Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The past revisited (again) ...

My post last week, In search of literary thrills past, generated some interesting comments. BradyDale suggested that books that thrilled us once "often don't stand up to the test of time." But Meg said that "books read in your youth shouldn't stand the test of time. If they do, you haven't grown."
I have been thinking about this and I wonder if it's just that certain experiences, including reading experiences, are so uniquely intense, due to time, place, and circumstance, that you just can't hope to repeat them. No kiss, however passionate, is ever like the first kiss.Yet we have a tendency to want to experience things again, to have a thrill long past once more, if only for a moment. And it can't be done. We must move on.
I still intend to reread Alain-Fournier'sThe Wanderer during the week I plan to take off in October -- the week of my next birthday. That's what journalists are for.

7 comments:

  1. Not all books lose out to time, as Mary says, but the experience is always different. You get different things and enjoy it at a different level. THAT'S what tells you you've "grown" (or at least changed).

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  2. Two points: 1) first-person narratives still enthrall when re-read. Examples: THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, LOLITA, THE STRANGER, ROBINSON CRUSOE. Third-person narratives seem more time-bound and harder to slog through: THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY, MIDDLEMARCH, THE DEERSLAYER. Exceptions: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, THE SECRET AGENT.
    2) As a teacher of Shakespeare I relished rereading his plays, especially HAMLET.
    A third point is that all reading is subjective.

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  4. hmmm... I'm guessing you don't like Twain's "The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper." I loved Last of the Mohicans when I was younger, but I could never read it again after reading that essay.

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  5. Mark Twain was, among his other endearing and exasperating qualities, a literary scamp. The 19 "rules" (or possibly 22, he says) that he sarcastically enumerated in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" (he spelled it with a "c") are entirely subjective -- and even at that he violated them himself. He committed "literary offenses" at least as egregious as, and possibly more than, those he attributes to James Fenimore Cooper. Take "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." It is a mess of anachronisms, lack of knowledge, illogicality, unbelievable speech, lack of purpose, and just plain bone-headedness. Most of these offenses are ones he attributed to Cooper, and can be found in certain other of Twain's novels. Which does not make the novels unworthy. Nor Cooper's, either.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  6. Wade,
    I agree with what you wrote. I don't think Twain intended that piece to be something like a list of rules that future authors should live by. It was probably just a way to rip on an author he did not like.

    The reason why I posted was that I wanted to hear a fan of Cooper's, and Deerslayer in particular, respond to the "Literary Offences," since I never had the opportunity to do so, and when I saw George’s post I thought this would be an opportunity to do that.

    I liked Twain's essay so much because at the time I was reading Turgenev’s "Sketches from a Hunter’s Album” and all of the Maxim Gorky short stories I could get my hands on, and it seemed the more I got into stories of that nature the less I was interested in stories like Cooper’s. That being said, I never lost respect for stories that seem, at least on the surface, less “realistic” because it is ultimately a subjective choice, and my taste in literature could easily change again.

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  7. B. Kriplur: Indeed, I am a fan of Cooper's -- but, I hope, a clear-eyed one who can see his many shortcomings, including a style that was klunky even at the time he wrote it. It has occurred to me that a nice cottage industry could be set up "translating" his novels into modern prose, for the stories they tell are quite worth reading, as you note with "The Last of the Mohicans." But I like his sea tales best.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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