Author Topic: Don't you hate it when.  (Read 3123 times)

Steerpike

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Re: Don't you hate it when.
« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2014, 11:03:59 AM »
I guess that's true, LD... although, it's funny, thinking about that fraught category of "good literature," your descriptions reminded me of some nineteenth-century novels considered literary classics.  Like, most of Dickens' characters are pastiches and jokes (incidentally I love American Gods, but to each their own), I always fall asleep when reading Middlemarch, and no matter how hard I try to enjoy Elizabeth Gaskell I cannot get into her.  Not saying you think those books are better than the Hugo-winners, it just popped into my head  :P

Alright, I'll stop derailing the thread now...

LD

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Re: Don't you hate it when.
« Reply #16 on: July 18, 2014, 10:09:10 PM »
Re: Dickens- a lot of his writing was unnecessary overwriting and his character names often were lowbrow choices.  I also cannot say I enjoyed his characters very much- some of them are fairly cardboard. My opinion is that several of his novels were dull and elongated in order to satisfy the lowest common denominator serial reader.

As far as fine literature- someone who can really write is Kurt Vonnegut- my issues with his writing lie with his worldview and tone- but he really creates a full experience when writing. Faulkner, too, is artful in what he does, though a fatal flaw with Faulkner is that to get the full effect of his brilliance, his books must be read two or three times since a first read will miss much, and I do not have the time to do that.

Suffice to say, I cannot state that I enjoy most novels/stories, but to take the challenge on the head-- Dickens' Tale of Two Cities versus Ringworld. A Tale of Two Cities is driven both by characters and a theme and the two characters who look alike operate as mirrors to each other like the cities in the novel. Ringworld is driven by a scientific concept and I think some discussions of eternity/gods. Ringworld is less about the human condition (although Niven slaps in a bit of this and that) and more about the scientific ideas (although he makes an attempt to apply them to the human condition and the characters specifically-I don't recall that he succeeds-the characters just really seemed flat- like vessels for the reader to imagine themselves in the place of). Dickens' story is about human choices. One is flat, the other textured.

Thus, objectively, Tale of Two Cities is the better novel. Personally, I find it a hard tossup between the two, but given the inventiveness of the science, I'll say I prefer Ringworld, but that does not make it the more challenging, more textured novel. It merely makes Ringworld the more entertaining novel-which, if we were ranking great literature by what is the most entertaining- would be so open to dispute that it might be impossible, because that is a subjective measure-so when ranking great literature, we are left with the objective tools- whether something is challenging to one's thoughts, if something makes one think, if something is textured, if something is crafted and has motifs and callbacks and references to the culture of the times in an in-world appropriate non-forced way (Discworld, anyone?). Maybe we can argue about what objective criteria is used, but unless we use objective criteria- then we're just arguing about what's entertaining. (As a side note, I would argue that what really matters is what is entertaining- a well crafted novel that takes a great deal of time to suffer through before realizing how brilliantly entertaining it really is [ie. Faulkner] is less worth reading than a technical manual or a book on philosophy because the book on philosophy will get to the point much quicker.

Steerpike

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Re: Don't you hate it when.
« Reply #17 on: July 19, 2014, 12:01:54 AM »
I take your point re: Ringworld (it's not actually a favourite of mine, though I like it fine - not one of my top picks though), but I'm generally not convinced that "ranking" literature is actually that useful an endeavour, or that objective criteria for evaluating what constitutes fine literature can be persuasively devised.  Most criticism isn't really concerned with which books or stories are "better."  Some aesthetic criticism deals with matters of taste and pleasure, certainly (and there's plenty of disagreement about those concerns), but not usually in terms of quantifying good novels.

LD

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Re: Don't you hate it when.
« Reply #18 on: July 19, 2014, 01:05:37 AM »
>> I'm generally not convinced that "ranking" literature is actually that useful an endeavour,

It is for purposes of deciding what to read next.

>>or that objective criteria for evaluating what constitutes fine literature can be persuasively devised.

I suppose we can agree to disagree on this.

>>Most criticism isn't really concerned with which books or stories are "better.

I would think you mean that in terms of most literary/academic criticism, correct? As in... "Imagery of the noble savage in X book contrasted to imagery of the noble savage in Y book, seen through a feminist lens" rather than say critiques in Locus or a review of books-though many book reviews measure a book with respect to if it achieves what it sets out to do, but often they offer a compare/contrast with other similar works in the genre so as to give readers a frame of reference. And the above comment does not encompass say the simplistic Time listing of "100 greatest novels ever" or the "100 novels most suggested for high school reading", I would assert that those appear to be the societally-decided "best" novels.