Censorship

If a Body Catch a Body Comin' Through The Rye, Please Sue Him…

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J.D. Salinger's Number 2 fan, Ron Rosenbaum, reports on a pending lawsuit by the reclusive writer:

In the suit, the 90-year-old author seeks the "recall and destruction" (subtly oxymoronic?) of a novel that had been set to be published in the United Kingdom this summer and in the U.S. this fall. The book is 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by a pseudonymous writer who calls himself John David California.

In the novel, as was first reported by the U.K. Telegraph and then the New York Post and other U.S. outlets, a 76-year-old man called "Mr. C" (who is said to be a stand-in for Salinger's Holden Caulfield character, the troubled and rebellious teenage protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye), escapes from a nursing home, encountering, as part of his travels, "a Salinger-like figure" as he seeks to retrace Holden's youthful steps.

Like a jerk, Salinger not only wants the book to be disappeared via preliminary injunction, he also wants cash (the gift that keeps on giving). And he wants to know, really, where do the ducks go?

Rosenbaum doesn't mention it, but this case bears more than a little passing resemblance to the 2001 flap over The Wind Done Gone, a sequel of sorts to Gone With The Wind that ran afoul of the Margaret Mitchell estate before being published to indifferent notices but certainly no damage to Gone With The Wind. The stakes in that case, as in the current one, ostensibly revolve around copyright, intellectual property, and a genuinely misguided idea that new work riffing off old somehow depletes the source material; it's zero-sum lit crit. After running through a list of takeoffs ranging from Nobel Prize winner J.M Coetzee's revision of Robinson Crusoe (called Foe) to Star Trek fan fiction, I argued:

None of these literary knock-offs, it is safe to say, has in any way weakened the audience or market for the works that inspired them. If anything, they have greatly expanded interest in the originals. On its page for Bored of the Rings, for instance, Amazon.com notes that "customers who bought this book also bought" The Lord of the Rings, The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, and other Tolkein-related titles. Wide Sargasso Sea, a campus favorite for over a decade, is now routinely taught in conjunction with Jane Eyre, and has put Charlotte Bronte's mid-19th century novel smack at the center of contemporary academic debates over feminism and post- colonialism.

Similarly, if The Wind Done Gone sees print, the likely outcome will be a burst of new interest in Gone With the Wind (already one of the very best-selling books in history).

If The Wind Done Gone didn't kick off a new burst of interest in Gone With the Wind, well, it's because the original wasn't exactly hurting. Certainly, the new book had no negative effect on the old one. More to the point, there was no confusing the provenance of the two works, as there wouldn't be in the Salinger case. It's one thing to sow confusion in readers related to whether a product is sanctioned or not by a particular person or organization. If The Wind Done Gone, by design or by accident, created the impression that it was authorized by the Mitchell estate, that's as much of a problem as, say, a product claiming it has the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or a UL listing when it doesn't. That's something that can and should be addressed.

But that wasn't the case with The Wind Done Gone and it would not be with 60 Years Later (which sounds genuinely rotten from Rosenbaum's description). In both cases, the real issue is less about market confusion and more about the claim to a sort of omnipotent psychic ownership of an entire fictional universe and all possible alternatives. What I said about The Wind Done Gone:

Randall's novel would indeed steal something from the text that inspired it. The very idea behind The Wind Done Gone inflicts a sort of psychic damage to what Judge Pannell characterized in his decision as the "romantic, but tragic, world" of Twelve Oaks and Tara. By re-imagining Gone With the Wind through a slave's eyes, The Wind Done Gone would help strip away whatever sympathy for Rhett Butler's South still exists in some readers; it would make it that much more difficult to obfuscate the brutality of a society predicated upon slavery with phrases such as the "calm dignity life can have when it's lived by gentle folks" and "the genial grace of days that are gone." Or, for that matter, by claiming the novel unfolds in a "romantic, but tragic, world."

That sort of "theft" shouldn't be actionable. Read "Tomorrow is Another Day in Court."

Back to Salinger and Rosenbaum: Rosenbaum, author of an interesting book on how Hitler is figured in culture and a 1,000 less-interesting articles about the obsessions of Ron Rosenbaum, goes on to reminisce about the time he wrote about stalking Salinger and the way Rosenbaum's own readers let him down, just like Mark David Chapman did Salinger:

I did offer one amusing factoid about Salinger in the story that I still think holds up in a way. A woman I know stood in line behind him at a grocery store and discovered he was buying … doughnut holes! Those round balls of sugary fried dough….

Anyway, I wrote the story as a tribute to the power of Salinger's emblematic resistance to the publicity-industrial complex (my coinage!). I called his silence, this repudiation of celebrity culture, "his most powerful, his most eloquent, perhaps his most lasting work of art." But a few dolts misread it in a simple-minded Mark David Chapman way because it did not fit their preconceived image of a celebrity profile. It was an anti-celebrity profile! The misreading made me understand Salinger's anger: Why put up with idiots when he could write as he pleased and let the misguided hacks hack away at him when he was dead? He had a vision and he had a right to pursue it his way.

