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NorthStar7
08-24-2013, 05:57 AM
If you had to give a rough estimate, how many canonical works (except short poems & non-fiction) have you read so far in your life? Please do include plays and longer epic poems, such as The Iliad and Othello.


Some of my most cherished classical works include Frankenstein, The Bluest Eye, Paradise Regained, and Madame Bovary, among others.
What about you? What are some of your favorite canonical works and why?

In my opinion, classical literature offers profound insight into the human condition. Indeed, such works often raise perennial questions that transcend the boundaries of time and culture. And you? How has reading the classics helped you grow as a writer and thinker? Do you think that great literature is edifying? How so?


I'm asking because I love brooding over deep questions--especially those relating to reading, literature, and writing. I'm including an anonymous poll for those who would prefer to respond in confidence.

Caitlin Black
08-24-2013, 06:55 AM
I haven't read that many.

However, I was reading something interesting the other day. It was basically justifying the modern rewrites of classics, simply because times have changed and some of the underlying assumptions and messages in the classics need to be challenged.

Like, a story where the wife is passive and just accepts that she will be punished by the husband for breaking an arbitrary rule, then gets saved by her brothers. Even though that particular story was emphasising good vs. evil, it still painted the woman as helpless. Consequently, what I was reading was saying how rewriting it where the woman isn't like that, and is more like a modern person, can send a message about things such as domestic violence.

I thought that was an interesting point to make. I know that with the classics I've read, I've often thought, "Well, that particular damaging stereotype/assumption has certainly been around a long time!" Kind of takes me out of the story.

(I'm not saying every message in the classics is like this. But yeah - enough that I get rather irritated at various points while reading them.)

Brightdreamer
08-24-2013, 07:23 AM
Is there an official registry of "canonical works" somewhere that I can compare my reading list to?

I've read some stories that are likely considered classics; thanks to public domain freebies and eReaders, I'm attempting to read more of them. I have to agree with Cliff Face that some of the dated attitudes and messages interfere with my enjoyment of the story; I can't help being a product of my times, any more than the authors could help being products of theirs, so on some level I'm never going to be able to fully understand where they were coming from. (I'm not sure I agree with rewriting classics for modern attitudes, except in the case of re-interpretations or other attempts to expand, rather than rephrase, the original works - the "official fanfic" approaches like Wicked, for instance, or the "prequels" to Peter Pan - but that's another matter for another thread.) The writing styles sometimes drive me up the wall, too. Of course, I'm reading them on my own, with nothing but a long-ago Amerikun hy skool ejumacation to base my comprehension of their works upon, so I'm fairly confident that, in any given classic, I'm probably missing the point. But sometimes the words look pretty, and the story I think I'm reading can be interesting.

Then again, I think that modern writing can also offer profound insights, raise interesting questions, and otherwise help me grow as a writer and (pseudo)thinker; just because it hasn't had the chance to test its longevity against decades or centuries doesn't invalidate the work, IMHO.

Caitlin Black
08-24-2013, 07:33 AM
Then again, I think that modern writing can also offer profound insights, raise interesting questions, and otherwise help me grow as a writer and (pseudo)thinker; just because it hasn't had the chance to test its longevity against decades or centuries doesn't invalidate the work, IMHO.

This too. :)

KellyAssauer
08-24-2013, 08:20 AM
I'm sure I read many a canonical work prior to reading Voltaire's Candide, ou I'Optimisme, and probably several afterwards as well, but all the others have faded from memory. It probably has something to do with Candide's questioning the authority and legitimacy of those 'experts' that make lists of books that they think we should all read...

I'll return to my garden now.

:D

Stlight
08-24-2013, 10:01 AM
Re-writing - modernizing the classics spoils them, IMO. Part of why we read the classics is to understand the time when they were written. It's hard enough to understand the past without being confused by classics that are written to 'change' the past.


It's one of those - those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.

If we re-write all the books to make every woman appear to have 21 st century values, will we not be devaluing the feminist movement? Will we not forget what was gained by all those who fought and died for things like the vote? And having forgotten, it is easy to ignore these gains until someone takes them away.


Another reason we read them is to enjoy the pleasure of the words.

If you want to write a book where the woman is strong and independent, write it, don't fanfic a classic.

Caitlin Black
08-24-2013, 11:04 AM
The point of the article I read wasn't to rewrite the past - it was to take advantage of well-known stories and place them in the modern age (not still in history), and then queer it up a bit to send a powerful message.

