Sunday, June 22, 2008

Great Literature, Part Deux

Rather than respond to the comments on the last post within the comments section, I thought I'd start a new entry and let Dave Kellett have the riposte. The comic above (click on it for a larger, more readable version) is actually the third of a pretty funny series, which starts here, but the strip is on my daily diet, and many other people's as well. I've been a fan of Dave's from back in his days as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, when he did a strip called "The Four Food Groups of the Apocalypse," which I have actually referenced here. He's now one of a handful of people making a living from a web strip rather than trying to deal with syndicates and the print medium.

When I was in college, we were supposed to read "Moby Dick" and this was exactly my reaction. With "War and Peace," I felt that I was missing something because I didn't have time to just sit down and really read it, but with Moby Dick, I gave it an honest shot and then bought the Cliff Notes.

Moby Dick is one of the books that people say they wish had gone on forever, and, while I felt it had, I decided to go back after college and give it another look. Same effect as above. By contrast, I went back and read "War and Peace" and, as noted in the previous post, am now reading it again. What I didn't mention then is that this is about my sixth or seventh time through. It's an amazing book and I live with the characters, who are the most three-dimensional I've met in all of literature.

But, while I've re-read "Two Years Before The Mast" several times, I haven't been able to get through Moby Dick once.

Another pair of books I couldn't read even after college were "The Brothers Karamazov" and "Don Quixote," the former (despite having read and enjoyed several other Dostoevsky novels) because it was too much like being back in school, like a prolonged and somewhat tedious lecture, and the latter because the picaresque nature made it seem repetitive to me ... like a Bugs Bunny cartoon where the character gets flattened by an anvil and then jumps up and has another adventure with no apparent bad effects.

Your mileage may vary, and thank goodness for that, because it's one of the advantages of books over television. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Danielle Steele outsells Tolstoy, Melville, Dana and Dostoevsky combined, but you can still find their books despite their poor ratings.

1 comment:

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Suddenly i'm running into Moby Dick all over the net, which is weird because during a bout of insomnia a few weeks ago i pulled it off the top of my to-read pile and started it at 2AM. I really have read almost nothing - avoided literature courses religiously - so now i'm writing about college students and realized i didn't know diddly about most of what they're studying. Melville seemed to be a necessity.

The cartoon is perfect. MD really is interesting when you meet the characters, and even in some digressions like "Chowder," but gad! Does drag in places. There are parts of great beauty and parts to skim.

We read Candide in a history class and i thought it was a hoot but years later a friend said it bored her and i realized that translation plays a big part too. I think she got a bad one!