I should point out that I was one of those folks who made fun of Rosenbaum's piece. I did it at Suck.com, writing that Rosenbaum's "willingness to read hidden meanings into the irascible novelist's words made him sound disturbingly like Salinger's most famous explicator, Mark David Chapman." Rosenbaum was genuinely excited by the (foiled!) prospect of a book-version reprint of a 1965 Salinger short story about a kid at summer camp, a literary non-event that took place around the long-awaited releases of a new Thomas Pynchon novel (snooze!) and William Gass' The Tunnel (why, Bill, why?). To my view, Rosenbaum's piece exemplified the desperation of critics for a "great" American writer, come hell or highwater. Or even the lack of basic writing to discuss.

The short answer to Rosenbaum's bleating about writerly anger at audience is, I think: You put up with "idiots" because that's all there is, pal. The world is filled with readers who will always disappoint you, either by not getting you at all or by lauding the stuff in your work that you absolutely hate. For Christ's sake, there's good-faith and bad-faith misreadings, but there really is only misreading. More to the point, literature, and journalism, and poetry, and casual conversation, and intense conversation, is all there is. And if you're not trying to connect with an audience (that is, people outside your own goddamned head, who might actually, you know, talk back or bring a different POV or ignore you altogether), well, then screw you. See you in hell, where you get to spend endless days in court with other literary refuseniks such as Harlan Ellison, who continues to alienate and attack the dwindling number of admirers who bother to keep talking about the guy's work.

Whole Slate piece here.

And for the comments (where misreading rules like Chavez in Venezuela or Stradlater in the locker room!), who else thinks that Catcher in the Rye is one of the most overrated books in U.S. literary history?

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  1. To me it is a 1st Amendment issue. The Wind Done Gone, although it was an awful book, was meant as a commentary on Gone With the Wind. Copyright should not act to prevent people from commenting on or lampooning published works by writing derrivites of them.

  2. Three words, Nick! Not long enough!

    PS Holden Caulfield will outlive empires.

  3. Bored of the Rings was great. So was Doon. The Harvard Lampoon needs to write some more book parodies.

  4. “who else thinks that Catcher in the Rye is one of the most overrated books in U.S. literary history?”

    Wow, Nick. You’re so cool!

  5. It’s pretty high on my list, but for me “The Grapes of Wrath” is the most overrated book ever.

  6. Question: worst American novel of the 20th Century (non pulp catagory)?

    And the nominees are:

    An American Tragedy
    Infinite Jest
    Catcher in the Rye
    Armies of the Night

    I have a hard time not voting for Catcher in the Rye.

  7. Rich,

    Grapes of Wrath should have made my list. Half way throught that book I was rooting for the Jodes to get hit by a bus, although the inner chapters are okay.

  8. Holden Caulfield will outlive empires.

    Holden Caulfield, in all his whiny, self-obsessive glory, IS the empire these days, only they call him Baby Boomers.

  9. I read Catcher in the Rye.

    What I remember most is

    not

    one

    fucking

    thing.

  10. “Question: worst American novel of the 20th Century (non pulp catagory)?”

    The Sound and the Fury.

    It caused me to stop reading books. I’m not kidding. It’s been six years.

  11. “who else thinks that Catcher in the Rye is one of the most overrated books in U.S. literary history?”

    Then again just about every one of the Great Books I was forced to read seemed pretty goddam overrated.

  12. […]See you in hell, where you get to spend endless days in court with other literary refuseniks such as Harlan Ellison, who continues to alienate and attack the dwindling number of admirers who bother to keep talking about the guy’s work.[…]

    Harlan Ellison? I really enjoyed the Star Wars stuff he wrote.

  13. Catcher in the Rye is the story of a teenage narcissist written by a grown-up narcissist. Is there any wonder why our culture treats the book like high art, and finds Salinger so fascinating?

  14. “Then again just about every one of the Great Books I was forced to read seemed pretty goddam overrated.”

    I liked “Cannery Row”.

  15. I’m suing over this.

  16. Ahhh, The Catcher In The Rye.

    After seeing it referred to in some movie as the book that all the good nutjobs read, I looked for it at the tiny library and it was out for months and had a waiting list. I checked the used book store and the junk shops. Nobody had a cheap copy. I payed full pop at the book store and read it. The whole fiking thing. Then I threw it away. I didn’t want anyone else to waste any of their precious life reading such shyte.

    disclaimer: I loved The Grapes Of Wrath.

  17. I’m a supporter of intellectual property rights but derivative works that are clearly derivative works don’t meet my definition of infringement.

    One other point, since Catcher in the Rye is more than 50 years old, in J sub D’s world it becomes public domain the day Salinger kicks the bucket. Copyrights should be limited to 50 years or the death of the creator, whichever is greater.

  18. a genuinely misguided idea that new work riffing off old somehow depletes the source material

    I agree. I still love the original Matrix.

  19. “Question: worst American novel of the 20th Century (non pulp catagory)?”

    Atlas Shrugged would be my vote.

  20. The Red Pony.

    Horrible; but at least it was memorably horrible, unlike Catcher.

  21. I like Catcher in the Rye. Whenever I’m feeling down, I just think of Holden Caulfield. I then ask myself, “Am I a whiny little bitch?”

