I’m thinking today about books I just could not abide being dropped from the literary canon, the master list of top contributions to literature. Join along if you’d like with the famous pieces of writing you cannot live without. (Tomorrow is the pieces nobody else knows that you can’t live without.)
It’s a decent list of canonical books I avoid like the plague. Catcher in the Rye, Heart of Darkness, Wuthering Heights, you name it by Hemingway, Billy Budd, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,
On the Road, The Great Gatsby. This time I’d add Pilgrim’s Progress (I’m sorry. I know it’s important. But puhleeze with the terrible writing.) And the Crying of Lot 49.
And here comes the bombshell. I’ve never been a big fan of the Brontes. Austen’s fine. I certainly wouldn’t say I dislike them. But they give me the minor league fantods, generally. Which makes me like a person who avoids chocolate or wears high tops at the beach, I know.
But howsabout some books I hope forever remain in the Western canon?
Awesome books no matter how you slice them:
Don Quixote. Seriously, if anything lives on to the twenty-seventh century, it’s this bad boy.
Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Only poem you’re find up in this list. You heard me, J. Alfred.
An American Tragedy. Pride, greed, lust, entitlement, stupidity, fear. American indeed.
Portrait of a Lady. I would vote for Sister Carrie, too, but one can only be so Dreiser-centric these days…and James does understated better.
The Scarlet Letter. Don’t care how old fashioned it seems. There is never a time when a woman holding her head high about her decisions and passions whilst protecting her child isn’t a timely read. I aspire to Hester Prynne.
The Yellow Wallpaper. There would be no Bell Jar without Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Hell, there would be no women writing without CPG. We’d all be making the rounds, if you know what I mean.
The Turn of the Screw. Yeah you did, James. Went there. And how.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Defy worthless authority and keep an ear open for humanity. And the colloquial.
As I Lay Dying. They don’t get more tortured, f—ed up, and evocative than Faulkner. Dang.
Light in August. Just when you thought the above couldn’t be more true, he did it again.
Metamorphosis. Holy howling fantods, Bugman.
Ulysses. Gotta read the Odyssey, though. So it’s a two-fer.
Native Son. I don’t think there is a more powerful, viscerally terrifying novel about humanity in a society that deems you animalistic.
Invisible Man. It’s been too long since I reread this one, but several scenes remain fully intact, like paintings in my mind.
1984. Terrifying current world. Need I say more?
The Color Purple. Turns everything on its ear. Everything.
Nightwood. And this did it first.
So which books do you hope never die (sorry, Sister Carrie, I fear you’re almost already gone…) out of our classrooms and libraries? Which in this list would you toss for another that Western culture should not be without? (Poetry people, stand up for yourselves. Cuz I sure as heck ain’t gonna push poetry, but you should. And maybe someone to vouch for something from Shakespeare and Ethan Frome and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas because I can’t quite but someone should…)
Tomorrow I’ll go for books I want added to everyone’s bookshelf, canon or no. But for now, what is the best from the list of the best?