Why I thought it was a reasonably good idea was that you can take the already-formed impressions of classics readers and then emphasise what has changed, and what needs to change still. Not to rewrite history, but to impress upon new readers the values that we're still struggling to institute properly.

And yes, I understand that that won't be for everyone, and I myself don't really intend to rewrite a classic at all. But to me, it shone light on why those modernised classics are picking up steam lately.

Yes, it does resonate as fanfic - but can have a powerful (hopefully positive) impact on the cultural consciousness. It's not like those classics will suddenly go out of print - they'll still be there to be consumed.

Chris P
08-24-2013, 12:13 PM
Depends on what is considered "canonical." I enjoyed Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household and 40 Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel every bit as much as Don Quixote and Vanity Fair.

To jump on the derail, modern rewrites turn me off just as much as fanfiction does. My thinking is if someone is going to write a new twist on an old story, why not write a whole new story? I have no problem with new books being inspired by older stories (one of my novels was inspired by the 1000 year old Tale of Genji) but I'd rather write and read new stories with new characters or old stories with the original characters.

williemeikle
08-24-2013, 04:40 PM
Having read the complete works of the likes of Trollope, Dickens, Hardy, Walter Scott, the Brontes, most of the Russian School, a whole bunch of French, another whole bunch of Germans and Czechs, and across the Atlantic to James, Hawthorne, Twain, Steinbeck, Hemingway and Uncle Tom Cobley and All, I've covered a lot of the so called canonical bases.

I prefer genre fiction. Give me Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, H P Lovecraft, Peter Straub, Tolkein, Elmore Leonard and Clive Barker and I'm happy.

shadowwalker
08-24-2013, 05:49 PM
I've read a lot of the 'canonical' books, I suppose - depends on what's on The List. Some I found greatly interesting as to the time and events (Dickens, obviously); other, not so much. So it's about like modern-day literature for me. There's some really great, deep, and profound stuff out there, others that are just great reading, and others that I wouldn't use in the bird cage.

As to rewrites - I have no problem with the idea. West Side Story and all that. I think the originals do allow us to see how life was like for various classes of people at that time, and that makes the devaluing even more pointed. But a modernized version needs to retain the essential story - and if that means the female is dependent on a male (or males), then she needs to remain that way in the rewrite because that's what the story was about. If that's a minor part (included only because that's the way it was back then, like a beehive hairdo), I'd have no problem with changing it. JMO

buz
08-24-2013, 05:51 PM
If you had to give a rough estimate, how many canonical works (except short poems & non-fiction) have you read so far in your life? Please do include plays and longer epic poems, such as The Iliad and Othello.

I dunno? I feel like I need to sit here and count them to have any idea and it's too many ;) (and yet, of course, not enough) ...Also depends what you consider canonical.



Some of my most cherished classical works include Frankenstein, The Bluest Eye, Paradise Regained, and Madame Bovary, among others.
What about you? What are some of your favorite canonical works and why?
If we're just talking "classic literature" (again I'm not sure what you'd consider "canonical"), my favorites are Jane Eyre, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Catch-22--in terms of "pleasure to read" anyway. ...We'd have to define the measure of "favorite," too. :p (I also though Swift's "A Modest Proposal" was quite nice, but that's not really a...book/poem. :p )


In my opinion, classical literature offers profound insight into the human condition. Indeed, such works often raise perennial questions that transcend the boundaries of time and culture. And you? How has reading the classics helped you grow as a writer and thinker? Do you think that great literature is edifying? How so?I think that any book can afford insight, profound or unprofound, into the human condition, and any book could also stand to not afford insight, whether classical or not. It also depends on the reader--a book can have great meaning for one person and none for another. I don't think you can, or should, confine such effects to "canonical" or classic works. I've honestly gotten more out of non-"classic" works and nonfiction, but then I've probably read more of the non-classic, so it could just be sample size. ;)

I think reading novels, period, whether it is considered great or not, helps people grow as writers and thinkers, for obvious reasons. I also think reading nonfiction accomplishes this as well. I think that watching television and movies, and studying history and art and psychology and anthropology, and learning music and martial arts and saddle-making, and training dogs and snorting wasabi and scuba diving and having sex and making waffles helps people grow as thinkers and as people. There are different dimensions to growth. Again, it depends on the person and the experience, or as before, the particular novel, to make something of that experience.

PS. And just so I'm vaguely on-topic with the derail, I've also read Jane Slayre, and I liked it. ;) I am sort of a heathen, tho. :D

Medievalist
08-24-2013, 08:46 PM
I prefer genre fiction. Give me Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, H P Lovecraft, Peter Straub, Tolkein, Elmore Leonard and Clive Barker and I'm happy.

