Thanks Buddy. Your comment really got me thinkin'; I've been pondering on questions that've popped up as a result, especially about authors that've entered the canon of "classic contemporary fiction," but get glossed over in favor of Twain and Ernie and Dickins and Hawthorne and F. Scott.

Here are some that I thought of--mind you, these folks are great writers that are recognized as such but don't linger in/terrorize the minds of students for decades, OR authors that are generally ONLY known for one or two pieces, despite great resumes.

Ambrose Bierce--Most are only familiar with his short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Bierce was considered a master American writer during his time, probably even more so than Twain. His book "the Devil's Dictionary" is oft-imitated, especially funny since most of the imitators are not familiar with what they're imitating.

Herman Melville--Though he wrote the grandaddy of modern American novels, "Moby-Dick," his other stuff--especially "Billy Budd" and his various short pieces--is almost as good. Note to high school teachers: many of your students don't like to read as is; you don't need to make it worse by ramming "Moby-Dick" in their face, especially since its allusions and Scriptural/Shakespearian references are lost on even the post-college crowd. Try something like "the Confidence-Man" instead.

Tim O'Brien--My favorite living author. Segments from his best-known book "the Things They Carried" are popping up more frequently in college courses. I've met some folks that end up buying the book, loving it, and then assuming that's all they should read by O'Brien. False. O'Brien is a moving, powerful author that demands a larger audience. He may revisit certain themes in almost every book (the effect of war on a person, the nature of truth, the loss of memory), but his revisiting never seems dry; O'Brien--whether he knows it or not--has a keen understanding of the eternal nature of truth. Award-winning "Going After Cacciato" is well-worth reading, as is the utterly disturbing/memorable "In the Lake of the Woods."

Stanislaw Lem--His novel "Solaris" is considered a not only a science fiction classic, but a "literature" classic as well (as if science fiction needs permission to be literary). Lem was more interested in the moral and psychological ramifications of hard science than aliens from the Malacandra universe. But yes, his works do involve the fantastic too. Maybe if more teachers put him on the same pedestal as Ray Bradbury (as they should), some of his out-of-print Polish novels will be retranslated.

Graham Greene--One of the famed "Catholic" writers of the 20th century, Greene was also a spy and critic. I hear his name pop up once in a while in pop culture, but I don't know many that've actually read him. What a shame--he's amazing. He not only wrote the story/scripts for the films the Third Man and the Fallen Idol (both directed by Carol Reed), but he also wrote a slew of amazing, important novels, from "the Power and the Glory" to "Brighton Rock" to "the Quiet American" to "the End of the Affair" to "Our Man in Havana" (just finished it: amazing). He was a master of moral storytelling, the English language, and of intelligent dialogue. Hopefully college students will learn something else about him besides the fact that they discuss him in Donnie Darko.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 9/30/2006 10:49:00 PM,


At 9:00 PM, Blogger Buddy Chamberlain said...

Yeah, why does sci-fi need permission to be literature?


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