21st Century Literature discussion

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Question of the Week > Are There Any/Many Books That Capture The 21st Century Zeitgeist? (9/15/19)

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message 1: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2639 comments Mod
Granted that we're not even two full decades through the 21st century, but do you feel there are any books that have done an exceptional job of capturing the spirit of the times? Or even the essence of a particular time, place, or historical event within the 21st century? If you can't think of a specific book, is there an author who you feel epitomizes these times?


message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert | 426 comments I would say Jonathan Franzen with both The Corrections and Freedom


message 3: by Sam (new)

Sam | 189 comments Marc wrote: "Granted that we're not even two full decades through the 21st century, but do you feel there are any books that have done an exceptional job of capturing the spirit of the times? Or even the essenc..."

Great question! This is something I have been pondering since I started reading new lterary fiction again. Compared to twentieth century, I find fewer books that capture what I see as the the mood of the present. I don't find trendy topics like imiigration or #metoo to be definitive of the time, so rather I look for a more general trend like the exaggerated focus on self or how information is tending to appeal to emotion rather than logic. I will see authors or books that capture some aspect of the whole rather than the whole. I like Ali Smith for capturing the that sense of self absorption. I think she reflects present day characteristics.


message 4: by Sara G (new)

Sara G | 44 comments The Corrections was written in the 20th century and I feel it captures that more than our new era.

Severance is a perfect millennial novel.
If I were making a syllabus, I would add Don't Call Us Dead and the first story in The Babysitter at Rest.


message 5: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2318 comments Tough question Marc as I'm not sure what the spirit of the 21st century is given how rapidly the pendulum is swinging on the political front. And I suspect it will be different depending on one's generation, as Sara G suggests by noting that Severance is a perfect millennial novel. Plus, I think it may be different depending on what part of the globe one calls home.

I do agree with Robert that Jonathan Franzen is a contender and from the US, I'd include Rachel Kushner and Jesmyn Ward. I also agree with Sam that Ali Smith from the UK is a good choice, as would be Zadie Smith.


message 6: by David (new)

David | 242 comments I don't have an obvious answer to the question, but it did get me to thinking about what the 21st century zeitgeist might be. Politically, it would seem the aftermath of 911, including other terrorist attacks around the world and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, is central. Books by Mohsin Hamid's books The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Exit West as well as Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi address that theme.

Culturally we have the rise of both reality television and social media. I can't think of any books that have much to say about either of these. The #metoo movement is a bit too new to make much of an overt appearance in novels, but I have read a number of short stories that are very clearly about this moment.


message 7: by Lily (last edited Sep 16, 2019 11:31AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2472 comments David wrote: "I don't have an obvious answer to the question, but it did get me to thinking about what the 21st century zeitgeist might be. Politically, it would seem the aftermath of 911, including other terror..."

You certainly identified a starting point, David. Not so sure about books you suggest, especially Hamid, as much as his messages linger; I don't really know the other two. Imho -- would need to include climate change in the mix for the 21st century. As well as nationalistic political movements. Political dislocation. Also, "identity politics," aka Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment by Francis Fukuyama. How key are international economic and military games? Likewise, Africa and South America? Use of weaponry, on both the personal and the international levels? Health (opioids, mental) and medicine -- okay, I'll quit.


message 8: by Maggie (new)

Maggie Rotter (themagpie45) | 54 comments With regard to the elephant shaped zeitgeist in the parlor: Today I heard an interview with Amitav Ghosh regarding his new novel Gun Island and had earlier read a review of it. In his nonfiction work The Great Derangement, Ghosh "examines our inability - at the level of literature, history, and politics - to grasp the scale and violence of climate change." Now he has taken a step to remedy this situation.


message 9: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 210 comments Sara G wrote: "Severance is a perfect millennial novel...."

Sara this take fascinates me.


message 10: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 16, 2019 09:27PM) (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments A couple of recent ones I'd expected to see come up WRT social media & politics, although I haven't read them myself:
Perfidious Albion by Sam Byers
Crudo by Olivia Laing

I think climate change is only just beginning to appear in a big way in literary fiction - cli-fi has been more of a subset of SF and thrillers so far.

Whilst dystopias may not be exactly about how it is now, they have been a huge literary & TV trend for the last 12 years or so, and reflected a lot of anxieties that have only become politically more overt in the last three years: authoritarian government in general, feminism, social, political and environmental breakdown.

I think they are among the books that people might look back on in the future and say "this is so 2010s" the way we might now say about something written 40-50 years ago, "this is so 70s". Likewise some novels that are highly attuned to the way certain issues are talked about now - for example Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.


message 11: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Maggie wrote: "With regard to the elephant shaped zeitgeist in the parlor: Today I heard an interview with Amitav Ghosh regarding his new novel Gun Island and had earlier read a review of it. In his nonfiction wo..."

Ghosh's pedantic piece on how literature was failing to address climate change is telling in how he simply dismisses anything suggestive of genre. "Indeed, it could even be said that fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously: the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or a short story to the genre of science fiction." Because to dinosaur literary snobs like Ghosh, anything considered science fiction couldn't possibly be serious.