Chandler, Bradbury, Lovecraft, Tolkien are in now part of the canon in terms of academe; I'm betting Leonard will be as well.

Medievalist
08-24-2013, 08:49 PM
I've read giant honking swathes of the canon in prose, poetry, novels, and drama in English and French, some in Latin.

I'm pretty solid on works before 1832; sketchy after that except for English and American novels.

I have no idea of the numbers at all, but likely in the thousands.

The thing about canon formation in this era is that it's driven by taste still, but also, by cost in that the canon is determined primarily by the taste of academics/scholars, it's driven by text sales, which means that it's likely to be heavily skewed for reasons of tradition, cost, and time towards older works. As an example, you are more likely to see some poems by Frost rather than others in anthologies because they are more affordable to license. I think we'll see this as a trend going forward with longer works too.

But in my lifetime, I've seen Tolkien, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Raymond Chandler, and many others, become incorporated in class reading lists, text books, and canon lists for graduate reading exams, and I'm delighted to see this expansion.

I just hope it isn't too swayed by licensing costs.

Caitlin Black
08-25-2013, 03:11 AM
Speaking of adding recent-er books to school reading requirements... I recall someone on AW, who is in college in the US somewhere, mentioning that Twilight was the first book on her reading list for a YA Writing class.

Does that make Twilight canonical?

(I'm a bit unsure of technical terms here.)

Medievalist
08-25-2013, 03:33 AM
Speaking of adding recent-er books to school reading requirements... I recall someone on AW, who is in college in the US somewhere, mentioning that Twilight was the first book on her reading list for a YA Writing class.

Does that make Twilight canonical?

(I'm a bit unsure of technical terms here.)

Not really, though it's a motion in that direction. To be canon in the most Official Pretentious Sense, it needs to be on many many syllabi/reading lists, but it needs to be there for a couple of generations, too.

And it needs to be the subject of critical essays/scholarly publications.

The Ultimate Signs of Canonicity are:

1. Years of reputable peer reviewed journals have essays about the text and there are scholarly monographs/books about it.

2. Ph.D. students write dissertations on the text.

3. Generations of undergraduates have it as an assigned text.

4. It's on required reading lists for graduate Ph.D. exams.

There's a sort of "tipping point" for this stuff too. Joyce's Ulysses really only reached canonical status in the late seventies or early eighties, I think. I haven't specifically checked. I know it was required reading for Ph.D. students in the early 1980s.

ETA: Be advised I'm presenting a really narrow view of "canon" here, that is, the one commonly used in academe, and be advised also that the canon changes with generations of scholars (thank goodness!). We're now actually seeing women and queers and POCs included who would have been excluded on the basis of sex/orientation/race even fifty years ago.

Caitlin Black
08-25-2013, 04:00 AM
Ah, okay...

Up till now, I just kind of assumed that classics were whatever books had been around for over a certain amount of time. Say, 100 years, for sake of argument.

Like, to me, "classics" = "older book".

...

Or is "canonical" different to "classic" in some important way I'm not seeing?

Medievalist
08-25-2013, 05:55 AM
Ah, okay...

Up till now, I just kind of assumed that classics were whatever books had been around for over a certain amount of time. Say, 100 years, for sake of argument.

Like, to me, "classics" = "older book".

...

Or is "canonical" different to "classic" in some important way I'm not seeing?

I'd say there are at least three Really Broad Categories:

1. Old Books These include "classics" and canon and Everything Else. If you go looking at what were "best sellers" in their day, it's kind of funny; lots of them are still really great books, but a lot more have not work well, at all.

2. Classics These are books that are often also part of the canon, but it's a larger group, and books shift back and forth between "classic" and canon, depending on Who's Making The Lists—and when.

3. The canon: Here's the part of the AHD definition of canon (http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=canon&submit.x=34&submit.y=23) that applies here:



5. a. A group of literary works that are generally accepted as representing a field: "the durable canon of American short fiction" (William Styron).
b. The works of a writer that have been accepted as authentic: the entire Shakespeare canon.

Caitlin Black
08-25-2013, 10:42 AM
Oh, okay.

Thanks. :)

Shadow_Ferret
09-13-2013, 12:32 AM
I can't say I've read any books with canons in them. Seems an odd thing to want to discuss. I've seen a lot of movies that had canons in them, many war movies do. But books? I must not read whatever genre that would be.