingly different bullshit, fun to read and think about and stretch your mind with, and honestly, the only way to make a lot of progress is to try thinking in a completely new direction, without the kind of high probability of success that works for incremental improvements to well-understood ideas. (If you were only going to read and grok one self-help/fun-to-read advice book, you'd want something like _How to Win Friends and Influence People_, which is overwhelmingly just crystalized common sense and the sort of "best practices" most people already know, but that's not going to change the world in a big way.)

[1] Between him and Heinlein, I got a fair bit of exposure to the whole open relationship/nontraditional marriage/poly ideas at a young and impressionable age. Probably corrupted my innocent youth, you know. Though there were also a number of relatively high quality sex books, which I now assume my dad left where I could find them intentionally, though at the time, I thought I was getting away with something reading them.

#397 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:37 PM:

abi, in addition to your list, from my hippie days:

Soul on Ice (Eldridge Cleaver)
Steal this Book (Abbie Hoffman)

#398 ::: Persephone ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:39 PM:

Texanne @379, thanks for the rec! I tend to pick up Project Gutenberg texts whenever possible, so I need to remember to find a physical copy of books like these so I can see the illustrations or annotations as applicable.

#399 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:41 PM:

albatross @ 396: Isn't On The Road a paradigmatic Beat text? (I haven't read it either.)
Beatniks, to me, != hippies.

#400 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:41 PM:

Rikibeth: I started reading Austen because I saw the _Sense and Sensibility_ movie with Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. And I was motivated to go read Emma because of the very fun movie _Clueless_. (I already loved Pride and Prejudice_ before _Bridget Jones' Diary_ came out, and I'd seen the BBC version, so I got a good laugh about the casting for the _Bridget_ movie....)

All, re Cliff's Notes: The nice thing about pleasure reading is that there's no such thing as cheating anymore. You're reading for your own pleasure. If you find it easier to get after reading the Cliff's Notes, or after classroom discussion, or after watching a good movie version, that's perfectly okay.

I work in an intellectually demanding field with some unbelievably smart people in it. (Damn, were the up-and-coming researchers always this smart? And this young?) My interests run to science and math with a side order of literature and music. I've long since accepted that I'm a flatworm at the opera, and I'm just trying to get as much as I can, with the knowledge that I'll never get anywhere close to the end of it. If I bounce off Dickens or find quantum stuff just this side of black magic (I do), well, the world is full of so many alternatives that it's not the biggest loss in the world. Sooner or later, I'll get it, or I won't--either way, there are only so many days in your life, and there's surely no shortage of fascinating and beautiful stuff to fill them.

#401 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:51 PM:

Just read "The Janeites." Somehow I never realized that Kipling was still writing through World War 1.

Hippie novel: First thing that came to mind for me was Tom Robbins.

#402 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 05:58 PM:

Tim Walters @ 344: I do have a reply to your latest comment, but while I've been letting my response percolate it seems the thread has taken a turn in different, more pleasant direction and I'd hate to derail it yet again. If you'd like to continue the conversation via email, then please email me at [my 'nym] + [plus the numbers five one and four] at [google's mail service]. If not, then no problem--I'm sure we both have more productive things to do.

#403 ::: cofax ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 06:18 PM:

Heresiarch 366:

Does anyone have any experience reading Elizabeth Gaskell? I'm quite enjoying the BBC miniseries of North & South*, but I'm curious about her prose.

I read Cranford and North and South recently, and I enjoyed them both rather more than the Dickens I've read most recently (David Copperfield). She writes explicitly about social class and economic issues, examining the fracture-lines between classes, and the traps that class and finances form for women.

I also found her less melodramatic than Dickens, less full of absurd characters, and less dependent on ridiculous coincidences. If one's primary fondness for Dickens is the portrayal of characters like Uriah Heep and Mr. Macawber, Gaskell might not be to one's taste. Me, I liked it--she's more believable, but without being boring.

I haven't yet seen the BBC miniseries of North and South, in part because just about the very first scene has an element of violence in it which does not appear in the novel, and it threw me right out of it. I'll try it again at some point.

There's no reason for Gaskell to be as ill-known as she is, but there you have it. When someone talks about the literature that addresses industrialization and economic inequity in Britain, Dickens gets mentioned and Gaskell (generally) ignored.

That said, I've mostly gotten over the distaste for Dickens my high school English class left me with (I loathed Dombey & Son, skipped 200 pages of it, and still aced the final exam)--Tale of Two Cities brought me back, although I still think he's too dependent on coincidence in his plotting.

#404 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 06:24 PM:

Back in the early 1970s, there was a French series of novels that usually focused on the hero's contemporary adventures often tinged with SF elements such as mad scientists. Every once in a while, the hero got invovled with its own version of the Time Patrol. In one novel, the setting turned out to be Manhattan, which was deserted except for a giant pyramidal computer in Central Park which controlled zombie cops whose favorite delicacy were the local hippies.

#405 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 07:00 PM:

TexAnne @ 379, cofax @ 403: Sounds like they're books worth chasing down. It was definitely the social and economic issues that caught my attention, not the romance--it seems like a serviceable-enough P&P clone, but nothing that gripped me. But the unionizing! The parochial class conflicts! That's my cup of tea. Very sfnal, natch.

#406 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 07:00 PM:

Melissa Singer @385 We were talking about the various approaches to teaching reading and require elementary school students to read for a specific amount of time each day or to complete a specific number of books in the course of a school year. All this has to be documented, of course, with a log, or by writing book reports, etc.

One thing I like is the "DEAR" approach (Drop Everything and Read). At an identified time, everyone in the school - including teachers and staff - reads. Reading material is free choice, no records kept, no reports required. Just read.

My daughter, now finished her first year of college, is a reader. She commented to me at one point while she was in high school that she thinks it was a good thing we didn't get cable TV until she was in high school, because she might not like to read as much if she'd had it sooner.

Hippie novels:
Siddhartha

On the lighter side, these were published a bit late for the time period but have a very hippie vibe to me: Dorothy Gilman's A Nun in the Closet and The Tightrope Walker.

#407 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 07:09 PM:

While I was in the Bay Area last week, I had dinner with one of our users and her 15-year-old son. The latter apparently had zero interest in reading until he came across a YA vampire series. Which is why, when we were done eating at Berkeley's Bongo Burgers, we walked next door to Moe's, due to the young man's complaint that he had NOTHING left to read.

#408 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 07:23 PM:

Russel Letson @ 373: "Of course, forcing High Culture Monuments on readers who are not intellectually or emotionally ready for them, even if their reading skills are up to the task, is likely to be counter-productive, but you can't spoil the literary tastes of people who can't read to start with. Nor can you expect some non-reading-disabled people to read fiction for pleasure when so much in their environment is more easily absorbed and offers so much more immediate bang for the effort."

I don't think there's a clear-cut distinction between literary taste and literary skill (as your comment seems to me to imply). I think that literary taste is very much a function of literary skill: books addressing concepts you've a passing familiarity with in a way similar to one you've seen before, but differently and perhaps just a touch more complex and nuanced are almost certainly going to be the books you rate as "the best." You can sub in "concepts you're interested in" and "way you enjoy", but those are products of the sophistication of your skill and the content of your past reading as well.

In a related way, I think the "immediate bang" and "easy absorption" of audio and visual artforms relative to literary forms is highly overrated--watching movies and listening to music is dependent on a whole suite of audience skills that take hours and hours to develop, just like reading is. It's just that watching video and listening to music are parts of everyday life across a wider swathe of people than reading is, and so the skill isn't seen as such.

Every artistic tradition is an ongoing conversation in which the form of the conversation is one of the subjects being commented upon, elaborated, and critiqued. The more of the conversation you're familiar with, the more meaning any particular contribution holds. The meaning derives from the relation it holds to other things, not from the utterance itself.

#409 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 07:28 PM:

albatross Ah, you mentioned Hunter S. Thompson. I also have my own stories about a couple of the non-fiction titles you toss in: Games People Play was a life-changer for me, that book should be supplied to every kid on the autistic spectrum before age 12!

Looking Out for Number One: I read it in college, but the thing is, I read another book that same week -- a book published the same year, and (I soon realized) pitching the very same attitudes and goals. Suddenly, I had a hard time taking either book seriously!
That second book was... Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible.

#410 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 07:36 PM:

fidelio, #161: One of Faulkner's major themes is How does one, as a Southerner in the modern era, come to terms with the poisonous legacy of the Old South?

Does he or doesn't he address the point that it's much easier to do so when you're not constantly having said toxic legacy held up to you as an object of worship? Because my experience with people having to "come to terms" with that issue seems mostly to consist of them asking, "How can I continue to idolize my Confederate ancestors and the antebellum way of life without looking like a complete asshole by modern standards?" or something reasonably equivalent.

