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1bretflet
Jan 26, 2012, 9:49pm Top

what will keep me from halting my membership every time. I keep telling myself I need lapse my membership while I catch up on my TBR pile. I went to suspend it today and saw my next order already shipped (earlier than I expected). "No matter what it is," I told myself, "I'll just return it. Whether it's Melville, Nabokov or whoever, it's going back." But I see it's Philip Roth: 1959-1962. The one Roth LOA volume I haven't read and have always been meaning to. Dammit! How dare LOA provide me with a perfect, irresistible volume every single freaking time.

Anyone else on here ever have this problem? I've never even had to bother buying a volume independently since subscribing because LOA can apparently read my mind.

2Ollerman
Jan 27, 2012, 10:39am Top

I'm getting closer and closer to the point that if I never bought another book, I'd have enough to read in my library before I die. But you can't stop. You only regret the books you don't buy, not the ones you do. A library needs to be a dynamic, changing and growing thing. My only problem now is having to build more shelves.

3LesMiserables
Jan 27, 2012, 4:26pm Top

> 2

I don't worry about that. I like to collect books too and I know my children are all avid readers.

4bretflet
Jan 27, 2012, 8:28pm Top

"You only regret the books you don't buy, not the ones you do."

True. But you also regret the books you never got around to reading. As Thoreau warned: "Read the best books first, otherwise you'll find you do not have the time."

5LesMiserables
Edited: Jan 27, 2012, 9:34pm Top

> 4

But how? You don't know if they are dross until you read them , and often highly recommended books leave me unmoved.

6bretflet
Jan 27, 2012, 9:29pm Top

>5 LesMiserables:

I took the quote to generally mean I should probably get around to reading books like Les Miserables and Don Quixote "now" rather than "someday." Someday has a way of never coming.

Obviously, there is no golden rule for quality. But is LOA not a good indicator? Has anybody here read a bad work from LOA? Even LOA's early and rough Faulkner like Mosquitoes is a fascinating failure well worth reading for those patient enough.

7LesMiserables
Edited: Jan 27, 2012, 10:27pm Top

> 6

Horses for courses. Staying with the classics is a good idea as they are tried and tested. I cannot speak for all of the LoA publications: they are not all 'classics' in the popular sense of the word; some might even be described as obscure. I have read some classics and wondered what all the fuss was about. Don DeLillo's Underworld is meant to be a modern classic: I read a lot... around about halfway and I just had to close it.

8DCloyceSmith
Jan 27, 2012, 9:44pm Top

>6 bretflet: "Has anybody here read a bad work from LOA?"

Thanks for the vote of confidence!

But, even though I work for the LOA, I'll take the bait. A couple of the plays in the second volume of Eugene O'Neill, which I recently read, are truly quite dreadful, particularly "Marco Millions" and "Lazarus Laughed." (As one of the editors quipped when I discussed them at work, "Friends don't let friends write drunk.")

Admittedly, it would seem strange to leave out a few of the plays because even the failures are hints ow he got from the innovative (if slight) one-acts for the Provincetown Players to the major plays at the end of his career.

9bretflet
Jan 27, 2012, 10:02pm Top

>8 DCloyceSmith:

I typed in Marco Millions into Amazon and quickly clicked on the top book . As I was reading, "He finds a passage into a strange world, where he meets insect-like creatures," I thought, "Wow, Eugene was drunk!" Turned out it was just some sci-fi novel.

>7 LesMiserables:
I'm presuming you're talking about Underworld? On advice, I'm saving that for "someday," but I did read White Noise and Mao II. While they were good, DeLillo is admittedly bottom rung classic.

10LesMiserables
Jan 27, 2012, 10:28pm Top

> 9
Yes, sorry.

11geneg
Jan 28, 2012, 11:28am Top

I read White Noise for a college class and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Haven't read a DeLillo since. It had a slick, sort of smug banality to it that I found off-putting. Reminded me of the few Updike's I've read. That may be what the author was going for, but the level of narcissism required to maintain the tone is, to me, unpleasant. I'm just not the audience for seventies/eighties American fiction. Too angsty, too self-absorbed, both the style and the characters, too banal in the long run. I'm afraid I am all too familiar with the banal and its attendant evils, I don't need someone pointing it out to me. After all, one of the reasons I read is to escape the banality of everyday life, not sink deeper into it.

12WillamMarx
Jan 29, 2012, 10:23am Top

Regarding LOA volumes of the "what were they thinking" variety, I vote for H.P. Lovecraft. Sentence after sentence of roiling purple prose about creepy crawlies from outer space, the whole 'mythology' revolving around what LOA author Edmund Wilson calls "an invisible whistling octopus."

"The only only real horror in most of these fictions," Wilson wrote in 1945, "is the horror of bad taste and bad art." LOA was partly inspired by an idea of Wilson's -- he would have been aghast and agog at the elevation of the pulpy blather of Lovecraft into a lineup that includes "America's best and most significant writing."