There's LOTS of works dealing with climate change, Amitav. Open your eyes or sit down.


message 12: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments But even if he was neglecting SF, literary fiction needed to be told to address this issue, because it does purport to be about the things that are important, and it was neglecting it, and a lot of the prizes that get most media coverage are in literary fiction.

Other authors were clearly thinking the same, as novels like The Overstory were already being written before The Great Derangement was published, as are books that include more about the non-human even if they are not its main focus, such as what Lucy Ellman says at the end of this interview about Ducks, Newburyport (a novel which some US-based M&G posters have said really captures the way that they, and a lot of American women they know, are feeling at the moment.
https://lithub.com/lucy-ellmann-a-gre...


message 13: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Antonomasia wrote: "But even if he was neglecting SF, literary fiction needed to be told to address this issue, because it does purport to be about the things that are important, and it was neglecting it, and a lot of..."

He wasn't neglecting it, he was actively dismissing it. If it was a "hey, literary fiction writers, you need to pay attention to what's happening in science fiction because they're ahead of us in addressing these important issues", I could have got behind it, at least a little; even if he failed to take the final step of recognizing that worthwhile fiction exists outside of what the literati consider 'serious'.


message 14: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 210 comments Marc wrote: "Granted that we're not even two full decades through the 21st century, but do you feel there are any books that have done an exceptional job of capturing the spirit of the times?..."

Remainder by Tom McCarthy.


message 15: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Lark wrote: "Remainder by Tom McCarthy."

Looks interesting, Lark. The description is enigmatic enough that I'm guessing this is a book that's hard to pin down? What makes it your choice for capturing the spirit of the times?


message 16: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 210 comments Whitney, a lot of people really hated Remainder and I loved it, so what I think might not be true of any other reader.

The book is a mix of obsessiveness, despair, reality TV, and the corrosive effects of money, and that seemed about right for the zeitgeist!


message 17: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Lark wrote: "Whitney, a lot of people really hated Remainder and I loved it, so what I think might not be true of any other reader.

The book is a mix of obsessiveness, despair, reality TV, and t..."


Yep, sounds about right. Definitely going on the TBR.


message 18: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2627 comments Mod
I find this quite a hard question to answer because I don't feel in tune with the way society is moving - indeed being a heavy reader almost defines you as somebody who is not influenced by the zeitgeist. I enjoyed Perfidious Albion too and can see why Anto mentioned it - another very interesting book, similar but a little darker, is Zed by Joanna Kavenna.


message 19: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments Hugh wrote: "indeed being a heavy reader almost defines you as somebody who is not influenced by the zeitgeist"

That is a really good point. Some of the works that best capture the moment are probably out there in video games, TV series or social media video like YouTube.


message 20: by Elaine (last edited Sep 20, 2019 03:56AM) (new)

Elaine | 103 comments Although not 21st century, I think Don deLillo's White Noise provides a glimpse into our post-truth world. I recall thinking how it expressed the madness of the times when Trump was elected, but I think we have gone even further than that -- that the world has really become unhinged. Falling Man provides a better sense of the tragic effects of 911, the trauma of the experience of the REAL, no less through our television screens (as articulated by Zizek Slavoj).


message 21: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2472 comments Anyone here familiar with Timothy Morton?

Encountered this article tonight: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/a-...


message 22: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 25, 2019 12:45AM) (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments I have read quite a bit both for and against but still not got round to reading any of his books myself. Apparently he's doing a TV series early next year. (UK)

The debates often relate to how separate or otherwise the writer considers humans /human action from nature and disagreement or agreement with Morton's position on that; also people taking issue with the more abstract philosophy content.

(That article is originally from 2017: https://www.theguardian.com/world/201... )


message 23: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2472 comments Antonomasia wrote: "I have read quite a bit both for and against .... "

Thx for the direct link to the Guardian article, Antonomasia.


message 24: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2472 comments Hmm -- a somewhat cynical commentary on books that did not survive as reflecting the 20th century zeitgeist:

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/2019...?

Would be curious about any reactions by this group?


message 25: by Nadine in California (last edited Sep 27, 2019 07:36PM) (new)

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 431 comments Lily wrote: "Hmm -- a somewhat cynical commentary on books that did not survive as reflecting the 20th century zeitgeist:

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/2019...?

Would b..."


Am I the only female who hasn't dropped Infinite Jest "like a sweaty jockstrap"? I read it maybe 10-ish years ago, but I don't remember it being bro-y, although most of the characters are men. Many of the male characters are definitely not bros.....


message 26: by Lily (last edited Sep 27, 2019 08:09PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2472 comments Nadine wrote: "Am I the only female who hasn't dropped Infinite Jest..."

I haven't managed to read it, so I really can't judge. But I didn't really expect this rather snarky evaluation.

Several of those named are ones I have encountered across my (reading) life and it was a bit thought provoking to consider which I had largely rejected and which were just part of the ....whatever... of the time I read them, probably being inculcated by some aspects of them along the way.


message 27: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 27, 2019 09:54PM) (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments Lily wrote: "Hmm -- a somewhat cynical commentary on books that did not survive as reflecting the 20th century zeitgeist:

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/2019...?