Tim, #192: I don't necessarily find the number of Hugos an author has won to be a measure of their merit as writers. Sometimes yes, sometimes (IMO) no. And there are a lot of Hugo-winning books that I haven't read at all, for various reasons.

However, I also recall from the last time this subject came up that you and I apparently process books so differently that there's no point in my trying to engage with you about them; we spend all our time talking past each other.

B. Durbin, #215: I remember once running into a copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame that had been mis-shelved in with the SF/F at a bookstore. The cover art was in fact more suited to a fantasy work than a literary one, and (given the time-frame) my conclusion was that some overworked clerk had looked at the cover and thought, "Oh, that must be the novelization from the Disney movie."

abi, #216: I adore A Civil Contract; it's one of my favorite Heyers.* And yet... Jenny completely submerges herself in her marriage; she makes herself Adam's near-slave in a way that I would find intolerable in a more modern setting. Her cry to Julia that "I married him because it was the only thing I could do for him!" is both a touching declaration of love and, at the same time, an indication of love-bordering-on-obsession that's a little scary. I suspect that what redeems it, for me, is Adam's own level of self-awareness; a lesser man would have taken Jenny's devotion as only his due, and gone on to set up any number of mistresses on the side, and nobody would have blamed him. But he doesn't -- he recognizes that she loves him far more than he loves her, and repays her with loyalty, and that makes a tremendous difference.

Xopher, #226: Be aware that the style of Heyer's mysteries is very different from that of her Regencies. I like most of the latter, but bounced hard off two of the former and decided not to try any more of them.

Linkmeister, #235: Looking at that stat for my library on LT yields

Male: 350 : Female: 246 : Other/Contested/Unknown: 0 : N/A: 17 : Not set 51
Percent male: 58.72% : Percent female: 41.28%

Notes: Among the "N/A" listings are Phil & Kaja Foglio and Fletcher Pratt & L. Sprague de Camp. In the "Not Set" list, I find 21 men, 20 women, 6 unable to determine from name, and 3 groups. Also, this does not necessarily represent the relative percentages of my library as a whole, because I have a LOT of series books, and a lot of those are by female authors; I'm pretty sure I've got more works by each of MZB, McCaffrey, Lackey, and Heyer than I do by any individual male author except Asimov, just for starters. Also, I have a lot of anthologies, which are filed under the name of the first editor listed, and female authors in those don't come up as part of this count.

heresiarch, #249: That's just such a cheerfully naive vision of academia I'm loathe to quash it.

You just made me waste a perfectly good mouthful of iced tea. :-)

P J Evans, #251: I am violently in agreement with you WRT high-school & college students generally not having the life experience necessary to see why these "classics" are so rated. Aren't there books more suited to their life phase which cover the same sort of themes? And if there are, why aren't they being taught instead?

Xopher, #253: In my case, the "Not a Person" category seems to include mostly publishing houses, along with The Society for Creative Anachronism, but it has a couple of errors as noted above. The "Not Set" category includes a few things like Glasgow SF Writers Group and Chung Tai Chan Monastery which really should be under N/A as well.

Devin, #271: Interesting. I added the gender setting to the names of a few authors I know personally, and discovered along the way that one reason someone can show up in the "Not Set" category is if there is more than one author by that name. (There are apparently no fewer than four Peter Davids, for example.) I'm guessing that the routine that does the gender analysis probably doesn't look below the disambiguation page in those cases.

JMO, #306: You've touched on another point of contention: whether or not something which was published before the general adoption of the term "science fiction" can be considered part of the SF field. Does a thing exist -- CAN a thing exist -- when there is no name for it?** And as I did in the last discussion, I'll submit "Mute Inglorious Tam" by Pohl & Kornbluth as a better analysis of the topic than I could make. (I found a PDF containing the text, but the link won't copy; however, if you Google the title, it will come up on the first results page.)


* I can't really say that I have a favorite, because there are several that contend about equally for the honor.

** My personal opinion is that of course it can, but it's going to be a lot harder to see. Humans are pattern-matchers, and until you have a pattern into which something falls, it's just a random dot on a graph.

#411 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:01 PM:

Lee @ 410: I don't necessarily find the number of Hugos an author has won to be a measure of their merit as writers.

Me neither! But I think it's a reasonable proxy for how much fandom as a whole likes their work.

#412 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:05 PM:

In a related way, I think the "immediate bang" and "easy absorption" of audio and visual artforms relative to literary forms is highly overrated--watching movies and listening to music is dependent on a whole suite of audience skills that take hours and hours to develop, just like reading is.

This rings very true to me. There are aspects of watching television that I still grapple with, because I didn't start regularly watching television (in the sense of episodic of serial shows, as opposed to movies originally designed for theaters) until relatively late in life. (Having issues with facial recognition doesn't help, but that's not really the same thing: more akin to a dyslexic working on reading skills, as analogies go.)

Even now, when watching television, I have to pause and assimilate; it's one reason why I do almost all my watching through DVDs or streaming. My brain just doesn't know the patterns and viewing techniques well enough for me to be able to follow a complex show at the speed it expects me to. I often find myself watching television shows with other people just so that I can pause occasionally and ask the other people watching to explain to me what the heck is going on, because the damn stuff doesn't sit still. It requires constant attention to keep up with, if it's the sort of thing I'm actually interested in watching in the first place, and my attention span doesn't work that way.

Meanwhile, my friend's six-year-old will helpfully explain to me what's going on, and why it's happening; I'll go read a forum thread about the latest episode by fans of the show, and they'll be pulling out all sorts of fascinating analysis that I never picked up on at all. Being an English lit major, it's fascinating in its own way. If it were text, I'd be the one yanking all those fascinating allusions and poetic devices and literary tropes and so forth out for examination. Television? I'm the one sitting back going "...huh!" a lot as people point out Obvious Things that I never noticed at all.

#413 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:07 PM:

...and somehow in all that previewing, I completely forgot to tag the heresiarch @408 onto my comment at 412, leaving the quote thus entirely unattributed. Sorry!

#414 ::: etv13 ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:13 PM:

Lee, #410: It didn't seem to me that Adam really ever did understand that Jenny loved him. He seems to think (and she lets him, presumably because she has some pride) that she married him for position or to please her father; she actively conceals from him some of the lengths she goes to to make him comfortable (e.g., she doesn't tell him she had the cook make macaroons every day so that they would be available when he got home). He understands that she can be wounded, and he generally tries to avoid doing so, but I don't think he ever appreciates that she is as sensitive and as capable of higher feelings as any aristocrat. All that said, it really is remarkable how Heyer makes Adam come across as sympathetic.

I haven't read A Civil Contract since (long) before I read the Aubrey-Maturin books, and I wonder how my view of Jenny would be affected if I had known that she uses "don't" and "ain't" very much like the definitely-not-a-Cit Jack Aubrey. Her way of speaking sets her off from Adam and his family in ways I might have read differently given that piece of context.

#415 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:19 PM:

Lila, #361: Personally, I'd only half-recommend The Daughter of Time. Purely as a novel, it's well written, but its historical argument is about as reliable as an Edsel. (One of the few pieces of writing I've managed to finish lately is a rant about all the things wrong with The Daughter of Time's reasoning.)

I've read a few of Tey's books this year and she seems to be one of those writers who are weirdly, compulsively readable despite worldviews that have me gritting my teeth all the way through their books. Sometimes, as with Robert Heinlein, this is just a difference in politics. In Tey's case I come away from her books with the impression that she was just a small-minded and nasty human being, something that particularly comes across in The Franchise Affair. Yet I still never reach the point where I want to throw her books across the room...

#416 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:26 PM:

Hippie novels: how can folks have left out

The Butterfly Kid (and its lesser sequels)
Another Roadside Attraction
and Informed Sources by Willard Bain (AKA Day East Received)

There are others that might belong in the group, but those are essential. As is the play MacBird.

Not in the group, but definitely in the sensibility, are Edward Whittemore's first 3 books. The last two are just too depressing to be included.

SandyB @401 -- Kipling didn't die until the 30s, and though he wrote less after the war he certainly didn't stop.

The Modesto Kid @487 -- have you seen that Drawn and Quarterly has been printing hardcover volumes of the Moomin comic strip by Jannson, giving us several entirely new Moomin stories that I (for one) am very pleased with?

#417 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:30 PM:

Elliot @ 150: One was a demonstration that any attempt at communication is useless.

Which the author decided to communicate to someone.

I'll admit feeling a hostility towards this line of thought which is well out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense.

#418 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:45 PM:

OtterB, #375: In my case, what I disliked was the pulling apart of motifs and foreshadowing and such. We were taking the living novel I had enjoyed, smothering it, and dissecting the corpse.

