Thursday, March 02, 2006

More Musings About the Canon

So, I'm still thinking about the idea of a literature canon. I'm not sure what kind of form this post is going to take - I'm kind of free-writing here, so bear with me. Please note that none of the lists is complete...

Here are some of the books I imagine would be on a list of "great literary works" that I HAVE read:

The Scarlet Letter (love this, and love the intro to it, The Customs House.)
Moby Dick (I read this one on my own after seeing the Patrick Stewart version on t.v.)
Jane Eyre
Frankenstein (LOVE this)
Great Expectations (hated it)
The Grapes of Wrath (hated it more than I hated Great Expectations)
The Pilgrim's Progress
The Odyssey (hated it the first time I read it - it grew on me after I taught it to freshmen)
The Faerie Queene
Paradise Lost
The Canterbury Tales
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Inferno (though I haven't read ALL of it from cover to cover, I did take a good crack at it)
Wuthering Heights
Heart of Darkness
To Kill a Mockingbird (though I JUST finished reading this a few months ago)
A bunch of Shakespeare

Books, that I bet are on someone's canon list, that I HAVEN'T read:

Tale of Two Cities
The Red Badge of Courage
Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man
Portrait of a Lady
Animal Farm
Farenheit 451
Catcher in the Rye
Little Women
The Lord of the Flies
Mrs. Dalloway
A Room of One's Own
Pride and Prejudice (not only have I never read it, but I've never even seen a movie version!)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (I saw Disney's interpretation, but I'm pretty sure that counts against me)
Anna Karenina
War and Peace
The Great Gatsby
The Last of the Mohicans (which started all this stuff in the first place...)
Don Quixote
Cry, The Beloved Country
(the list goes on and on and on.... GOD, this is embarrassing! I'm about to graduate with a Master's degree in ENGLISH, people! HOW could I have come this far without ever having read this stuff??)

Works that I've read that I think SHOULD be on a canon:

Lord of the Rings
A Dry White Season (love both the book AND the film)
The Country of the Pointed Firs
The Secret Life of Bees
Ahab's Wife
Beloved (though I suspect this is part of someone's canon)
The Kite Runner (though I'm not through this one yet, it's shaping up to be a hum-dinger)

I'm sure there are more to add to this last list, but I'm up past my bedtime and my brain's not quite so sharp as it should be for this kind of work. Check back later in the week - I'll keep turning this around in my head and update when I've got more to add.

Please - no lurking on this post - COMMENT!!


Blogger Kizz said...

There isn't a lot of color in these canons. I'd heartily include Beloved, also The Color Purple, 100 Years of Solitude. I haven't read it but I'm sure that many would include Ellison's Invisible Man. I'm surprised you didn't include Bel Canto, it'd sure be in mine. I think something of the holocaust is important, too. Often it's Anne Frank, which is a great book but I also think Night is a great choice, there are a million great choices for that category. I still have important memories and associations with some of the short stories that were taught in Jr. High - the Lottery, A Rose for Emily, 2 Bottles of Relish. Faulkner would figure heavily in my canon. Hemingway, too, but a lot of Faulkner, especially for American kids. As I Lay Dying is probably the simplest, most straightforward choice. But A Light in August would be great, too, or Abalom, Absalom. There just isn't emough time in anyone's day to read all the books we want to read. If I win the lottery I think that's what I'll do, read all day every day. Heh, I wish.

March 02, 2006 11:13 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

You MUST read A Tale of Two Cities. One of the best books out there (besides Les Miserables and The Scarlet Pimpernel) on the French Revolution. Just a wonderful book.

A couple of other classic favorites - 100 Years of Solitude (right there with you on that one Kizz), Kindred (by the very recently deceased Octavia Butler), and either The Cask of Amontillado or The Tell-Tale Heart. And either Rip Van Winkle or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the American Short Story genre.

I'll keep thinking about this one...

March 03, 2006 12:31 PM  
Anonymous claudia said...

I actually REMEMBER these from high school(40ish years ago):
Lord of the Flies
Red Badge of Courage
Animal Farm
Farenheight 451
Diary of Ann Frank

Other,relatively,short reads with good content may include:
Man's Search for Meaning
Catch 22
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

March 03, 2006 3:23 PM  
Blogger vanx said...

First, I am humbled by the number of books in the first part that I haven’t read. Even more so in the second part. I HAVE READ NO FAULKNER. How is that for a confession?
I would add Remembrance of Things Past, Anna Karenina, a few more of the great Russians. I see you do have Don Quixote in part two. Thomas Hardy and Henry James. Tristram Shandy (I fear the movie), Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (part of the psychotic cannon, I know, but a great one). V and Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, in that order. Then everything else by Thomas Pynchon. A Confederacy of Dunces as a classic of American Humor. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (makes up for some of my missing Faulkner). Golden Apples by Eudora Welty (that would make up for the rest, but I haven’t read it.) Thoreau. Dos Pasos.
What I need is an enormous cannon to blow bowling-ball sized holes in my schedule so that I can fill these holes with more reading.
Side note: Thanks for playing the game this weekend. Watch that space.

March 06, 2006 3:32 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

I have read some Faulkner, but not much. I'm scared of Steinbeck ever since my torturous experience with Grapes of Wrath (which, coincidentally, I read as a sophomore with the teacher under whom I'm currently interning - how's THAT for coming full circle?)

There ISN'T a lot of color in the lists - you guys are right. I was really losing steam when I wrote that post and couldn't think of much else to write. I've thought about it some more and would add "The Color Purple", some poetry by Audra Lorde, and "Their Eyes Were Watching God". I also loved "Beloved", though it wrenched at my soul even BEFORE I had children - I can't imagine the experience of reading it now that I understand more of what Sethe must have been thinking.

More? Keep those comments coming!

March 06, 2006 8:01 PM  
Anonymous nhfalcon said...

Your experience with Bowyer and his Ichabod Crane reference, S, is interesting because that's kind of Bowyer's whole philosophy behind education in the first place. He told me once that he thought that the point behind everyone getting pretty much the same education really had nothing to do with getting them ready to enter the work force, but rather to give them all a common pool of knowledge from which to draw when communicating with each other. If neither you or Bowyer had had a fairly similar education, then either he wouldn't have been able to make the reference or you wouldn't have gotten it. As you said in your response to my first post, perhaps that is a legitimate justification for a canon.

On the other hand, if you operate under the theory that the purpose behind teaching literature is to get the idea of particular themes across to people, then I don't think the book being used to get the point across should matter one bit. If the Bard works, use him. If he doesn't, don't.

Perhaps a balance somewhere in the middle would be best, if the school you wind up teaching at allows you that kind of leeway.

March 07, 2006 9:31 AM  

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