Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The ten best modernist books (in English)

Laura Frost, an associate professor of literary studies and chair of liberal studies at The New School, is the author of the new book, The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents.

For Publishers Weekly she named the ten best modernist books (in English)--and offered a few tips for reading them:
1. Take your time: you’re not just reading for plot here; you’re reading for the play of the words on the page, the structure, the overall effect. 2. Be curious: if something is daunting or disorienting, ask yourself what makes it so. 3. Play the game: each book has different principles. The more you figure them out, the more you’ll enjoy reading. 4. Don’t get bogged down: when you come across something like the notoriously difficult “Oxen of the Sun” episode of Ulysses, do your best but keep going until something clicks for you. 5. Finally, re-read. Joyce once claimed, “The demand that I make of my reader is that he [sic] should devote his whole life to reading my works.” That kind of commitment is not required, but it helps.
One title on Frost's list:
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (1930) - Southern Gothic at its most terrible and comic. Fifteen different characters think about a matriarch on her deathbed. Faulkner doesn’t throw any Thomas Aquinas or Sanskrit at you, à la Joyce or Eliot, but the shifting points of view can be just as disorienting. Focus on each character’s eccentricities and how the various voices are arranged. “My mother is a fish”: Discuss.
Read about the other works on the list.

As I Lay Dying is on Helen Humphreys's top ten list of books on grieving, John Mullan's list of ten of the best teeth in literature, Jon McGregor's list of the top ten dead bodies in literature, Roy Blount Jr.'s list of five favorite books of Southern humor, and James Franco's six best books list.

The “My mother is a fish.” chapter in As I Lay Dying is among the ten most notorious parts of famous books according to Gabe Habash.

--Marshal Zeringue