Just a different perspective... What I thought of when I read this was Richard Fenman's response to a friend who questioned whether a scientist, prone to "taking [things] all apart", could really appreciate the beauty of a flower.

I read books the same way you do, but like Feynman when he looks at a flower I find that, once I've finished a book, thinking about how it works only adds to the enjoyment.

Lila, #376: I recall when I watched the James Mason film Bigger Than Life I was boggled to see Mason's character, a teacher, teaching Julius Caesar to elementary school students.

Was that actually a normal thing in the 1950s? Would any of them have understood it?

The Modesto Kid, #387: Tove Jansson also wrote a number of adult novels. Three of them have been translated and published by NYRB classics: The True Deceiver, The Summer Book, and Fair Play. The first is a novel about a woman who considers herself a hard-nosed Randian individualist, tries to take control of an apparently retiring artist's business affairs, and is more than a little baffled by the results. The other two are collections of short vignettes that build into bigger and deeper narratives. I recommend them all.

#419 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:53 PM:

Aha! Here is the definitive hippie novelist: Richard Brautigan. He is indeed the best reason I can see for defining such a genre. I have always tried to lump Trout Fishing in America in with the beats, but it does not really fit there.

#420 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 08:56 PM:

Tom Whitmore @416 -- yep, we've been buying the Moomin comic strips. Sylvia is totally into them, I like them but not the way I like her text fiction. The characters do not seem as well drawn (paradoxically I guess).

#421 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2011, 10:58 PM:

Fade Manley @412: Even though I grew up watching a fair amount of episodic television, I'm with you on having underdeveloped skills at engaging with that particular form of narrative. It has to be working from material I'm already really familiar with as source stuff - Supernatural was PERFECT that way, and in fact I was ignoring my housemate watching it on DVD until midway through the first season, at which point I said, "Wait. They're doing The Hook?" (if I weren't posting this from my iPod, I'd make a clicky-link to the classic ghost story/urban legend, but I'll assume you know it) and after that I was captivated, because this was Stuff I Knew! Or, I need an astute watcher to guide me through it - I wouldn't love Criminal Minds half so much without Elizabeth Bear's weekly recaps, and with her guidance I can now spot some of that stuff on my own.

Occasionally I can spot a single reference within a show, but typically not arc stuff, and it has to be pretty obvious - like the 9/11-inspired memorial photo wall in BSG, or their use of the term "skin-jobs," which made me say "hey, wasn't that from Blade Runner?" and, yes it was, and yes, they did it on purpose. But, for the most part, I'm not sophisticated about teasing out layers of meaning from a TV-style narrative arc until I've had several seasons of practice with a show, and there usually has to be a high perceived value of SOMETHING else for me to stick with it that long. In my case (as I suspect is true for a lot of other people reading here), if it's got spaceships or monsters, it's going to have a much better chance of convincing me to stick it out until I figure out what the hell is going on. Doctors, cops, gymnasts, or modern families? Not so much, although it's POSSIBLE, and I tend to need a guide. My housemate watches, as in genuinely follows, WAY more television than I do. If it's got doctors or cops or families or gymnasts, I can't keep up without an explainer.

#422 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 01:53 AM:

Mycroft W #378: How is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest going for you? I was wowed by it back in the day, and haven't read it since. Recently I went to a performance of a play based on it, and was left very cold. I didn't necessarily mind that the villain was a woman, but with only two women at all, one of them Big Nurse and the other a very young girl presented as all that's sexual and wonderful, I was really put off.

More entries for the hippie book list:

Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place; I See By My Outfit: Cross-Country by Scooter, an Adventure; and The Last Unicorn.

I'd include Tolkien. Though the books were published earlier, didn't they explode into popularity with the hippie generation?

A Child's Garden of Grass: the Official Handbook for Marijuana Users, by Jack S. Margolis and Richard Clorfene

The Whole Earth Catalog

I heartily second the earlier mentions of Stranger in a Strange Land, Richard Brautigan, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Robbins.

#423 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:13 AM:

OK, so, alt-F finds 23 occurances of the word "bounce" in this thread, all of them in the sense of "bounced off a book". I've never heard that before. I understand it, of course, but I'm amazed at the apparently ubiquity of the phrase. Is it a ML thing? A fandom thing? Any ideas where it comes from?

I imagine people who use it and know it don't even notice such an unremarkable term, but for me every instance jumped right out at me, and made me very curious. Sorry if this is a derail. (The conversation seems to be winding down anyway?)

#424 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:44 AM:

janetl @ #422, I think the Ballantine editions of LOTR were published in 1966 or so. That's about the time when my HS friends and I latched onto them, to the point of leaving messages for one another in the corner of blackboards in Elvish runes. It wasn't much of a leap from the code in Holmes's "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" to Tolkien's coded alphabet.

individualfrog @ #423, the term is new to me as well.

#425 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 04:53 AM:

When I was doing my Inter Cert, lo, these many years ago, there were two set novels on the curriculum. One was Pride and Prejudice, and the other was an obscure Irish swashbuckler called Blackcock's Feather.

It was clear that these had been chosen as the girl's novel and the boy's novel.

#426 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 06:36 AM:

individualfrog #423: "Bounced" seems natural to me, in that what we want from a good novel is to "dive in" -- that is, become immersed in it. When that fails, we feel like we bounced off, like that Russian(?) tourist with his "The water is hard today".

#427 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 07:12 AM:

Wesley @418 like Feynman when he looks at a flower I find that, once I've finished a book, thinking about how it works only adds to the enjoyment.

That's a good way of thinking of it. I do enjoy that kind of dual view of science and natural phenomena, and I like that approach to reading sometimes. My feeling at the time may have been that I was being told that the level of appreciation didn't matter, only the level of analysis, when the pleasure is in switching back and forth between the two.

#428 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 08:51 AM:

David @426: The water was hard that day, my friends...

#429 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 09:01 AM:

Lee @ #410: Does a thing exist -- CAN a thing exist -- when there is no name for it?

If it doesn't, what are we naming?

Wesley @ #415: interesting. I don't know squat about English history, so the errors flew right by me; what I found interesting was the application of a mid-20th-century notion of motive and...call it "personal style" to a 15th-century problem. ("Not that this man was incapable of murder, but that this man was incapable of THIS murder" or something like that.)

Re Tey herself, I've actually never read anything else of hers. I do see pretty harsh misanthropy lurking in the background of this one that makes "small-minded and nasty" not sound too implausible.

ibid @ #418 re teaching Shakespeare in elementary school: Marva Collins did it, and so does Rafe Esquith. But I doubt it's ever been considered normal.

Re Feynman's flower comment: ob xkcd.

#430 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 10:39 AM:

Lee @410--I think that's one of his points, but it's not the only one in there. He recognizes the complications inherent in dealing with the fact that your own flesh and blood--people who, presumably, social norms have taught you to respect because they are your elders and who may have accomplishments worthy of respect otherwise, were nevertheless complicit in, to a greater or lesser extent, a Very Bad Thing, a thing so very bad that it makes most of their claims about loving liberty and freedom to the extent that they would die and prtoect it seem like a mockery of such claims. How does one come to terms with evil that is within those you love and/or respect, and thus, in some ways, also a part of you?

WRT the "not constantly having said toxic legacy held up to you as an object of worship" part of things, there's a strong suggestion (see Quentin Compson's experience in Absalom, Absalom!, among others, especially Go Down, Moses) that such things must be examined--whatever truths there are in your past, or your family's or community's past, they will be hidden, to at least some extent, behind the veil of the accepted story, and that while they must be examined and the truth must be considered, doing so is a painful and difficult process. Which of course is how we get to the problem you note with 'Because my experience with people having to "come to terms" with that issue seems mostly to consist of them asking, "How can I continue to idolize my Confederate ancestors and the antebellum way of life without looking like a complete asshole by modern standards?" or something reasonably equivalent.' Because doing more than that involves painful thinking and consideration and does not generally result in a quick happy-feeling payoff of the sort humans like to get.

There is also in all of Faulkner's work the issue of what families are, and the things they do to and for each other, and while that's very much related to the first part, it also a theme in and of itself.

#431 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 11:41 AM:

Wesley @415: While Tey does get some of it wrong, I still agree that Richard did not have his newphews murdered.

In my opinion the likeliest suspects are:

Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham (he had access to the Tower and motive)

Walter Tyrrel, at the orders of either Margaret Stanley nee Beaufort or her son Henry, later the styled Henry VII of England (motive here should be obvious)

#432 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 11:53 AM:

individualfrog @423: I've only ever encountered "bounced off" at ML, but it makes sense, doesn't it? I think of the action repelled by bouncing as less diving into a swimming pool and more trying to open a door at top speed -- which perhaps suggests an unnecessarily violent view of the reading process.

