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Literary Catch-up

  • Nov. 4th, 2006 at 2:23 AM
First, a confession: until today, I'd never read Lord of the Flies. Yes, yes, I know: how in the world did I make it to 37 without reading it? No idea. Didn't plan on not reading it, just never got around to it. So today I was at the library, picked up a copy, and plowed through it all over the course of the day.

I liked it, which is all you need to know about that.


There are a series of excerpts from critical discussions and essays about the novel in the back of the book, and two minutes of thumbing through them reminded me of why I so very much loathe literary analysis and criticism: so much of it seems to be written solely for the critic to show off that he can toss off Biblical references, name drop Swift and Conrad, and manage to blow himself and use a thesaurus at the same time. I'm not saying all criticism is like this, but my God does a lot of it come across that way.

And also, another source of irritation. From the forward to the book, written by E. M. Forster:

"It is a pleasure and an honor to write an introduction to this remarkable book, but there is also a difficulty, for the reason that the book contains surprises, and its reader ought to encounter them for himself."

Forster then goes on, in the course of three pages, to give away not only the entire plot of the novel, but also reveals who lives and who dies, and reprints the entire last page of the book!

Now, I have more or less through cultural osmosis picked up on the plot points and such, but c'mon! I had a feeling this was coming when I read the first paragraph of the introduction, and so skipped over reading it until I'd finished the book, but really! If the reader "ought to encounter" the book's surprises on his own, don't you think you ought to shut the fuck up about what's going to be happening between the pages?

Do you want to know the secret of The Crying Game? Want to know what Rosebud was? Let me tell you what happened to Winston Smith at the end of 1984, save you the trouble of reading it.

And no, having it all spelled out for you beforehand doesn't mean that you will still enjoy the book in the same way. Narratives are meant to be experienced. I might read a book and enjoy the style of the author or admire his skill with dialogue and character development, but when I read something, generally I keep going because I want to know what's going to happen! Having everything revealed before the first page of the book is even read is sort of a bummer, you know?

I'll be sure to tear the forward out of the book before my daughter reads it. We don't want the thrill of discovery to be lost, do we?


shannonsays wrote:
Nov. 4th, 2006 07:27 am (UTC)
english major weighing in.
mind you, it's late and i've little sleep in me, but that sounds like a typical forward, especially in something that's considered a "classic". forwards pretty much just expound upon what's going to follow; they give context and sometimes even indepth discussion.

what's the publication date of the edition you have? i'm willing to bet that if it's within 5 years, it's built to be more like a study guide rather than pure novel.
king_cool_paul wrote:
Nov. 4th, 2006 07:36 am (UTC)
Re: english major weighing in.
The publication date was 2003, the Forster intro was 1962. The introduction really was, seriously, a "this character lives, this character dies (and this is how he dies), and this is how the book ends, with this and this and this happening in between."

I read books as a reader first, and then as a scholar afterward (if I even go that far, since I like my crap fiction just as much as I like my serious lit-tra-tour, and not everything needs an analysis), so this is mostly why I was irritated by that.

And it's not so much the analysis that gets my hackles up so much as the general seemingly inevitable pomposity of the critic. I know how to dissect and write about books and films, God knows I did enough of it back in college, but there is just such a fine patina of superiority over so much criticism that it makes me want to hit someone.

And I'm a pacifist, mind you.
mehndi_chick wrote:
Nov. 5th, 2006 01:26 pm (UTC)
Just don't tear the end out of the book, because that would be really mean.

king_cool_paul wrote:
Nov. 5th, 2006 05:09 pm (UTC)
Lord no! I'm not crazy ;)

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