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Either I don't read as much as I think I do, or I don't pay attention to where people come from, or this is just a silly idea.

I was thinking of the really great American Authors. Since I was considering it, only a few people come to mind because I'm no great fan of the Hemmingways and Steinbecks of the world. I’m sure they write very nice books, and I’m sure it bespeaks something horrible about my character that I want something to actually happen in a book besides an old man whacking at a shark (which is really a symbol for… fuck… something. I can’t remember what the hell it’s supposed to be a symbol for anymore) or a turtle walking around for an entire damn chapter, but there it is. Yes, I have actually read some of the great American “Classics” and I’ll take the easily dismissed garbage every time thank you very much.

I had started out by thinking about how Stephen King was once the biggest name in American book sellingness* and how he's often considered to be a bit past it these days. I don’t know what his sales are like, because I don’t really look into those things, but I must concede that things haven’t been the same the last few years. Even if you really love his work, King's ending have always been a bit "Oh... okay, I guess." but that he's been really bad about that lately. What I was thinking is that when he dies, and really about ten to twenty years after his cannon is forever closed, I think there will be a major re-assessment of his work and he'll very likely be held up as the 20th Century's answer for Mark Twain.

What that got me thinking was who are the really great writers in American Literature. Not Hemmingway, or Steinbeck, or even Fitzgerald. Can't be having them, they limit themselves too much. If you can only write about what's around you then what good are you? I can't be having with fishing or bullfighting or longing for another life or even going to pick fruit in California. Drama and examination of the human condition alone bores the fuck out of me, I need something else to go along with that. If I want to read about the complex relationships between man and woman I’ll read porn, which I also find a little tedious as well frankly. I've gotta have some murders, or a monster who eats people, or a sword fight, or at least someone getting cut on a shard of razor honed wit. In short, there must be blood for blood is compulsory.

Twain's good because he's funny and often times nasty in ways that make even me stand back and say "Daaumn!" E.A. Poe is good, because he was clearly a fucked up individual who put his fears into writing. King, for his current faults, almost always gives every character a first and last name and a personality, which goes a long way to helping me believe in each of them.

The problem is, I sort of run out of candidates at that point. I keep thinking that the writers in question would have to be consistently popular, during their lives and after their deaths. I like Rex Stout and I know a lot of people like H.P. Lovecraft, but both of those authors are really rather niche writers and while popular they've never really become household names. The same is true of Chandler and Asimov, who are Americans despite the occasional tie to other countries. Popular in their own fields, but not really known that well outside of the fan base.

I sort of think that members of the list should be known even by people who don't read for pleasure. I would have to say that Fitzgerald and Steinbeck would probably be bumped from the list just for that last requirement alone. Hemingway might be remembered, but more for having books that one reads if they’re really intellectual or something. You know them sure, but remember that you are my brilliant and sexy readers and therefore know a few more authors than the average person. When you step out into the world of the unwashed masses, even an intelligent non-reader might have trouble with telling you who Hemingway is.

I’m really at a loss for who I would put on my personal list of the 5 really great American Authors. Just to make sure we’ve got all my requirements in place… They’d have to be American, popular during their career, still read for pleasure a significant amount of time after their death (or can be expected to), and well known enough that they can be considered a household name even by people who don’t read much.

It’s probably that last part that dooms most authors, and is why I can’t think of authors beyond the three that I’ve got. However, that it one of the major signs of greatness, that your name can transcend beyond people who have actually studied your work and is recognized by people who only know what sort of work it was.

If I really thought about it hard, I could probably come up with the last two names for a nice round list of five. Right now though, I’ve got a trinity. A trinity is nice and all, but it’s not really what I’m after.

*TOTALLY a real word! No matter what that lying spellcheck says.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 15th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC)
What about Philip Roth?
When I think "great contemporary American literature", Philip Roth is the first name to pop up. Well, I don't know all of his books, so no idea about the amount of blood. ;)

Second name would be Neil Gaiman, although he's British and "only" lives in the US. Would that count for you?
Shockingly I've just discovered Jasper Fforde is British as well! Always thought him being American...
And Christopher Moore might be too weird to be considered among the classics (yet).
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
I didn't know Gaiman lived in the US, I thought he was based in England. I'm not sure how he'd work, I'd have to check around a bit.
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
But Fforde only writes about Brits xD How could you think he's an American?