#433 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 12:30 PM:

individualfrog, #423: I've been using "it bounced me right out of the story" for years to describe the experience of being asked to hang belief by the neck until dead, WRT both books and media. I don't remember whether I picked it up from someone else or came up with it on my own, but it's a perfectly accurate description of what it feels like -- you hit that implausibility and go BOING, like bouncing off a brick wall at full tilt.

Lila, #429: If it doesn't, what are we naming?

Exactly so. But I've seen it argued in all seriousness that you can't possibly call Frankenstein science fiction because the term hadn't been invented yet. As if the author had to know that there was such a thing in order to be writing it.

fidelio, #430: Perhaps this is colored by my own experience. One important thing I learned from reading Bloodroot by Susan Wittig Albert was that I really don't want to know any more about my maternal grandfather than I already do -- which is that he was the sheriff of Pulaski County, TN in the early 1900s. IOW, he was the representative of the law in a time and place where the law was unbelievably corrupt; the best I could expect to find out is that he would have turned a blind eye to shenanigans of the sort that take place in the book. I reject this utterly; it is not a part of me, and I owe it neither fealty nor respect, and if that makes me a Bad Daughter, tough shit.

#434 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 12:55 PM:

Lee:

One maybe-useful distinction: _Frankenstein_ was inventing (or adapting from other styles of writing) many of the elements of SF, rather than writing something that broadly fell into an existing genre.

#435 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 01:20 PM:

Lee @410: The modern, therapeutic-sounding phrase "come to terms with" doesn't quite address what Faulkner is about. As Fidelio @430 suggests, much of his fiction is about uncovering the past--of his region, his history, of families in general (and generals' families)--and imagining, as fully as possible, what that past must have been like. In some modes/moods, the results are comic/ironic (The Hamlet), but more often they are much more somber. I've taught "Barn Burning" and the long version of "The Bear," and neither is what one would call comforting--my college-age students certainly found them emotionally difficult. But as with Shakespeare, there's a kind of sober satisfaction that comes with facing the awful (in archaic and modern senses) and being able to carry on. Much of Faulkner's reputation when I was in school was based on his being both "modern" and "difficult"--which is to say, it was largely based on The Sound and the Fury--but in my sampling of his work, "The Bear" and The Hamlet seem closer to his center, and neither of those is all that inaccessible. (Though I recall that my students found the fourth part of "The Bear" a bit of challenge.)

On the topic of when one introduces important canonical works to students, those college sophomores were probably at a good age to encounter "The Bear" (which is emotionally and rhetorically complex), but I could imagine teaching "Barn Burning" to high-school kids who also used to be offered, say, Sherwood Anderson's "I'm a Fool." On the other hand, my wife's experience with the plain old reading (as in decoding) skills of many of her students makes me wonder whether I would dare offer "The Bear" or even As I Lay Dying to current-generation non-English majors. But that leads to a whole different discussion about the condition of higher ed.

#436 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 01:21 PM:

Does Jonathan Livingston Seagull fit into "hippie novels?"

I think it's too late and too self-involved, but I am not quite old enough to have seen these things hit in realtime.

#437 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 01:34 PM:

Sandy B., 436: I had to read that in 8th grade (same teacher who made us read The Hobbit, go figure). I believe JLS falls into the genre "sentimental tripe."

#438 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 01:34 PM:

albatross: But that amounts to Mary Shelley inventing science fiction, and that means Frankenstein was, in fact, SF(F). If we can't count the inventor of a genre in the genre, I think something profound is lost. Also...science fiction wasn't named until the mid-TWENTIETH century, but I certainly think it was practiced before that!

Also, I think for some people who want to exclude Frankenstein,* it's because Mary Shelley was a woman, and they can't stomach the idea that their wonderful masculine field of SFF was founded by a gurrl (see also this work by the late lamented Joanna Russ). Tells of this attitude are that they tend to call Frankenstein "gothic" or "horror," ignoring the fact that neither of those genres had been invented at that time either (actually I'm not sure about gothic).

*NB: I'm not saying that you do, and certainly not saying that if you do it's for that reason; this is an observation about some people I've heard go on about this.

#439 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 01:41 PM:

TexAnne 437: Hear, hear! JLS is also a very 70s kind of phenomenon, as sentimental tripe was much the fashion then. Two words: "Muskrat Love."

#440 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:36 PM:

My social cohort read JLS and The Little Prince pretty much in lockstep, in the early 1970s.

I agree on the sentimental aspect, but I believe it all fits into the "hippie" aspect, as many people push the early 1970s into "the sixties," culturally speaking.

#441 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:39 PM:

Xopher, I'd say "Jonaathan Livingston Seagull = Love Story" IIRC, they were published within a couple years of each other and I read both.

BTW, I enjoy Neil Diamond's soundtrack for the movie version of JLS.

#442 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:45 PM:

Whoa: I had no idea there was a movie of JLS. I loved that book when I was a young adolescent and it took a long time for me to be persuaded that its tripely sentimentality was not valuable.

#443 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:48 PM:

Young Mr. Ebert, who walked out 45 minutes in, called it "the biggest pseudocultural, would-be metaphysical ripoff of the year."

#444 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:49 PM:

Jason Mamoa afficionados who haven't been following the HBO Game of Thrones series ought to direct their gaze to this clip of Drogo being epic, though fair warning: it does end with a goodly bit of gore.

#445 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:49 PM:

About B. Durbin @ 336 (But not necessarily TO B. Durbin)

While there has been much discussion of I have met all of one male who liked Pride & Prejudice. I'm a little surprised so few people took up the larger question of whether the list is selected for "these won't much appeal to women".

Because this struck me immediately as a strange assertion, even granting the "Much", not because the books listed aren't mostly clearly written with a target audience fo probably white, probably male.

But because
A) I do like some of the books on the list (Borges and O'Brien jump out, also Steinbeck, Atwain and King, and London writes things that fall squarely into one of my interests as a childhood reader, though I can't remember now if I tried him in particular), and I don't think I'm as much of an outlier among women as men who like Austen. Or if I am, it's by going the *other* way: I read more women than men, and most of my absolute favourites are women.

and B) I'd not be surprised if the proportion of women who find books on that list likeable and/or approachable is significanty higher, and not just for having 74 male-written books to choose from. I suspect it's true if you stick to the ones as old, or nearly, as Austen, and as established in Canon.

It's been said that women, on average, have to be able to empathize with male characters and male attitudes much more than male readers have to do the opposite, because until recently, being able to do so was the only way to get to the other goodies one appreciated. Long-term SF fans have certainly asserted this when talking about getting into the genre in the 50's, 60's or 70's.


and C) To assume the list was assembled as books women won't much like assumes the people who put together that list for Esquire thought that long about women*, period.


* As people with distinct tastes and opinions, rather than to be desired or won.

#446 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 02:50 PM:

TWAIN. I don't know who Atwain is (Although I see Atwood/Twain pastiche possibilities in this community.)

#447 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 03:01 PM:

Lori Coulson @ 441... "Jonaathan Livingston Seagull = Love Story"

I'd rather not think of Ali McGraw's head crowned by guano.

#448 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 03:01 PM:

Whoops, meant to post that to the open thread.

#449 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 03:04 PM:

Lori Coulson @ 441... "Jonathan Livingston Seagull = Love Story"

Love means never having to say you're soaring.

#450 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 03:05 PM:

Serge -- my point was that both books played heavily on sentimentality.

And because I wanted to be a pilot (a true Thunderbird) I was the right age to adore JLS.

#451 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 03:35 PM:

Lori Coulson @ 450... both books played heavily on sentimentality

That, to put it mildly, is an understatement.

As for your wanting to be a Thunderbird... Had you been a bit older than I think, you might have become a fan of Gerry Anderson's puppet show. :-)

#452 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 03:43 PM:

Serge, according to my Mom I was a fan of the USAF Thunderbirds from the first time I saw them at Langley AFB, celebrating the roll-out of the F-100.

I know I was in a stroller, and I think it was before I had my first birthday.

#453 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 03:59 PM:

I saw the Jonathan Livingston Seagull movie in the theater. And read, many times, the slipcased edition with seagull flight sequenced on translucent paper.

I was young.

But has there ever been an era when sentimental tripe wasn't fashionable?

#454 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 04:09 PM:

"Poems are made by fools like me..." was written in 1913. Sentimental tripe isn't always fashionable, but it's almost always present.

#455 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 04:09 PM:

Texanne @230: I just started What Jane Austen Ate And What Charles Dickens Knew, by Daniel Pool. I've heard it's only moderately reliable, but anyway, in it, he asserts that while commoners would have called a Duke Your Grace, peers and gentry WOULD have addressed him as Duke. If that's so, the Heyer usage might make more sense. (Me, I think Your Grace is more fun to say.)