    No matter what, Holden will always be more of a “little bitch” than I can ever be. That is why Catcher in the Rye deserves its greatness.

  22. It has been since high school that I read Catcher. I thought it was boring and pointless. But, I don’t remember hating it with quite the same venom that I hated other works like Infinite Jest or Death of Salesman. I guess that is something.

  23. a genuinely misguided idea that new work riffing off old somehow depletes the source material

    Star Wars, perfect counterexample. If I could erase all memory of episodes 1-3 I would without blinking.

  24. “Star Wars, perfect counterexample. If I could erase all memory of episodes 1-3 I would without blinking.”

    For all of the awfulness of the last three movies, it is still a very interesting universe. It would be nice if someone who actually knew how to write dialog and a coherent plot would go ahead and finish the original nine part series Lucas was planning. Sadly, since nothing ever goes into the public domain anymore, that will never happen.

  25. John, dialog and a coherent plot are no longer necessary. We gots the bestest special effects EVER!

  26. Nick, thanks to you I feel OK that I am the only person in the world who has never read Catcher in the Rye.

  27. Good for you Isaac. The rest of us can’t get the hours of our life back spent reading that book. You are a wise and lucky man.

  28. Question: worst American novel of the 20th Century (non pulp catagory)?

    It’s The Jungle. No contest.

  29. who else thinks that Catcher in the Rye is one of the most overrated books in U.S. literary history?

    YES! Holden Caulfield was just a whiny stream-of-consicousness prep school brat and the book is only admired by the same.

    BTW, I feel the same about the Great Gatsby; only people who identify with the Paris Hiltons of the 1920’s could like that dreck.

  30. Warty,

    I would catagorize The Jungle as pulp. But, since they force high schoolers to read it, I guess it gets into the non-pulp catagory.

  31. “BTW, I feel the same about the Great Gatsby; only people who identify with the Paris Hiltons of the 1920’s could like that dreck.”

    I never got that book. I remember reading it and thinking “what a great house”. I didn’t understand why it mattered that he was some kind of vague gangster figure. Gatsby did pretty well for himself I always thought.

  32. By Upchuck Sinclair.

    I’m listening to some CDs on western culture, and one of the lecturers called out The Jungle as a bad book. I can’t recall any other book being so labeled in the series.

    I can’t read Fitzgerald without thinking about Hemingway and his various anecdotes about Zelda and Scott.

  33. None of these literary knock-offs…has in any way weakened the audience or market for the works that inspired them

    Hardly the point, and immaterial to core of the debate, namely:
    what constitutes “intellectual property”?

  34. A Separate Peace.

    Loathed that book; or more correctly, loathed the first 75 pages of it, as I had no interest, in the 3 times I was assigned it between 7th grade and soph. year of high school, of reading past it. I can only hope it ends like Hamlet does.

  35. Hemingway

    How about The Sun Also Rises? That’s at least half as shitty as The Catcher in the Rye.

  36. A Separate Peace.

    Is that the one where the kid shoves his friend out of the tree and then the friend dies of an embolism? God, what a pile of shit that was.

  37. Am I the only one who despises Rabbit, Run?

  38. I beleive so Warty. And yes it is a pile of shit. But isn’t it really a young adult book? Kind of in a different class than books like Catcher and Grapes of Wrath that pretend to be adult books.

  39. “Libertopia,” John, Dagny, Hank et al five years after the collapse of the United States.
    Who is the father of Dagny’s young son? Who is involved in a gay marriage? How many political parties spring up? Did Eddie Willers make it out alive?

  40. Have to go with Hemingway for most overrated writer. All the English characters walk around saying “what what” (or something similar), and that is the limit of their characterisation. He may be considered an important writer, but I think he’s a pretty average one.

  41. New Question: Best American novel of the 20th Century (non pulp catagory)?

  42. All artists are overrated. Some are just more successful than others.

  43. Oh Jesus, John, why did you remind me of the Grapes of Wrath? Just the thought of that enormous pseudo-moralizing piece of shit makes me want to go all Hulk and smash up the nearest library.

    FUCK YOU STEINBECK I HOPE YOU’RE BEING RAPED IN HELL RIGHT NOW

  44. Actually, I like Hemingway. And The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorite of his books. So there!

    I’m going to go away now and drink a lot and do manly things like bullfighting.

  45. New Question: Best American novel of the 20th Century (non pulp catagory)?

    It’s probably not the absolute best, but A Soldier of the Great War by Helprin comes to mind immediately. Anyone else dig Helprin?

  46. To all of you who criticize Catcher, you’re nothing but fucking vapid phonies masquerading as gnomes w substance.

  47. It just dawned on me that I define American novelist by how much I hate them. All my favorite novels are by foreigners. I feel kind of unpatriotic. I did really like In Cold Blood. I also like On the Road and The Shltering Sky. But I can’t think of many American novels I really liked very much.

  48. “To all of you who criticize Catcher, you’re nothing but fucking vapid phonies masquerading as gnomes w substance.”

    Whatever. It is crap. It needs to be rewitten to end with that whinny little bitch Holden getting involved in a serious D/S relationship with a gay dominant. It would be much more fitting to his character.

  49. Never touched Grapes of Wrath never have, never will.

    Cannery Row is good. You are a small-minded fool if you think otherwise.

