Which 20th C Author Do We Need to Revisit?

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Which 20th C Author Do We Need to Revisit?

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1Limelite
nov. 15, 2016, 4:30pm

In this post-civilized era signaled by the election of Donald Trump and cemented by his choices of blatant like-minded misogynists, militants, racists, white supremacists, and run-of-the-mill bigots to his staff and cabinet, who are the authors that will remind us best of Great America in the midst of Trump's determination to redefine what "great" is?

I've been thinking about where the refuge in books might be since Nov. 9th. This thinking may become the source of my reading inspiration in 2017. Perhaps yours, too.

I passed over some well known superb writers whose books -- at the least -- helped usher in America's finest years. The authors who shocked America by shining a bright light on the lack of a safety net that contributed to so much suffering in the Depression. John Steinbeck.

I passed on another "required reading" writer whose masterpiece is iconic illustration of our idea of what is a Great American and is endemic in American education in the hope the central hero's character might stick as the example to young people to model their lives and values upon.
Harper Lee

And I didn't pick another writer whose NBA winning novel is now a candidate for banishment (again, because doing so will make America great) in North Carolina, and soon in other places, I vow.
Ralph Elison

I picked Laura Z. Hobson because I figure that when the small phobic slugs who love banning books whose subjects offend their sensibilities and beliefs run out of the Elisons, the Lees, and the Steinbecks, they may "re-discover" her.

She fearlessly wrote novels on all the past judgmental taboos about to be given new life as taboos cum criminal acts.

Gentlemen's Agreement (1947) anti-Semitism
The Trespassers (1943) plight of WWII refugees turned away from emigrating to America
Consenting Adult (1975) homosexual love, mother-son relationship

I think Laura Hobson did more to make America Great than Donald Trump and his minions will ever be capable of doing. She deserves to be read -- again.

Who from the 1900s do you think deserves to be read (again) because their works helped make America Great, or represented what you feel should (still) be American values?


2Meredy
nov. 15, 2016, 4:35pm

>1 Limelite: I don't know, and I have to think about it, but I'll be following. This is a great question and a great post.

3elenchus
nov. 15, 2016, 4:48pm

I'm not familiar with Laura Hobson, I admire your choice and will also be following the thread as I ponder my own answer to your question.

4Cecrow
nov. 16, 2016, 7:46am

I've been meaning to read Katherine Ann Porter's Ship of Fools at some point, so maybe the time is arriving.

5Limelite
nov. 16, 2016, 11:35am

>2 Meredy:
>3 elenchus:
and
>4 Cecrow:

Thanks for participating! Oh, yes! Ship of Fools is a superb choice. Perhaps the ne plus ultra when it comes to highlighting all that is wrong with Trumpism and Trumpets/-ists.

6Limelite
nov. 16, 2016, 11:56am

A little remebering reminded me of Upton Sinclair whose career was spent shining that bright light into dusty and disgusting corners. Best known for The Jungle, about Chicago slaughterhouses and corruption in the meatpacking industry is a classic.

Lesser known titles to consider:

King Coal (1917) attn: WV Trump voters, in case you forgot your own history (even though setting is the West)

Oil! (1927) workers' rights, social justice, Teapot Dome scandal, man-sized serving of Socialism

Dragon's Teeth (1942) rise of Nazism, its real threat, and heroic resistance to its promulgation and acts; Pulitzer Prize

Personal anecdote: Sinclair was a temporary neighbor to one of my aunts who had an apple farm in NY. I've been told he was a welcome guest, though not a frequent one. Embarrassing confession. I've never read him. So, if I do, he'll also be a New To Me Author.

7pgmcc
nov. 16, 2016, 12:00pm

I am not an American so will not be having direct input to this discussion other than to say the same underlying forces exist in European countries with the UK Brexit vote and the growth in popularity of the right wing party in France being two examples that demonstrate the trend. I have seen research that indicates that it takes approximately a generation-and-a-half for a population to start forgetting bad things that happened and to begin repeating the mistakes of the past.

Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it.

8elenchus
nov. 16, 2016, 2:20pm

>7 pgmcc: Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it.

A sobering reboot of the Santayana quote, and yes I invoke re -boot deliberately.