#456 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 04:25 PM:

Lori, #441: I like that soundtrack too! Although I have to admit that I prefer the instrumental cuts to the vocal ones; the lyrics are still pretty sappy. But Skybird, sans lyrics, is just fun.

Lenora Rose, #445: To assume the list was assembled as books women won't much like assumes the people who put together that list for Esquire thought that long about women*, period.

Oh, SNAP!

#457 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 04:51 PM:

Lenora Rose #446: Atwood/Twain pastiche OW! you just broke my brain. ;-)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, besides being "sentimental tripe" indeed, embodies yet another instance of the "imagine it and you can have it" claptrap that pops up every freakin' decade or two. I'm not sure if N.V. Peale falls into the category, but I've seen what were certainly versions from the 50s and ISTR 40s, at the bookshop.

#458 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 05:17 PM:

Ursula K. LeGuin memorably summed up the message of JLS as "If you think you can fly very fast, why, then you can fly very fast." ("Pushing at the Limits" in The Language of the Night)

#459 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 05:28 PM:

That philosophy, if it can be called such, dates back at least to "The Little Engine That Could."

#460 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 06:06 PM:

Memorably criticized by Gary Larson in his portrayal of a down-and-out little engine soliciting donations on the streetcorner, with a sign that reads "I thought I could."

#461 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 06:13 PM:

Lori @441 and Lee @456: My mother had the JLS soundtrack on vinyl! I'd nearly forgotten about it. I used to sing parts of the songs while coasting my bike down the steep hill near our house, which made me feel I was flying. Neil Diamond is a terribly sentimental songwriter (I'm thinking specifically of his "Heartlight" tribute to E.T.), but somehow he makes it work. Most of the time, anyway.

Wesley @415: I'm glad to hear there's at least one other person out there who doesn't love Daughter of Time. I don't like Tey's books very much, however clever her plots are, but I especially didn't like that one.

On the other hand, I just discovered, and am enjoying enormously, Georgette Heyer's mysteries. I wasn't aware until a few months ago that she'd written anything but Regencies, which I don't have much interest in. I'm reading Death in the Stocks at the moment; it's a lot of fun.

#462 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 08:58 PM:

Somebody mentioned Brautigan above. His opposite in poetry at the time was probably Rod McKuen, whose sappiness could only be equaled by JLS and Love Story.

#463 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 09:12 PM:

Heyer's mysteries are more like Agatha Christie's than (say) Dorothy Sayers' mysteries; they tend to be a bit mechanical, and her snobbery is harder to take in a (relatively) modern setting than it is in the Regencies. Having said that, I'm still a fan; No Wind of Blame is probably my favorite, although Penhallow is good if you like Gothics. As for the Regencies, I'm in the don't-like set for A Civil Contract, again because the snobbery about Jenny's social class is really too much for me. I prefer the rom-coms, Sylvester, Venetia, Frederica, The Grand Sophy, Arabella, Friday's Child...

#464 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 10:18 PM:

Friday's Child is possibly my FAVORITE Heyer. It's so adorably silly.

#465 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 11:48 PM:

Xopher@438: Gothic was very much a live genre when Shelley wrote her first novel; it goes back to Horace Walpole and The Castle of Otranto, published in, um, let me look it up, ah yes, 1764. Contemporary reviews of Frankenstein pretty much all talk about it as a gothic. What's hard to tease out from the records available is how much Shelley saw herself as doing that, and how much she might have felt she was working with some gothic elements but others very much not those, to produce some sort of hybrid or outlying work.

#466 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 03:35 AM:

Bruce Baugh @ 465: Perhaps a deliberate inversion of Gothic themes, with the Modern Prometheus subtitle her declaration of intent?

...Modernity rather than antiquity as the source of exotica; monstrous materialism rather than haunting shades creating the dire atmosphere; reason rather than superstition as the gateway into terror; unexplained science rather than the explained supernatural for the mechanism; stunted empathy rather than florid passion as the source of evil...? The list is long.

#468 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 09:43 AM:

Lee at #433, Russell Letson @435--

Lee @433--that's one way of dealing with it--complete rejection. That's not an option open to everyone, and those whose relations with their kin are warmer and closer than you've enjoyed might find it much more difficult to turn and walk away entirely. If one has also had the advantage, in this situation, of growing up away from the South, it's also easier to accomplish that--there's a lot more emotional distance available to work with. But in any case, when you deal with it (as opposed to ignoring the bits you don't like, and carefully avoiding poking at anythng that might make you uncomfortable enough that you'd have to think about this seriously) you're going head-to-head with it, and making a decision--and if that decision is "I do not approve of much of what I do know, and I suspect I would also not approve of the things I do not know, were I to find out about them, and so I say "I want no part of this", one has still avoided the trap of Socrates' unexamined life, at least with respect to this.

Faulkner, of course, grew up in an era much closer to the bad old times, and as he died in 1962, I think we can say the some of the worst was still actively ongoing*. His relationship to the situation is therefore a different one than our generation, and later ones, confronts. Still, the process of uncovering the past (thank you, Russell Letson! that's was one of the things I was groping towards) and examining it, and considering how one relates to it is a valuable thing.

Russell @435 It seems to me a lot of what Faulkner's doing in his books functions as what Aristotle would have called catharsis--I don't think you can regularly apply the Poetics to fiction, but I think it supplies some good angles on faulkner.


*Yes, I know what the Mississippi of Haley Barbour is like. It still does not compare with the Misissippi of 1962, 1922, or 1862.

#469 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 09:53 AM:

@467: I was going to say something dismissive like "Porn has always stolen from talent" but then my brain interrupted with "Sense and Sensibility and Trousermonsters".

Cow. That's good.

#470 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 09:53 AM:

Ali McGraw brings Jonathan Livingston Seagull home to meet her parents.

"But darling, he's a seagull."

"I don't care! I'm not religious!"

#471 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 02:18 PM:

This is a fascinating discussion. I was never able to get into Heyer, though historical novels always interested me. The regency period, per se, didn't seem all that interesting as history. Contemporary novels (Austen, the Brontës) were another matter.

Regency period historical novels -- those of Walter Scott -- I devoured. I don't know what made Quentin Durward and Ivanhoe particularly attractive to a teenage boy, but they were.

#472 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 07:39 PM:

I can't remember if I've ever asked about this here, but since Faulkner is being discussed...was the script he wrote about vampires for Howard Hawks ever published beyond an article with excerpts from it years ago for (as I remember it) a magazine on "Southern writers"? Because a screenplay featuring vampires that got Hawks interested...that I've got to see!

#473 ::: Little Pink Beast ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 07:58 PM:

On the topic of female authors we think should be more read and recognised: Tanith Lee's "Secret Books of Paradys" blew my mind in high school, far more than anything by, say, Michael Moorcock ever did. Patricia McKillip is another author I wish wrote more and was more known; I'm particularly hoping for more books in the world of _The Sorceress and the Cygnet" and "The Cygnet and the Firebird."

On Heyer: I read, and loved, _Beauvallet_ in my pre-teen or early teen years, but it was quite by accident - I had recently finished _Beau Geste_ and _Beau Sabreur_ and didn't look closely at the author's name when I picked up what looked like more of the same. I was probably a bit young to pick up on everything that was going on, at the time, but I read it and enjoyed it and went right on reading things like _Captain Blood_ and _The Prisoner of Zenda_ afterwards; I don't think I even noticed, at that age, that it was supposed to be more of a romance than a swashbuckler.

#474 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 08:22 PM:

Oooh, Tanith Lee. I just packed my collection the other day. Though I haven't opened them for years, I can't bear to part with them, even the dog-chewed ones. I bought everything as soon as it came out, then abruptly stopped, but the Four-BEE and Flat Earth series -- well, whatever the opposite of bounced off was, I did it. My, she has been busy since then, according to Wikipedia.

As I was packing my collection, what I noticed was that I own an awful lot of clever female mystery writers of the (long) Golden Age (Aird, Brand, Christie, Allingham, Sayers, Marsh, Heyer) and their spiritual daughters (Peters, Davis). And that I left behind a lot of the male authors of all genres in the divorce ... analyze as you will.

#475 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 08:33 PM:

Bruce: shvoong.com (a site about which I know nothing) thinks that Faulkner's "Dreadful Hollow" script was published in 2007 and apparently will let you download it if you jump through a couple hoops.

#476 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 10:46 PM:

Janet @ #474: Davis? Who's that?

Susan Wittig Albert writes cozies set in Texas; she's pretty good, although spiritual daughter might not be a claim she'd make.