Other question: I'm looking for soon-to-be-proof readers.Can I count you in once more? :3
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
No idea. Really, I haven't got the foggiest (just to get some Britspeak in here ;D).

Sure, just send it over. :)
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:46 pm (UTC)
Not immediately, I guess next week when I've got the first 25-30 pages settled. Thank you ♥
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
Have homework but I'll be coming back to this entry later
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC)
I loved when I read during my researches that according to scholars, it hasn't been settled up until today if Poe is a pure genius or just a complete whack. Neither the question where to sort his literature into the American canon. He puzzled everyone for centuries.
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:39 pm (UTC)
I always thought of Poe as a pure genius who was a complete whack. I'm pretty sure we can count him as both if we really try. :)
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC)
I definitely do! The genius part is covered in my thesis, the whack part came with the research xD

I read his letters by now, he was unfortunately also an idiot sometimes. But who isn't? :)
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC)
I'm totally with you on needing a monster or a swordfight in a book. I can read stark examinations of human drama so long as there's something to distance myself from the situation. . .either the filter of humor, horror, history, or science fiction. Or more accurately, so that I don't finish reading a book and then think 'Well that was a colossal waste of time, I could have just gone and listened to one of my relatives tell stories, and it sure would have been more interesting.'

I also agree that I think people who can invent a world and make it feel real are more imaginative than ones who simply write about things that really happened to them. I kind of think that's why writers like Steinbeck and Fitzgerald are lauded as 'greats,' its' because so many of the people writing about them and reviewing them packed away their imagination years ago or never were able to connect with something with fantastic or otherwise un'realistic' elements.

Jul. 15th, 2008 06:07 pm (UTC)
Or thought that all books that had unrealistic elements are really only good to children and teenagers, while the adults responsibly bore themselves with only realism.
Jul. 15th, 2008 05:01 pm (UTC)
Er, Robert Heinlein? If nothing else he generates huge arguements.
Jul. 15th, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)
But is he a household name outside of Science Fiction readers? That's a sticking point for most the really good authors I can think of.
Jul. 15th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
One could argue for L. Ron Hubbard, although it probably sends all the wrong messages about America and Americans.
Jul. 15th, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure there is a right or wrong message to send. My question would be is he actually popular enough? Do enough people read his works beyond Dianetics? To be one of the truly great, people need to read the body of the authors work instead of one or two books.
Jul. 16th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
With the prolificness of many authors these days, that's a tall order. Most people haven't gone through everything of Shakespeare's, but he would certainly be on the British list anyway.
Jul. 16th, 2008 08:42 pm (UTC)
I don't mean that you need to have read all of it. Just more than one or two.

It's the difference between Herman Melville, who wrote a dozen or more books but it remembered for only one and Marl Twain, who is remembered for many of his books and thus the author is remembered more easily than one of the books.
Jul. 16th, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC)
Got'cha. Problem is, there aren't a lot of people who are known in American circles for books past one unless they write genre fiction, and if it's genre fiction most people would say it doesn't completely qualify.

Maybe we could put Theodore Geisel on the list?
Jul. 16th, 2008 09:13 pm (UTC)
He might fit actually.
Jul. 15th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
John Winslow Irving.

You can debate whether he's a "household name," (he certainly was when Garp came out,) but he's be on my list. A Prayer For Owen Meany is magnificent, and all of his books are delicious.

Anne Tyler would also be on my list. And I reject your rejection of Steinbeck. Travels With Charley is a book I can read again and again and again.
Jul. 16th, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
do you like Anne Rice? she's pretty famous. her books have been made into movies and musicals... people write songs referencing them (remember Possum Kingdom by The Toadies?) or name their bands from them (Savage Garden)... she may not make your personal list, but i think she'd be close to King as far as being remembered by the public.
Jul. 16th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
I'd second Anne Rice, largely because I've never actually managed to read any of her books and yet I know who she is.
Jul. 16th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)
I think Anne Rice might fit the bill.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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