9geneg
nov. 16, 2016, 2:56pm

Henry James and Edith Wharton two writers who illustrated the malign emptiness of the idle rich and how the Victorian and Edwardian mores ruined lives under an uncaring and unrelenting code of judgement. The prejudices and judgements of that era eventually collapsed into a more egalitarian society.

Sir Walter Scott, not American, not 20th century, but gives a good look into how religious differences poisoned social relationships in Scotland right before a lot of the religious losers decamped for America, settled into Appalachia and spread their religious bigotries through Appalachia and the South. They provide a great background in how religion, especially fundamentalism, can ruin a civic society. The timeliness for today cannot be overlooked.

10pgmcc
nov. 16, 2016, 3:02pm

>8 elenchus: I cannot take credit for the paraphrasing (re-boot) but I cannot remember who drew the cartoon I saw it in. I included it in my post because it is so apropos to current world events.

11elenchus
nov. 16, 2016, 3:12pm

I immediately thought of Walt Kelly's Pogo and George Herriman's Krazy Kat, either would have made such a snarky observation as that! Herriman probably would've put it in more colourful language though.

12Limelite
nov. 17, 2016, 12:33pm

>7 pgmcc: Of course you can comment here! It isn't just 20th C American authors who underscored the sins of this country. And -- as you remind us -- It isn't just Trumpism that is surging among conservatives. It's a worldwide phenomenon among too many democratic "first world" countries.

Maybe you can enlighten us about European writers who wrote novels that drew attention to issues of real social injustice, abuses, and fascistic dangers in their nations?

I don't think the phrase "existential threats" covers it any longer.

13geneg
nov. 18, 2016, 9:53am

I'm currently reading It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. There are many similarities and differences considering what's happening these days.

14BruceCoulson
nov. 18, 2016, 11:12am

Allen Drury is mostly forgotten now, but his political saga of 5 (or maybe 6) books may have become much more relevant.

15Limelite
nov. 18, 2016, 11:53pm

>14 BruceCoulson: Between Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey II and Advise and Consent, two novels I read as an adolescent, that period of the Cold War Era was remarkable for solid political fiction. Include The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon and you have a perfect trifecta.

Those kinds of novels can't be written any more because Richard Nixon upstaged them with his real life criminal Watergate break-in in and ensuing conspiratorial escapades. The movie and book about those events, All the President's Men, out-dared anything a writer could get away with since Nixon's brazenness without destroying readers' suspended disbelief.

16Crypto-Willobie
nov. 19, 2016, 12:10pm

The Plot Against America. Prescient, and a good novel to boot. And no t&a for those of you who think of Roth as nothing but a misogynist or pornographer

17LolaWalser
nov. 19, 2016, 12:31pm

What's "t&a"?

Misogyny isn't something one ever sets aside, it's not like taking off tennis shorts for evening wear. The only question is of intensity and focus, which certainly can vary. And individual tolerance is, well, individual...

18absurdeist
nov. 19, 2016, 4:28pm

Bret Easton Ellis. Specifically, his 1991 novel, American Psycho. In it, Donald Trump is hero-worshipped by the narrator, Patrick Bateman, a woman-hating serial killer who loves The Art of the Deal.

19Crypto-Willobie
nov. 19, 2016, 5:32pm

>17 LolaWalser:
T&A = "tits and ass", a phrase from (I think) mid-60s softcore films, though it might come from burlesque before that. (I suppose I could look it up...)

I understand why some readers might think of Roth as a misogynist, and he certainly can be very raw on sexual and relationship matters; but many of the most attractive characters (and I don;t mean physically) in his books are women, and he's typically pretty merciless towards his male characters.

But I don't recall sexual politics coming into this book at all, and ultimately a woman is the 'hero'.

20Limelite
nov. 20, 2016, 7:04pm

Interesting observation: The Library of Congress names no work of fiction after 1987 when Toni Morrison's Beloved appeared.

Can you think of any novels that you believe were -- in the LOC's words -- "books that shaped America" that it overlooked?

21Cecrow
Editat: nov. 21, 2016, 7:54am

>20 Limelite:, getting off your original topic now, but to answer your question I'd suggest A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and On the Road. Something by Laura Ingalls Wilder should also qualify.