#477 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 01:09 AM:

Speaking as a real, genuine hippie and an avid reader since the age of three, I think I can say with confidence that there are no "hippie novels". Maybe a little hippie poetry, and definitely some hippie movies (shorts) but no novels.

And the things kids have to read in school!! The middle school and high school kids are hit with a relentless barrage of "serious" stuff like "Lord of the Flies" and "The Pigman" and manymany others I hate to think about, much less name. This is an age where there are too many kids killing themselves, or trying to, and they don't need this kind of urging on.

I asked my son, when he was that age, if anyone had ever noticed this in his class, and he said, yes, one of his classmates had brought it up. "So what happened?" I asked. He said, "The teacher changed the subject."

My kids were so horrified by "Lord of the Flies" that I explained to them that this is not what happens in real life. I described the ordeals of the Lost Boys of the Sudan, in the news at that time, and I said, "You see, what really happens is that the big kids take care of the little kids." But then they wondered why people write books like that, and I had no answer.

#478 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 02:16 AM:

The Modesto Kid: Bruce: shvoong.com (a site about which I know nothing) thinks that Faulkner's "Dreadful Hollow" script was published in 2007 and apparently will let you download it if you jump through a couple hoops.

I couldn't find a download option, but thanks to you I was able to get a bit more info: apparently there are only two copies of the script, one of which has notes on it from Howard Hawks (the person that has that copy won't let it be shown because of a promise to Hawks) and one that Faulkner's daughter found that was theoretically optioned for a 2010 movie that wasn't made. It was an adaptation of a mystery novel by "Irina Karlova," a pseudonym for H. M. E. Clamp, and is a moderately rare "Dell Mapback." (Paging Tom Whitmore!)

#479 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 02:33 AM:

Older @ 477: I am increasingly convinced that Lord of the Flies is assigned in high school primarily as a means of backhandedly communicating to students "See? This is why you can't have nice things." It's about as transparent a justification for denying children freedom and autonomy as you can get.

#480 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 08:35 AM:

What I recall from JLS is that that blasted bird had to learn to fly differently so that he could fly fast.

As for the USAF Thunderbirds, all that saluting ritual looks silly. Of course, I prefer The Red Arrows.

#481 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 09:54 AM:

Linkmeister@476, Lindsey Davis, author of the Marcus Didius Falco mysteries, wholeheartedly recommended. (Latest had a heckuva finish...)

#482 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 11:17 AM:

Bruce D @478 -- let's see, I've got a couple of boxes full of mapbacks somewhere in my storage locker....

#483 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 01:23 PM:

Ta-Nehisi Coates again, on other things that should be obvious:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/06/the-quintessential-mutants-of-america/240166/

#484 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 01:30 PM:

Older @ 474:
I've wondered more than once if Terry Pratchett's _Nation_ was intended as a sort-of response to _Lord of the Flies_. It is, in any case, a wonderful book--wiser and warmer than Golding's, and with a number of topics worth discussing, especially with teens (religion, tradition, mores, the nature of social obligations, self-determination).... I really can't recommend it highly enough.

#485 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 02:13 PM:

I don't know if Lord of the Flies resembles what would happen if you marooned a bunch of boarding school kids on an island.

It does, however, resemble boarding school a fair amount, based on my (admittedly limited) experience thereof. Given that, I'm not sure we're meant to take it literally.

#486 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 03:51 PM:

IreneD @79: equating "white" not with "of European descent" but with "W.A.S.P." strikes me as not only bigoted but downright ignorant. Sigh.

Sadly, not outside of my experience: a couple who were longtime acquaintances of my parents (at least until my dad made a clumsy pass at the wife of the couple after a night of late drinking; never tracked the relationship between the couples after that) were a woman of [some unspecified WASPish origin] and a man of, I believe, Spanish descent.

My mother mentioned to me in passing that the woman did not regard the man as "white," and therefore not of her equal. Never explored the question further, as this was only one of the several things that made this woman entirely repellent to me.

(Timeframe of this conversation: mid-late '70s.)

#487 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 04:45 PM:

heresiarch @141: Always Coming Home?

Oh yeah. That's what I should read tonight! <lick> *smack!*

#488 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 05:00 PM:

also not always considered "white": jewish people

#489 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 05:23 PM:

Also, people married to people considered non-white. Doreen Valiente, though English as English ever was, was married to a Spaniard, and encountered racism on that score.

This is why I don't actually like the word 'white' as a racial term. I prefer 'European-descended' (in the US, 'European American' is parallel to 'African American'; I use it to rob the so-called "white race" of the privilege of being unmarked).

'White' plays right into the pernicious attitude that "white" people are somehow purer, and that any admixture of (in some cases even contact with) non-"white" is an adulturation, an impurity in otherwise quality metal. (The same is true of homosexuality, btw; it's a favorite attitude of bigots of all stripes.) Also, a white piece of paper is unmarked (in all senses), and even though "white" people aren't nearly that white (or nearly that unmarked, for the most part), the association feeds the evil we're trying to stamp out.

The standard of whiteness for the Nzrevpna Anmv Cnegl is "oybbq va gur snpr" -- that is, pale enough to visibly blush. Thus, far from it being true, as one little anmv jackhole claimed on one of those daytime fight clubs talk shows, that Wrfhf qvrq sbe gur "juvgr enpr," Jesus probably never met anyone at all whom she and her witless friends would consider white!

[Key phrases rot13'd to keep this page from coming up on searches for them.]

#490 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 05:33 PM:

Tim Walters @173: It was The Doomsday Book that put me off. There was a decent novella in there struggling to get out, but it was padded out to 400 or so pages with re-explanations, re-explanations of re-explanations, and annoying subplots.

YES! I love Connie dearly, and will delight in any chance to share her (or any of her family's) company.

But it's a relief to see that I'm not the only one that had this reaction.

#491 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 05:35 PM:

Melissa Singer @488: also not always considered "white": jewish people

Tangential personal anecdote: took me ages to suss out the idea that folks of Asian extraction were also "not white."

Humans are weird.

#492 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 06:20 PM:

#488 Melissa Singer

also not always considered "white": jewish people

I remember a Northern Exposure episode in which Joel himself makes that claim: that he's not white because he's a Jew.

Of course, I believe he was trying to avoid being pelted with fruit at the time, so there's that.

#493 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 06:34 PM:

Melissa Singer@488 also not always considered "white": jewish people

Although it should be noted that while many of the various European immigrant groups were often not considered "white" for some purposes, all of them were ALWAYS considered white for one very important purpose--eligibility for naturalized citizenship.

Which meant that they could become voters. And in California it also meant that they could be landowners.

#494 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 06:37 PM:

Jacque:

It depends on context, I think. Social definitions of race correlate with lots of things that sometimes matter--shared genes, shared culture, shared language, shared experiences--but only loosely with any of them. (It's pretty hard to work out a logical argument for why Barack Obama is more appropriately labeled "black" than "white," for example.) And these definitions are used for political building of ethnic coalitions. (You can see some of this being built up now, w.r.t. the category "hispanic," which is a mishmash of a lot of not-very-alike groups who share a language (perhaps the language of their grandparents) and some culture.)

#495 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 08:03 PM:

Tim Walters at #485,

It is quite possible that the schools in the Sudan were better run, and the students treated better than at "western" boarding schools.

Many of the kids were saved by their teachers, who rushed them into the woods, saying "Hide. We'll come back for you when it's safe." Fewer girls were saved, whether because fewer went to school, or the girls' teachers were less successful at hiding them from the marauders, or a combination. But apparently of the those who were saved, many were saved by the actions of teachers, brave souls who never came to get the kids because they had been murdered themselves.

What I have heard about boarding schools, both in the US and in the UK, makes them seem like the choice of people who really don't like their children, and they seem to be run by people who don't like children as well. My first husband and his brother were sent to a boarding school from which they ran away repeatedly. Their parents relented only after the most terrible protests (threats to kill themselves etc).

#496 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 08:20 PM:

Older, 495: In the past two years, I have interviewed with a number of American boarding schools, and visited several campuses. What you describe does not match my experience. The adults I spoke to were committed to the health and happiness of the students; they all stressed that faculty is in loco parentis, and they made it clear that prospective teachers who don't like kids should look elsewhere. I saw no signs of misery in the students I met, beyond what one may reasonably expect in an adolescent who thinks Facebook is more fun than chemistry homework.

#497 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2011, 10:41 PM:

Re boarding schools/Lord of the Flies: I reread "The Chocolate War" as an adult and came to the (probably obvious) conclusion that all fiction is science fiction. It wasn't quite as obvious to my 13-year-old self that they were worldbuilding. "Lord of the Flies" is a similar experience.

#498 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 01:38 AM:

Janet @ #481, Thanks. I'll look them up.