    Best American novel?
    easy.
    Catch-22 Joseph Heller

  50. Best American novel of the 20th Century (non pulp catagory)

    I enjoyed the hell out of Stephen Pressfield’s Gates of Fire.

  51. The rest of us can’t get the hours of our life back spent reading that book.

    Yes, but since someone brought up The Jungle I was going to say I can’t say the same thing about that frightful piece of dreck.

    But on reflection, I realized that one has to read The Jungle to comprehend the fullness of Sinclair’s hackery. I don’t think you need that for Salinger whose hackery, I find, is self-evident from every review, synopsis or description of his work.

  52. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the best American novel, and I’ll send the picadores after anyone who disagrees.

    As for the 20th century, I’m not sure I have a single favorite.

  53. Catch 22 is really good.

  54. I like Catch-22. In fact, in another thread, I just mentioned Milo Minderbinder. But I don’t know about it being the best novel out of America, even in the 20th century.

  55. I mean to say, even favorable reviews of Catcher make it sound like a piece of crap.

  56. I do enjoy me some Larry McMurtry. The Last Picture Show, Texasville, Duane’s Depressed. James Michener always holds my interest. and of course, Steinbeck.

    I tried some Faukner once. I don’t understand the love for him. Got lot’s of Hemingway on the shelf, but haven’t got into it yet.

  57. But on reflection, I realized that one has to read The Jungle to comprehend the fullness of Sinclair’s hackery.

    I had to read that piece of garbage in 11th grade. In the book report we had to write, I informed my teacher that I stopped reading it when it became communist propaganda, and that I really didn’t know what happened in the last half of the book. I further informed her that I was not pleased in the slightest with the school board for putting that on the curriculum.

    I got an A.

  58. for me, “best” usually means the best one I can think of right now. it’s a pointless exercise to take it further than that.

    but seriously, where do the ducks go?

  59. “Best American novel?
    easy.
    Catch-22 Joseph Heller”

    Yes.

  60. Catch-22 Joseph Heller

    Read it in the 6th grade. (40 years ago). Was just thinking of Major Major Major Major last night.

  61. “I had to read that piece of garbage in 11th grade. In the book report we had to write, I informed my teacher that I stopped reading it when it became communist propaganda, and that I really didn’t know what happened in the last half of the book. I further informed her that I was not pleased in the slightest with the school board for putting that on the curriculum.

    I got an A.”

    Good thing you didn’t try that in the AGe of The Obama. You would have ended up on some watchlist and cooling your heels in juvie as a potential school shooter.

  62. I haven’t read it in a while, but I quite enjoyed Catcher. Yes, he is a whiny bitch…but that’s sort of…um…the entire point.

    Vaguely remember Grapes and liking it. I also enjoyed the Great Gatsby—it and Catcher were two of the few books that I actually read all the way through for high school.

    Franny and Zooey also blew my fucking mind.

    I remember reading Slaughterhouse-Five for the first time and just getting my mind blown away by its awesomeness. Plot devices I’ve never seen before/since, the genuinely hilariousness of it and that it gets its point across without dragging you through it.

    I need to read Catch 22. I read non-fiction voraciously, but I just can’t seem to get back into novels.

    Oh. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is probably my favorite book, even though it’s a memoir and not fiction. Jesus it’s good.

  63. “Oh. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is probably my favorite book, even though it’s a memoir and not fiction. Jesus it’s good.”

    I have heard that. Slaughter House Five is incredible. Probably better than Catch 22.

  64. It’s been twenty-five years or better since I read John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy (The 42nd Parallel, Nineteen Nineteen, The Big Money) but I remember really liking the sweep of the narrative.

    Dos Passos’ sympathies were decidedly leftwing, but, in a way, I found I understood why someone would have had those sympathies at that time.

    He did a takedown of Teddy Roosevelt that was simply beautiful and would have made the whole reading worthwhile on its own.

    His heroes tended to be strong minded workingmen who were mostly Wobblies, but also some entrepreneurs (as opposed to capitalists) and a lawyer or two 9on the right side of the right causes).

    His villains are (as mentioned) TR as well as Woodrow Wilson and assorted Communist party hacks for whom he has no use at all.

    Those are my recollections anyhoo.

  65. I think you’re right Warty. Reading half of The Jungle is probably plenty.

  66. well, I was going to mention vonnegut, but heller is more highbrow.

  67. Catch 22 is good read. I remember laughing my ass off while reading it. I liked Grapes of Wrath, but I read it by my own volition and not as a course assignment.

    The Catcher in the Rye sucked. I cannot think of a single book assigned by a female English teacher in HS that was worth my time to read it, let alone write about after reading it. Alas, I did not learn until my college years that the way to success in a literature courses is to parrot back the instructor’s ideas in ones papers and never, absolutely never, express a single thought that runs counter to the instructor’s ideas. The more open minded and progressive the instructor views himself or herself, the stricter one must adhere to this rule.

  68. Salinger’s emblematic resistance to the publicity-industrial complex … He had a vision and he had a right to pursue it his way.

    Wow, all that because a writer stopped writing? No wonder critics get laughed at.

