By J. Peder Zane
Italo Calvino defined it is as a work that “has never finished saying what it has to say.” Ezra Pound said it possesses “a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness." And the 19th century French literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve declared that “[it] has discovered some moral and not equivocal truth, or revealed some eternal passion in that heart where all seemed known and discovered.”
At first glance, these definitions of classic/great books seem on the mark. Under their umbrella of excellence we can fit undisputed works of genius from “The Iliad” and “The Divine Comedy” to “Pride & Prejudice,” “Anna Karenina” and “Invisible Man.”
Unfortunately, they rest on a fallacy – that any and every book that exhibits these qualities will be considered a classic. Read more ...
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Fairy tale writers are the worst closers in the biz. Oh sure, they can spin a good yarn, full of magic, romance and now I can’t sleep at night terror. But when the time comes to wrap it all up, the best most can come up with is “and they lived happily ever after.”
They have been clever enough to sell this weakness as a virtue, calling it tradition and pretending they have no choice. But believe me, they catch it hard at literary festivals.
“I don’t want to write about human behavior,” John Banville told The Paris Review. “If I can catch the play of light on a wall, and catch it just so, that is enough for me.”
For Banville sentences, images and words have become the alpha and the omega. “Linguistic beauty,” he continued, can be pursued “as an end in itself.”
At a time when the phrase “literary event” is a quaint anachronism (see Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture), a new novel from Jonathan Franzen may be as close as book lovers can come these days to tweezing a piece of the nation’s attention.
She debuted with a funny and altogether winning novel that includes an 11 year-old girl’s seduction of a 29 year-old man (Nude Men, 1993). She followed that with the darkly humorous, tale of a young woman who is transformed from drama school dropout to Oscar winner with a little help from a man who imprisons her in his cloud-filled home Vapor (1999).
Stephen King is in the news for at least two reasons this week. First, a prison break in upstate New York seems almost an homage to his terrific novel, The Shawshank Redemption, with a twist – in real life, the bad guys really are bad.