#499 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 04:10 AM:

Older at #485 writes: My first husband and his brother were sent to a boarding school from which they ran away repeatedly.

I knew a guy at college who had been to the same boarding school as his father. Both of them had hated it, and run away multiple times.

He said he'd send his own son there, someday, too.

#500 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 11:28 AM:

Older@477: wasn't Ringolevio by "Emmet Grogan" a genuine hippy novel?

Xopher@438: "... they tend to call Frankenstein "gothic" or "horror," ignoring the fact that neither of those genres had been invented at that time either (actually I'm not sure about gothic)."

As others have said gothic had already existed as both a style and a marketing genre for a coiupole of generations. Not just in fiction but art and architecture. Gothic fiction had been around long enough to come into fashion, go out of fashion, and come back in again in a sort of retro-self=parody kind of way. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is partly a parody of Gothic and its about twenty years older than Frankenstein.

As for horror as a genre - I don't know when it came into use as a bookseller's marketing term - my guess is the 20s or 30s on the back of horror films - but the genre is usually thought othave been invented by the Shelleys and their friends on that strange holiday in Switzerland that produced both Frankenstein and the first vampire novel.

Clifton Royston@372: "Add me to the men who like Georgette Heyer's books, though I haven't read any in a long time; I was introduced to her books by my ex, Karen. They're fluffy, but great fluff. I keep bouncing off Jane Austen, though I'm not sure why; they seem like the kind of thing I would like, but somehow I miss the tone of the humor." (In fact, I did not even recognize that they were supposed to be drily humorous until Karen pointed it out to me.) I retry periodically and perhaps one day they will click."

Georgette Heyer is the stereotype of the historical/romance "women's" author who men find worth reading if only they dare open the books. If you want the real hard stuff, try Norah Lofts. I've only read a couple but they were genuinely quite good :-)

As for Jane, she is of course wonderful. the best. The greatest. I can laugh out loud at the first page of "Pride and Prejudice". Heck, I've read it aloud to a child and *she* laughed. (It was my daughter though)

albatross@494: "It's pretty hard to work out a logical argument for why Barack Obama is more appropriately labeled "black" than "white," for example"

Precisely *because* racial categories use socially constructed definitions. They are not biological categories. "Black" in the USA means someone who would have been legally liable to be enslaved between the War of Independence and the Civil War. Which is why the "one drop" rule was legally enacted in most states, so that slaves could not gain their freedom by claiming some white ancestry. Which is why Obama counts as "black" even though his upbringing was not culturally African-American. That's perfectly logical - well as logical as definitions of words can be, as they are contingent on history & usage, not anyone's idea of what is logical.


The question "Why is Obama called black?" is a question about the word "black", not about Obama's personal circumstances. There are, or their may be, other places and times where someone liek Obamaq would not be called black. The words are socially defined.

"Black" in Britain means something different. As do "white" or "Asian". The UK must be the only county in history that had a census with an ethnic question that had "Asian" and "Chinese" as separate categories. And to a Brit the idea that Borges was not "white" is ludicrous. We also make more use of words like "brown", "African", "Afro-Carribbean", "mixed-race", than I suspect is the case in the USA. Such words are are all often used by black people in London talking about and amongst themselves - as I can overhear any morning on my way to work from the teenagers chatting on the bus. But the point is the categories are socially defined and neither the meaning of the words nor the categories they label are the same everywhere.

I've personally got no objection to words like "black" and "white". They don't cause oppression and prejudice - those would still exist with different words. I do have an objection to namby-pamby psuedo-scientific terms like "Caucasian" instead of "white". It is hangover from the bad old days of "scientific racistm" and it gives a false impression that there is some biological reality behind racial categories. Also it encodes a long discredited set of ideas about the origins of the European populations and languages. (And for what its worth real Caucasians often get thought of as "Asian" in Britain - and are called "black" in Russia). But "black" is what black people call themselves, or it is round here anyway, and everyone knows what it means - which is as I said something a little different from what it means in the USA - and as long as people are going to be able to talk about themselves and their experiences and how those experiences are different from or shared with other people's they will need words to talk about what they share or how they differ. You can't get rid of oppression by banning speech about it.

#501 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 01:36 PM:

Niall, #499: The mind boggles. Was it one of those twisted "I hated it, but it made a Better Man of me, so I'm going to force my son thru it too and he'll thank me one day" things?

#502 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 02:35 PM:

Niall 499: He said he'd send his own son there, someday, too.

I agree with Lee, and would add that father and son sound like flaming jackholes to me...and flaming jackholes of the type who think it's GOOD to be a flaming jackhole, because they inflict the same destruction of the spirit (or plan to) on their progeny as well.

Or maybe I'm overreading what you mean by 'run away'. Maybe you just mean they got on the train and came home in the middle of the term and had to be persuaded or induced to go back. My comments above are based on what the phrase conjures in my mind, which is that they became runaways (that is, living on the street and/or in hiding) and had to be hunted down by the authorities.

But even if all they did was come home when they shouldn't have, if your acquaintance hated the school that much (and I note you did NOT say "at first," implying he later adjusted), why on Earth would he inflict it on his own son?

So I guess I think he's a jackhole anyway.

#503 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 02:55 PM:

Speaking as someone who went to an all-male non-boarding Catholic high school, I found The Chocolate War to be ludicrous on the "Yeah? And how did they go about doing that?" level.

#504 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 06:26 PM:

Ken Brown: "The UK must be the only county in history that had a census with an ethnic question that had "Asian" and "Chinese" as separate categories."

Whilst looking up demographics for my city, I found that there were two distinct categories in one section: "Hispanic" and "Hispanic non-white." Which is fairly interesting if you know any history of Mexico (I'm in California, so we get a lot of legacy on that note.)

Xopher, I've met you at a Worldcon, but our conversation was merely about your wonderful truffles before you were whisked away. On a totally unrelated note, the guy I referenced above who counted P&P as one of his favorite books was allergic to chocolate, sad soul.

Hmm. It's unsurprising that many of the posters here (devoted readers, for the most part) should have a broad taste in authorship. Let's turn it around.

Does anyone here read Esquire?

#505 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 07:22 PM:

Melissa Singer @ 488:

Eva and I like to refer to ourselves as "beige"; it saves time for those who need an excuse not to think of us as white, and saves time for us in not having to spend time explaining that, by the standards of White Anglo Saxon Protestant Socially Conservative America1 ... we're not, and wouldn't want to be.

1. Note all the adjectives. That's a Venn diagram where the intersection of all the sets as the relevant reference.

#506 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 07:29 PM:

B. Durbin, #504: Not regularly, but it's one of the things I might pick up in the doctor's office or beauty shop (the sort of thing that I classify as "brain candy").

Sadly, I don't remember the name of the magazine, clearly targeted at straight men in the 25-40 age range, that made me say to my hairdresser, "Wow, this is designed to make men hate themselves just as much, and in the same ways, that Cosmo and Vogue are designed to make women hate themselves!" It was neither Esquire nor GQ.

#507 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 07:47 PM:

Lee @ 506: "Men's Health"? Rather Orwellian title there, really. Or perhaps one of the many bodybuilding magazines?

#508 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 07:48 PM:

Lee, was it Details? That would fit the description.

#509 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 08:12 PM:

Men's Health was the first thing that sprang to my mind as well. I am endlessly amused by the juxtaposition of MH and Prevention (also published by Rodale, but aimed at women). Everything from the size to the habitual cover photos and headlines is in hilarious contrast. It's like a graduate thesis on gender stereotypes.

#510 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 08:23 PM:

Tex-Anne, #496 -- I am Older, after all (and so is my ex-husband). It's possible that US boarding schools have improved. It's also possible that they weren't all as bad as the one he attended.

Ken Brown, #500 -- Damn it, you're right! I guess I had forgotten it. It was the real thing. "Fanman", on the other hand, is hysterical; my kids and I loved it and found it hilarious, but really, those people were sorry dopers, not actually "hippies".

#511 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 08:26 PM:

Definitely not a bodybuilding mag. I suspect it was probably Details, because I doubt I'd have picked up one called Men's Health.

#512 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2011, 08:58 PM:

Older @ 477:

I think I can say with confidence that there are no "hippie novels"

Hmm ... I think "Armageddon Rag" or some of Norman Spinrad's novels might qualify. Some might mention "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me", but my reading of that book is very different from most: I think it's a cautionary tale and a dark comedy.

#513 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2011, 03:39 AM:

TexAnne @ 489

As someone educated in a boarding school from 8 to 18 (well, two different schools in fact) I'm struck by the fact that I seem to have had a considerably happier experience of high school than lots of people here.1 But I'm fairly sure institutions differ widely and can change dramatically: I've read a description of the same school 50 years earlier (in Cyril Connolly's 'Enemies of Promise') and it sounded horrendous.