    Personal favorite: Gravity’s Rainbow.

    John: Back before episodes 1-3 I thought that Lucas should just turn over the Star Wars universe to some real science fiction writers and let them write some new movies. They’d have been better, I’m sure.

  69. Tom McGuane is quite possibly the best living American writer. Of course, some people may think he sucks; feel free to STFU.

    John Gardner was also exceptional (equal to, or greater than, McGuane); if you haven’t read Grendel, do so immediately.

    [If you were unfortunate enough to have seen some abominable name-stealing video (speaking of conceptual vandalism), block it from your mind as best as you can.]

  70. Gravity’s Rainbow

    !!!!

    Good catch.

    Also Don DeLillo; End Zone and Libra in particular.

  71. Doesn’t exactly fit the criteria, but the best American book of the 20th century is clearly Garfield’s 45th Collection.

    Jim Davis’ use of lasagna as an ironic metaphor for hedonism in an absurdly anthrocentric world breaks societal barriers that have stood for a hundred years.

    But in this volume in particular: Nermal comes to visit!

  72. Honestly, The Complete Far Side should make the top 50 of any list of “best books of the 20th Century”.

  73. the best American book of the 20th century is clearly Garfield’s 45th Collection.

    Well, that’s it, I’m outta here.

    I can clearly see I’m out of my depth with an intellectual giant like FrBunny in the room.

    1. My kingdom for a sarcasm tag!

  74. Oh, pish. I raise your Garfield and Far Side collections with the Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

  75. oh! Yes, I forgot about the genius of The Far Side and, in particular, Calvin and Hobbes. The fact that Bill Watterson did all the drawing, writing, lettering etc himself and just the extremely smart dialogue coupled with his landscapes (particularly Spaceman Spiff) is one of the best things in the past fifty years.

    Oh and I’d put Dr Seuss in the list of best writers/artists of any kind ever. I’m a great believer in the idea that restrictions makes an artform more beautiful. See freeform jazz compared to something with a tempo and progressions etc. Green Eggs and Ham was written using only 50 individual words and only (I think) two of them have more than one syllable. And that book taught me to fucking read. Consider that with his amazing drawings and undertones (Butter Battle Book) and you’ve not a man, but a god.

  76. Green Eggs and Ham was written using only 50 individual words and only (I think) two of them have more than one syllable. And that book taught me to fucking read.

    I’m not sure I get the compliment to the good doctor there.

  77. “I’m a great believer in the idea that restrictions makes an artform more beautiful. See freeform jazz compared to something with a tempo and progressions etc.”

    That is true only with true geniuses. For every Coltrane there are a 100 hacks who would have been better off following the rules.

    Sorry, but Calvin and Hobbes is just a less serious version of Peanuts. Watterson is good but no Shlutz. Peanuts goes on the list long before Calvin and Hobbes.

  78. I got The Complete Calvin and Hobbes set for my 40th birthday. Great gift.

    I think it’s interesting that even here, people are unwilling to label any science fiction as great literature. Wussies.

  79. Best American Novel? Maus.

    Most overrated 20th Century Novel? Anything by Jack London.

  80. “I think it’s interesting that even here, people are unwilling to label any science fiction as great literature. Wussies”

    Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Dune would make the list. So would I Robot and Foundation. Actually, I like those books better than about any other American fiction that comes to mind.

  81. John,

    What? I like Peanuts, too, and Watterson certainly was influenced by Schulz, but Calvin & Hobbes was great stuff.

  82. Ugh, and yes, freeform jazz is total shite. I was tragically put off of jazz for ten years because the first jazz concert I attended was one of those…whaddyacallit…improv concerts.

    I fell asleep. The eighth time hearing the barry sax lay out some boring-ass “improv riff” was enough for me, thankyouverymuch.

  83. I think it’s interesting that even here, people are unwilling to label any science fiction as great literature. Wussies.

    Howzabout The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

    And throw in The Big Sleep to represent the “crime” genre.

    Not a fan of Heinlein as a thinker nor as a writer.

  84. “What? I like Peanuts, too, and Watterson certainly was influenced by Schulz, but Calvin & Hobbes was great stuff.”

    It was great stuff, yes. But I like Peanuts better. It was darker and more existential. It also had a better array of characters. Take anyone you know and there will be a Peanuts character they resemble. Those characters are architypes of the human condition. Calvin and Hobbes as good as it was just didn’t reach those heights.

  85. “And throw in The Big Sleep to represent the “crime” genre.”

    That is a great book. Whenever someone lists it as a favorite, rather than some over blown trash like Catcher in the Rye, I know they have good taste.

  86. *ahem* – John, I strongly feel that you’re WAY overreading Peanuts, and I consider myself an aficionado of the comic.

  87. “ahem* – John, I strongly feel that you’re WAY overreading Peanuts, and I consider myself an aficionado of the comic.”

    I think people under appreciate Peanuts because it’s genius is too well known. It is the easiest thing in the world to say Peanuts is the best comic ever. There is nothing new or different about saying it. It is like saying War and Peace is your favorite novel. Since people like to appear different and inciteful, they avoid seeing how good it actually was. Sometimes cliches are cliches because they are true.