13Django6924
Edited: Jan 29, 2012, 11:02am Top

>12 WillamMarx:

I've always considered Wilson highly overrated, myself, as a writer and a critic.

Literary genres are as much a matter of taste as national cuisines. I wouldn't take the word of a Parisian on what qualifies as good chili con carne. Since I am not a fan of speculative fiction, I wouldn't be in a position to judge whether Lovecraft's work ranks as among the "best and most significant" writing--at least for that genre.

One might make a case that criticism in general doesn't belong in the LOA canon. I suspect more people these days read and enjoy Lovecraft than Edmund Wilson.

14geneg
Jan 29, 2012, 11:39am Top

Oh, criticism absolutely belongs. It's part of our heritage. In terms of Wilson's comments about Lovecraft I think he is dead on, but that's what makes Lovecraft so fun. Read The Turn of the Screw, a legitimate literary horror story, then read Something short by Lovecraft. Which one provides the surface energy that makes it fun to read? Certainly not the James. but James leaves the more satisfying feeling upon completion. IMO. This experiment works well, also, with Lovecraft and Poe. Lovecraft just isn't as good. But, as I said, he's still fun.

I'm afraid Wilson's criticism is a function of his time, in some ways. In 1945 SciFi was pretty much relegated to the commercial racks and was considered genre at its worst. With a few exceptions, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore come most to mind, it was bad genre writing. Heavy on the originality, but light on the quality. In SciFi terms this was the Golden Age, but at its best it seldom ever rises above genre. The Golden Age of SciFi is a pretty low bar for literary quality. Wilson was criticizing a genre that was on a par with Harlequin Romances.

It's a sad commentary on America's reading habits if, indeed, more people read Lovecraft than Wilson. With Lovecraft one needn't know how to read.

15Django6924
Jan 29, 2012, 12:28pm Top

>14 geneg:

Better they read Lovecraft than watch Spike TV, which I expect gets an audience greater than all LOA subscribers combined.

Indeed, all criticism is a function of its time--this is the only reason for reading it as far as I can tell, with the exception of those very few critics who really were good writers. James Agee's film criticism is worth reading partially because it is a mirror of his time, but more especially because it is superbly written. His judgments on the merits of the films he reviews, on the other hand, does not always stand the test of time: he highly praised films such as "Man's Hope" and dismissed "Citizen Kane." The problem with critics is always one of perspective.

16WillamMarx
Jan 30, 2012, 12:02am Top

Critics belong in LOA because many of our classic writers were first rate critics -- Edgar Allan Poe, William Dean Howells, and Henry James for starters. They believed that the value of criticism wasn't limited to making 'right' judgments. Most critics know that they can be wrong -- they make the best arguments they can for their verdicts.

The cultural mission of criticism is to create a meaningful conversation about the arts. You can read, sit, and stare at your LOA volumes for hours on end -- as soon as you begin to share ideas about their quality and significance with others you become a critic. Unless you are a perpetual fan ...

Criticism is not just valuable because it provides perspective, though it has historical importance. It is a large subject, but passionate and thoughtful criticism is essential because it shows us ways in which we can articulate the value of the arts in our lives. James thinks that powerfully written criticism develops our appetite for art and critical thinking -- our consciousness expands when we test our judgments of value against the reasoned opinions of others.

The hostility to critics and criticism in America is a fascinating subject ...that some of the critics in LOA address.


17wildbill
Jan 30, 2012, 7:24pm Top

I am a fan of Wilson but that is primarily based upon "To the Finland Station". I don't agree with some of his criticism. I am a mystery fan and he wrote an essay titled " Why Do People Read Detective Stories?" like it was a stupid thing to do. But, whatever he wrote he usually wrote it well.

>14 geneg: "Better they read Lovecraft than watch Spike TV"

I have seen a decrease in my TV time in favor of reading. It seems I generally have several books to read that are better than what is on television. Time is finite and I want to spend it carefully.

18bretflet
Feb 2, 2012, 12:36am Top

"I am a mystery fan and he wrote an essay titled " Why Do People Read Detective Stories?" like it was a stupid thing to do."

To wash that bad taste out of your mouth, (re)read Raymond Chandler's "The Simple Art of Murder," where he (humorously) differentiates whodunits? from noir. One of my favorite essays by one of my favorite authors in one of my favorite LOA volumes.

19Ollerman
Feb 6, 2012, 5:23pm Top

But you don't read Lovecraft at the same time and in the same mood and for the same sensation as you read Wilson. Or Poe, or Delillo, or anyone else. I greatly enjoy Lovecraft, but in doses and at certain times. I don't care for Delillo or Updike, and if I'm missing out, then it has been my misfortune to stumble upon those of their works that have made it so.

One can read Cervantes and later read G-8 and His Battle Aces or a Robert Ludlum or a Carson McCullers or Paul Bowles or Arthur Conan Doyle or Jim Starlin's run on Captain Marvel.

Debating one author over another should take into account the question of how much and how often. That's a much more relevant discussion than whether or not to read someone *ever*.

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