1.It also gave me what I think of as my supreme moment of geek-credibility, in that I got taught Maths by a friend and former student of Alan Turing.

#514 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2011, 11:00 AM:

On the topic of boarding schools:

The exact same institution can vary wildly depending on which social group or home life a given student fits into, at that. I went to a missionary school that was fairly large by the standards of such places (K-12, and the high school alone was almost 200 students). It was attended by about 90% children of missionaries, and 10% "other": a few children of diplomats, children of locals who could afford private school rates and wanted their kids to learn English, and in a few cases children from Korea whose parents sent them there as a less expensive alternative to US boarding schools, for the same "prep school with English language" aspects.

There were also about 30% of the kids who were boarding at various of the dorms nearby (in all grades, not just high school), and of those kids more than half were in the dorms run by the same organization as the school... So there ended up being all sorts of overlapping contexts that could make going to that particular school vastly different.

Not being a Christian was definitely a social pressure point: if you actually let people know that was the case, your friends would be doing well-meaning "I'll pray for you" evangelism attempts every other week. Coming from a more liberal family than the norm would get a little eyebrow-raising, coming from a more conservative family would get sympathy for the extra restrictions. Coming from certain dorms meant you couldn't go to parties with dancing, or had to be home extra early... Being a C student would get you a lot of pity from the other kids. It was a pretty academically rigorous place.

I attended that school from fourth grade until graduation, and thought it was a great place, if one with issues, right up until I had to spend senior year boarding in one of the dorms. The most relaxed, liberal dorm attached to the place, and yet I still remember that as the worst year of my life. My little sister was in the exact same dorm, and had a marvelous time, making friends and deeply enjoying having a roommate, while I was hiding in my room trying to figure out if I could still go to college if I dropped out of high school mid-semester.

Which I suppose is all a rather verbose way of saying that I think it's not just that a given boarding school can change over time, but that two different kids going to the same boarding school can have vastly different perceptions of how much the school is a great place, a character-building experience, or pure torture, depending on how well they mesh--or don't--with the culture of the students and administration alike.

#515 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2011, 12:44 PM:

Fade Manley: our family also had that "same school, different experience" thing. My 2 elder daughters went to the same school for 6th grade. For one, it was delightful; she learned a lot, made a good many friends, was reasonably popular and had a pretty good year all told.

For the other it was unmitigated hell: unremitting bullying and teasing for which the teachers and administration consistently failed to back her up (despite a so-called "zero tolerance" policy), endless pressure from the school counselor to up the dosage on the ADD meds that were already making her crazy, getting shifted to lower and lower-level classes when she was acting out primarily out of boredom....

(Teachers: if a student consistently makes her best grades and behaves her best in her most difficult classes, TAKE A HINT.)

Finally, a couple of weeks into 7th grade she threatened to turn a desk over and was sentenced to 45 days in alternative school. I withdrew her from the system and homeschooled her for a year, then enrolled her in a different (also public) school where she did fine.

The school is a different school for every child, and individual teachers and classmates can make more difference than the institution as a whole.

#516 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2011, 09:24 PM:

Going back to an earlier part of the discussion: I am struck by how much more I appreciate actual 19th-century literature after reading historical novels written by modern authors. The modern authors, knowing that their readers DON'T have the baseline knowledge of the setting, do a lot more incluing to build the world for their readers. The plot-based incluing that the authors of the time did won't WORK without a baseline knowledge of the milieu. But it's much more entertaining for me to learn the necessary details in the context of a story than to learn it out of a textbook. The Patrick O'Brian novels are full of details about the devastating effects of enclosure on rural life, for instance, cleverly worked into the fabric of Jack's ongoing dispute with a vexing neighbor and professional rival. And the installment of the Anne Perry mysteries where Emily goes undercover as a lady's maid? More instructive than, well, anything else I've read on the subject. Knowing these sorts of details - written with the understanding of what a modern audience won't already know - helps so much.

#517 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2011, 09:45 PM:

Responding to my own #358 -- I was lightly befuddled today to hear the news of the latest project of Jennifer Egan, which is that she will be curating a Project Runway spinoff called Project Accessory. (I am not sure what to make of the verb "curate" in this context -- I hear it frequently these days in contexts where I don't quite understand it.) A reality show in which contestants compete to design and build fashion accessories. Sounds fun but I hope it does not keep her from her writing.

#518 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 07:34 AM:

I see that the Guardian has published its own list of "the 100 greatest non-fiction books. The list seems skewed to me in a number of aspects (though most of the books I recognize are interesting or noteworthy). They've included a number of books on feminism, but even with those, only 16 out of their 100 titles are by women, by my count.

#519 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 02:25 PM:

John @518 -- by funny coincidence, 16% is precisely the portion of the Telegraph's Not the 50 Books You Must Read Before You Die which are written by women. (By my rough, hurried count.)

#520 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 02:38 PM:

John @518, I browsed through the list and think they did a pretty good job with it. They cover a wide date range, and for much of it, women were much less commonly published than men, so perhaps that's why I'm less disturbed at low representation than by the list that started this thread. While the Guardian list is centered in what you might call Western culture, they've clearly made an effort to look outside that as well. Obviously anyone could argue over such a list, and what was omitted and what was included. But the ones on it that I've read, I would agree are important books. And several of the ones I haven't read are getting added to my TBR list.

#521 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 03:07 PM:

Well, they admit in their own introduction that it's a "a very left-leaning, liberal, limey kind of list." Their intro does imply that they made some effort to avoid over-domination by "dead, white men". Yet they give a lot more room to modern titles rather than to "classics" (well over half the books first came out after 1922), so there should have been no shortage of published women writers to consider.

Certain parts of western culture, moreover, are pretty much stripped out. The only books in the Religion section, for instance, are from Frazer and James; two notable works, to be sure, but it's a bit like representing the Louvre with two of its small side rooms. (Though possibly understandable if you generally don't like the Louvre.)

#522 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 04:21 PM:

#521 John Mark Ockerbloom (Though possibly understandable if you generally don't like the Louvre.)

I understand that the Louvre is lately overrun with albino assassins from assorted secret societies. One minute you're in the Georges de la Tour room admiring the Penitent Magdalene, the next minute you're bleeding on the floor while the security shields descend cutting you off from all rescue, giving you mere minutes to write a double-acrostic cryptographic crossword in your own blood revealing the solution to your murder.


#523 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 05:36 PM:

Re: #522 --

Splutter, cough...

How I despise that book! And the damn secret word has five letters in French besides.

#524 ::: The Modesto Kid ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2011, 06:35 AM:

Russell @435 -- Thanks! I just got a chance to read "Barn Burning" last night, and it was fantastic.

#525 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2011, 09:58 AM:

B. Durbin @ #215: I love marketing differences. Somehow, I managed to score a copy of Frankenstein that wasn't packaged as a classic. Instead, it's the most trope-filled modern pulp cover imaginable, right down to the bit on the front— "It's alive! It's alive! OH GOD, IT'S ALIVE!"

Occurs to me you might appreciate this new edition of an old classic.

#526 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2011, 10:11 AM:

James Macdonald @ 522.. the next minute you're bleeding on the floor while the security shields descend cutting you off from all rescue, giving you mere minutes to write a double-acrostic cryptographic crossword in your own blood revealing the solution to your murder

Thanks for reminding me to watch more episodes of Jim Hutton's "Ellery Queen".

#527 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2011, 11:28 AM:

Wesley @ #415: I've read a few of Tey's books this year and she seems to be one of those writers who are weirdly, compulsively readable despite worldviews that have me gritting my teeth all the way through their books. Sometimes, as with Robert Heinlein, this is just a difference in politics. In Tey's case I come away from her books with the impression that she was just a small-minded and nasty human being

Have you encountered Jo Walton's Small Change novels? They're set in an alternate history where England made peace with the Nazis in 1941 and is gradually, in a polite English way, becoming a very unpleasant place (for the Wrong Sort of People) to live in. She's mentioned occasionally that the original spark for those came while she was reading a Josephine Tey novel, and suggests as an exercise for the reader considering Tey's novels as also being set in the same alternate history.

I remember a thread on Tor.com where Jo mentioned this, and somebody responded, horrified at the thought of what might happen to the protagonists of her favourite Tey novel if they lived in the Small Change universe. Jo replied that there was a far worse and much more likely possibility she hadn't considered: which was that it wouldn't make any difference at all to them.

#528 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2011, 11:29 AM:

Incidentally, how obvious is it that I was a long way behind on reading this thread?

#529 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2011, 12:11 PM:

Paul, #525: But why does the goon in the picture have an AA Unity symbol tattooed on his arm? :-)

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