  88. Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”
    Heinlein’s “Citizen of the Galaxy”
    Clark’s “A Fall of Moondust”
    Nourse’s “Star Surgeon”
    Asimov’s “The Gods Themselves”
    Dunsany’s “The Charwoman’s Shadow”
    Beagle’s “A Fine and Private Place”
    Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”

    Great Literature? Yes. Maybe not quite in the same category as “Huck Finn” or the O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin sea novels, but all damn good books in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy realm.

    CITR was a piece of crap.

  89. The Great American Novel, 19th century: Huckleberry Finn
    The Great American Novel, 20th century, Lolita

    Steinbeck’s best: Cannery Row
    Hemingway’s best: (numerous short stories)

    I guess I’m going to have to read Catch-22 some day.

    Heinlein was not a great writer, at the prose level, so I won’t be voting for any of this books as “great.” Neither was Philip K. Dick that great at prose, but his stories were far more whacked out. I can name a dozen that deserve commemoration.

    Heinlein had one grand literary obsession, though, which I share: an admiration for the writings of James Branch Cabell. “The Cream of the Jest: A Comedy of Evasion” is my favorite metafiction.

    Cabell’s contemporary, Ellen Glasgow, is seriously under-rated.

    I have no interesting opinions on comics.

    I have never read Salinger, and don’t plan to. But I do know that he studied the writing advice of Jack Woodford (as did Heinlein and many others), and constructed his book to SELL.

    All hail the artist as entrepreneur!

  90. I think it’s interesting that even here, people are unwilling to label any science fiction as great literature. Wussies.

    How about ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy?

    I realize it isn’t sold in the science fiction section of the bookstore but it is post apocolyptic.

    Also, it came out in the 21st century. Still, I think it is a great read.

  91. “Green Eggs and Ham was written using only 50 individual words and only (I think) two of them have more than one syllable. And that book taught me to fucking read.”

    “I’m not sure I get the compliment to the good doctor there.”

    Look with what he had to work with. The drawings are magical, obviously, but how can you make words fascinating to a person who may not even know what these foreign symbols are, let alone mean? You have to restrict yourself and boil down everything until a four year old can understand. You can explain complicated thoughts to educated people, you don’t have to hold back. Stories like the Butter Battle Book and the Sneetches express complex morals and ideas and he was able to get them across to people who couldn’t yet read.

    That’s like teaching a deaf person to appreciate music just through the vibrations.

    Oh and heres a great Calvin and Hobbes cartoon—“Hobbes, I’ve finally found the purpose of writing. It’s to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be a deep and impenetrable fog! Wanna see my book report? ‘The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: a study of the transrelational gender modes'”

    That’s shit a kid doesn’t get to see often in a newspaper. It and the Simpsons (when they were good) were certainly two of my biggest artistic influences as a child/now.

  92. Sometimes I go to one of the many tiny used bookstores in my area and grab random books off the shelf. I read them all, no matter if I hate them or not.

    In this way I found The Worm Ouroboros which, though verbose and arguably unreadable, somehow fascinates me. It’s actually so reader unfriendly that I couldn’t explain to anyone if I think it’s good or not.

    It’s probably not, though. Just interesting.

    I’ve never read Catcher. Can’t say this particular thread made me want to, either. I will read almost any book, though, to see if I can learn something from the writing therein. For example, I once read a James Patterson “novel.” I have forgotten which one, but that doesn’t matter, because they’re all the same. I learned that writing terrible books and aiming them at a stupid, illiterate audience has made James Patterson heaps of money.

    The Dragon and the Unicorn by this guy is worth reading, as is anything by Dan Simmons.

    Guess I’m kinda lowbrow. I love literature, not just genre fiction, but I’ve avoided much of the 20th Century in writing. Bad taste in my mouth from gubmint schools, maybe.

  93. ‘The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: a study of the transrelational gender modes'”

    I will give you 10 to 1 you could send that around to English Departments as a proposed thesis topic and no one would bat an eye.

  94. Neither was Philip K. Dick that great at prose, but his stories were far more whacked out.

    I always thought Hemingway wrote good stories poorly.

  95. Dos Passos’ sympathies were decidedly leftwing, but, in a way, I found I understood why someone would have had those sympathies at that time.

    It’s funny, but by the end of his life Dos Passos was quite the right-winger. He was a member of the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government (founded to argue the constitutionality of nullification, which the ruling Byrd Organization employed in the service of Massive Resistance), and one of his last published works was an article about the Apollo 11 moon landing that was featured on the cover of National Review.

  96. Warty: I’m a major Helprin fan, Winter’s Tale being my all time favorite book. A Solider of the Great War deserves a place on any list.

    I couldn’t get through Memoir from Antproof Case – I was sort of disturbed at how bad it was. Haven’t read the latest, Freddie and Frederica or whatever.

    Just the other day I watched a video clip of Harlan Ellison ranting about getting paid, how no one ever wants to pay the writer, and he actually had a point. He’s a douche, but he’s funny.

  97. Personally, I think that Catcher is a lot like “The Graduate” – it’s only relevant to people who had a certain type of youth, a type that basically doesn’t exist any more, and if you were born any later than the current President it has absolutely nothing to say to you or to your experience.