22Limelite
nov. 21, 2016, 9:37pm

>21 Cecrow: IIRC, both those titles were on the list. And as you think, too, rightly so. The LOC breaks up the 20th C into two separate lists of 50 years each, which makes checking a selection against the list a bit more time consuming..

23Cecrow
nov. 22, 2016, 7:32am

I looked again and found them this time, oops. They also call it an "initial list":
http://www.loc.gov/bookfest/books-that-shaped-america/

24pgmcc
nov. 22, 2016, 8:54am

>23 Cecrow: I was thinking of Catch 22 and am glad to see it on the list.

25Limelite
nov. 23, 2016, 2:07pm

Anya Seton: I'm thinking of a fairly recent re-read I did of her marvelous novel The Winthrop Woman, which highlights the American value of freedom from religion and tells the story of an important Founding Mother, Elizabeth Fones Winthrop who married the son of the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and spent her entire life being persecuted for fighting religious intolerance, restrictions against women living self-fulfilling lives, and the intolerance and enmity toward Native Americans.

Talk about misogyny, racism, and religious bigotry. White men had total control of community affairs, their households, the purse strings, property, and the physical persons of those in their families. Is the Puritan Age when pre-America was great in the eyes of Trump supporters?

Great novel that sadly seems to have fallen into obscurity. I really should read her other books based on how much I liked this one. Seton can write!

26BruceCoulson
nov. 30, 2016, 1:23pm

Hey, at least the Puritans accepted abortion up to the final trimester (although their stance on public displays of affection was a little harsh...).

27rocketjk
Editat: des. 4, 2016, 2:32pm

If one needs a bit of hopefulness amidst the despair, I can recommend a reread (or reading) of James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small" trilogy (in the U.S., a 6-part series in the U.K.) about an English country vet in the 1930s. I just finished the third book in the series. The writing holds up very well, and the positive outlook came as a well-needed vacation from current events.

28Limelite
des. 5, 2016, 11:59am

>27 rocketjk:

Most enjoyable author for all age groups. The character portraits, the animal antics, and the gentle philosophy combine to make Herriot's books true feel-good reads.

The set makes a great Xmas gift for anyone on your list from 8-98.

Reminds me. . .Gerald Durrell is another author whose books help us understand natural history and the importance of conservation efforts. Sadly, I see nothing in Trump's appointments, harangues, and tweets that indicate even the remotest interest in protecting the environment, except for corporate exploitation.

Durrell's memoir of his childhood years on Corfu are humorous and perfect for relieving "the blues." (My Family and Other Animals)

29Cecrow
gen. 26, 2017, 8:17am

Orwell's 1984 is becoming a whole lot more popular:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/1984-sales-boom-trump-1.3951359

30elenchus
gen. 26, 2017, 9:35am

>29 Cecrow:

Forgive my skepticism, but I wonder how many of those new copies will be read, versus merely carried around in a briefcase or left on an end table.

That's not a bad thing. The story (I've read it in a number of sources) implies "purchased" is as good as "read", though, and of course it's too early to know if that's true or not.

312wonderY
gen. 26, 2017, 9:38am

People in my office didn't even know about the book, so didn't understand the reference in opinion pieces. Did anyone ever make a film based on the book?

32pgmcc
gen. 26, 2017, 9:49am

332wonderY
gen. 26, 2017, 10:01am

>32 pgmcc: I'll recommend it. Some people will never pick up a book.

34Crypto-Willobie
gen. 26, 2017, 12:46pm

Maybe they'd prefer a biography of Caligula?

352wonderY
gen. 26, 2017, 1:26pm

>34 Crypto-Willobie: Much too tame.

36Limelite
gen. 30, 2017, 5:24pm

These days, I find myself wondering what books will be written about Agent Orange. Keeping in mind the hostile and divisive political climate of our time, I find myself believing it impossible that actual history of these times will ee the light of publication.

Instead, I expect to see highly propagandized puff pieces and highly critical take-downs hit the shelves. Wonder if it means that we'll have to rely on an objective Canadian or Brit historian to write the seminal book about what happened to America in 2016 - ____?