    BTW, I feel the same about the Great Gatsby; only people who identify with the Paris Hiltons of the 1920’s could like that dreck.

    You see, I think this is part of a gradual great inversion of the reading of Gatsby – the only way one could reach the conclusion you reach is by reading the book exactly in reverse of its actual meaning.

    People today read Gatsby as some sort of celebration of 1920’s glamour – but Gatsby was supposed to be a rube, or a Trimalchio of sorts.

    The novel closest in spirit to Gatsby that I can think of is Don Quixote. Gatsby himself is an American Don Quixote. He comes to adulthood with a romantic vision of life that exists only in his head: a girl who exists only in his head, an idea of success that exists only in his head, a concept of happiness that exists only in his head. And he tries to force those visions to exist in reality, by using an association with mobsters to make himself rich – but it doesn’t work, because the real world is a lot less romantic than Gatsby’s idea of it: the girl is a cunt, and the upper class he wants to join is repulsive, and he can never achieve what he hopes to achieve, because it only exists in his mind and in his own idealization of the past.

    It’s unfortunate that what I think is a really great work is essentially invisible in the modern era, because everyone goes into it thinking they’re just reading about flapper nostalgia or something.

  98. P Brooks,

    I always thought Hemingway wrote good stories poorly.
    cut out your tongue!

  99. J sub D,

    One other point, since Catcher in the Rye is more than 50 years old, in J sub D’s world it becomes public domain the day Salinger kicks the bucket. Copyrights should be limited to 50 years or the death of the creator, whichever is greater.

    I think Salinger proves your idea wrong. The point of copyright is to ENCOURAGE work for authors and inventors. Allowing Salinger to sponge off the book until his death has discouraged him from doing more. Maybe if he only had 15 years of copyright protection he would get off his ass and write more.

    In fact, just looking it up, 15 years seems about right, his last publication occurred 14 years after CitR.

  100. New Question: Best American novel of the 20th Century (non pulp catagory)?

    Dune. Duh.

  101. Good thing you didn’t try that in the AGe of The Obama. You would have ended up on some watchlist and cooling your heels in juvie as a potential school shooter.

    My senior year of High School (86-87), I wrote an essay in english class titled “The Necessity of Terrorism”. I didnt buy my arguments then (or now), but it was a fun piece to write.

    Of course, if I had written that 20 years later I would probably have ended up in Gitmo. Or worse.

  102. I think it’s interesting that even here, people are unwilling to label any science fiction as great literature. Wussies.

    I hadnt read this yet when I made my 2:22 post. Honest.

  103. Then I retract my statement in reference to you, robc.

    Dune is likely the best of that genre in the 20th. Fahrenheit 451 places high, too, though it’s not in my top ten list for all 20th Century American literature.

  104. Pro Lib,

    I have heard people claim that F451 isnt sci-fi. Why? because it is good literature.

    I tend to pull out a tire iron and beat out some frustration on their soon to be lifeless body at that point. Unfortunately, mostly metaphorically.

  105. Not only is it science fiction, it’s a little more in that genre than where Bradbury usually lives. He’s generally got a good bit of fantasy tossed into his works.

  106. Satire (and homage) is one of the longest-standing traditions in literature. One of the first pieces Salinger published (in Esqure) was a satire. [Though Salinger refuses to republish that and several more of his early stories, he can’t make it illegal for you to come to my house and read the originals].
    I suspect though, that this has more to do with Salinger’s activist attorneys and him signing off on their overzealous actions. He ought to know better…but, oh well.
    P.S. The Job of Sex is one of the greatest National Lampoon satires ever–it’s tragic that it’s out of print. But at least I have a copy 😉

  107. Book parodies rock!

  108. “that sort of theft should be actionable”… No say me.

  109. “#2 fan” is Tuesday’s entry for humor of the week

  110. Dune is the best book I’ve ever read, but I don’t know if it’s the best novel of the 20th C, I haven’t read them all.

    Fahrenheit 451 is also excellent. Dune is far superior, though. Isn’t F451 more of a short story than a novel?

    I never had to read Catcher in the Rye, either, Isaac.

  111. the innominate one,

    It’s at least as long as The Catcher in the Rye.

  112. Good thing you didn’t try that in the AGe of The Obama. You would have ended up on some watchlist and cooling your heels in juvie as a potential school shooter.

    Yeah, John, because that would have NEVER happened during the Bush administration.

    Keep right on sucking up to people who will never accept you, John. You are a fraud.

  113. Pro Lib – thx

    Isaac – I meant, I never was required to read it (CitR), and I’ve never read it, either.

  114. “Yeah, John, because that would have NEVER happened during the Bush administration.”

    Sure it happened. And all that bad stuff ended when the Obamasiah came into office didn’t it? “Someone else did it to” is not a defense son.

  115. John – didn’t hear you beating the drum against this stuff during the Bush administration. give an example of Obama’s thought police. compare and contrast with: Bill Maher being fired for exercising his freedom of speech, his being cautioned by the press secretary that “Americans should watch what they say”, Phil Donohue being fired, and the general demagoguery by Republicans for anyone who questioned the war. See also: Fox News and Ron Paul.

  116. Phil Donohue was fired?

    I thought he just retired.

  117. “I will give you 10 to 1 you could send that around to English Departments as a proposed thesis topic and no one would bat an eye.”

    you’d owe me 10 to 1.

    jargon only sounds like jargon to people not inside the group.

    also there’s no tie-in to post-colonialism.

  118. I’ve got a serious question for all of you Dune-iacs out there.

    In 25 words or less, just what is so great about this book?

    I am a serious sci-fi geek and have read hundreds of science fiction novels in my life.

    I have tried reading it on two different occasions and couldn’t make past page 100 either time.

  119. “I have heard people claim that F451 isnt sci-fi. Why? because it is good literature.”

    i can see why that would be annoying, but people tend to separate “genre fiction” from literature. and vice versa – the term “literature” tends to conjure dusty spirits and boring school projects* in many a heart and mind, and with little wonder why. whereas a detective novel or a sci fi book or whatever are more of a “fun” thing to do.

    * or some kinda left wing communist gay agenda, even.

  120. who else thinks that Catcher in the Rye is one of the most overrated books in U.S. literary history?

    Aside from highly unimportant folks like me, this guy does.

  121. An excerpt, just in case someone doesn’t follow through my link:

    Viewed from the vantage point of half a century, the novel raises more questions than it answers. Why is a book about a spoiled rich kid kicked out of a fancy prep school so widely read by ordinary Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom have limited means and attend, or attended, public schools? Why is Holden Caulfield nearly universally seen as “a symbol of purity and sensitivity” (as “The Oxford Companion to American Literature” puts it) when he’s merely self-regarding and callow? Why do English teachers, whose responsibility is to teach good writing, repeatedly and reflexively require students to read a book as badly written as this one?

    That last question actually is easily answered: “The Catcher in the Rye” can be fobbed off on kids as a book about themselves. It is required reading as therapy, a way to encourage young people to bathe in the warm, soothing waters of resentment (all grown-ups are phonies) and self-pity without having to think a lucid thought.

  122. Unsubstantive Kurt,

    I love the book. I guess for me it is such an imaginative world. It is like sci fi meets kung fu. It is one of the few sci fi books that is not based on wild technology. But instead is based on wild advancements in the human mind.

  123. I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye or the Great Gatsby, and to be honest, I have kind of conflated the two in my mind. I suppose I’ll get around to reading them one day. Is it true people run off a cliff because they don’t see it when they run through the field? That’s what a friend told me, I didn’t understand why a fence wouldn’t be built, but maybe that’s explained in the book. Anyway, I guess my favorite book is A Canticle for Leibowitz, I really liked that one. I’ve been in law school the past few years so haven’t been able to read for pleasure as much, but over the past few years I’ve read a lot of zombie and post apocalyptic novels. They’re fun, but pretty crummy in terms of quality. Cheers!

  124. I’ve always viewed Holden as a whiny little bitch sheltered from actual difficulties. And I think it was Paul (quoting someone) saying ‘why is he a model of purity and sensitivity’ and why he views all adults as phonies.

    Here’s my take on this: He is a whiny bitch. But he’s still pure and ‘sensitive.’ He’s impulsive, but like Kramer, he means what he thinks. Adults are bullshit phonies because they have learned that there are other considerations in life. Sometimes holding your tongue is the Art of War thing to do. As a self-centered teenager, he is able to spew out his impressions/understandings (which are often simplified) without fear of reprisal.

  125. when I reread Catcher it was better. I pictured Holden in a straight jacket, sitting on a hospital bed, narrating the novel into a mirror. He is completely alone except for the psychiatrist observing from the other side of the mirror. Holden just stares into space, repeating his story forever and ever.

    its a way cooler story in my read; I love mental illness.

  126. Isaac – I meant, I never was required to read it (CitR), and I’ve never read it, either.

    tio, far and away, most of the books I’ve read, I was never required to read. And I declined to read a good many of those which I was required to. Which, naturally explains my less than stellar performance as a student of English Lit.

  127. Catcher in the rye was awful; never got the point of “A seperate peace: gave up on “Catch 22”, after the 1st 9 orso chapters, recounting the same events from different viewpoints.
    I spent high school reading pulp,- Burroughs, Howard, and Hammett (awful person, great writer).

  128. The weird thing about Catch-22 is how eerily accurate its depiction of military life is. I know Heller, like Vonnegut, was a WWII veteran, but still…

    Anyway, that book, Slaughterhouse-Five and a whole host of others mentioned here are great. I enjoyed Catcher In The Rye. It didn’t affect me as profoundly as, say Slaughterhouse-Five or Things Fall Apart. Or even Bukowski’s Peanuts.

  129. “most overrated books in U.S. literary history”

    Hints from Heloise

  130. It IS the most overrated novel of all. I read it then immediately threw it away. Total waste of paper and ink.

  131. I sooo agree! What a fatuous overrated piece of literary shit! I guess the liberals at that time loved the sexual and irreverent references in the book which, at that time, were so avant-garde! Although they had no philosophical or social value whatsoever, they were, nonetheless, very titillating. The only thing I can remember about this “great” literary work was the main character dwelling on – with some detail, about his farting in an elevator! Truly, a great literary work which will love on forever!

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