Would b..."


In some ways - esp the bit about Infinite Jest - a very glib article that assumes everyone takes their reading cues from what is approved or disapproved of on literary Twitter and articles on US culture websites.

Catcher - I have seen other things (incl I think reviews from teenagers and twentysomethings themselves) that don't relate to this book so much now. But these examples also sounded like they were from middle class backgrounds following a lot of contemporary mores.

Atlas Shrugged - um, by no means all conservatives are old, and even that is obvious from a lot of recent news.

The Beach - Yeah, you don't really hear about this any more and it's one of those ones that is a perennial of charity shops. One of many bestsellers whose star fades 15-20 years after it was big.

Iron John - much talked about in 90s media, and occasional articles on masculinity since, but I've barely ever heard anyone else mention this on GR, and literally never even once IRL in my life.

The Outsider - Knew one person who worshipped this book, & I read it as a result, but otherwise seems to be near-universal consensus, and has been for many years, that it is old hat and was not actually that good in the first place.

The Old Man & the Sea - Think this is still quite widely taught in schools, esp in the US. Another example of judging by Twitter, Book Riot etc.

On the Road - I think this might be slightly different because quite a lot of the sort of teens & twentysomethings who have always been attracted to this book are now switched on to the debates that condemn it. But I think she's being somewhat hasty and it would be better judged by talking to a few under-25s, especially ones who didn't do literature degrees.

The Rules - another media phenomenon from the 90s and early 00s that never seems to be talked about any more. Maybe there are pockets of conservative women who still like it, but there must also be more up to date stuff catering to them.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull - I can't remember a time (and I started reading newspaper books sections in the late 80s) when this wasn't considered old hat. Though some people do still seem to read it after finding it in charity shops or parents and grandparents houses. Probably because it's so short and the title is intriguing.

Little Red Book - Not sure Do people who are serious about left wing thought still read this along with Marx? I have vaguely heard of people who do, but don't know the milieu nearly well enough to say. Certainly less fashionable but maybe not as disappeared as she thinks.

Infinite Jest - has been the butt of a lot of articles, and even more than On the Road there is a crossover between the sort of people under 30 who will read this and the sort of people who keep up with literary Twitter. But I think the articles are written because actually a lot of people are still into it, and they are contrary to a less noisy consensus about it as a modern classic.

Graphs of sales figures would be a useful addition!


message 28: by David (last edited Sep 28, 2019 05:49AM) (new)

David | 242 comments Nadine wrote: "Am I the only female who hasn't dropped Infinite Jest "like a sweaty jockstrap"? I read it maybe 10-ish years ago, but I don't remember it being bro-y, although most of the characters are men. Many of the male characters are definitely not bros...."

I tried reading it twice over the last number of years. The first time I got through 200 pages before dropping it and the second time I got through 300 pages before giving up. Both times I was mostly bored and could not figure out the appeal of the book. It read to me like someone trying to be Kurt Vonnegut but not being funny or clever or interesting and on top of it going on endlessly. I figured since I read as many pages as the entire length of some novels I had given it more than a fair shot each time.

I don't know that I understand the bro culture idea. Maybe that's in part because I don't think of bro-types as readers in the first place. But I thought that the bro thing was that bros admired DFW as a person, and so based on that they professed admiration for Infinite Jest when in fact they probably had not even read it. The ones who did read it probably didn't understand it and took that as evidence of how brilliant it must be.

I have no idea what the male/female breakdown in readership for the book is, but it did not strike me as a book that would or should have a huge difference in appeal.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments The first example of DFWs work I read was some of his journalism pieces collected in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, which was really eye-opening to me when I read it. I felt an immediate affinity for his style, whatever one might call that style. Infinite Jest was very interesting to me as well, because of that same style, but I thought it was also deeply flawed. At times it was very sophomoric--I don't think I could read it again. But there were two storylines in the book, and the one that followed Don Gately, the Demerol addict trying to get his life back together, was, I thought, intensely moving and really had some of the best writing I'd ever read.

I liked The Pale King better, even though it was unfinished.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments All the things the article writer wrote about On The Road are justifiable, though--and this might not make a difference--I don't think she(?) takes into account what OTR was in reaction against. When we say something is a product of its time, we usually mean that the attitudes it evinces are those which we would repudiate today--and OTR has a ton of that. But what I did like about OTR, and which I find in Henry Miller at times as well, is an exuberance, a kind of lust for life, as well as a overwhelming desire to break our of the stultifying existence of conformity. Even if I think Miller is an pompous jerk and Kerouac a kind of misguided fool, I admire this reaching out, this refusal to live in lockstep with the opinions of the society they were surrounded by.

Of course, your mileage may vary.


message 31: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2639 comments Mod
I've been quite enjoying reading all the posts on this thread. Definitely agree with Ali Smith and Don DeLillo as writers who capture the 21st century zeitgeist. Might throw George Saunders into the mix there, as well.

Even if some of those books in the article Lily posted have fallen out of favor, I still think they might have captured the spirit of their times. I found On the Road pretty darn boring, but I'm sure it was rather groundbreaking at the time and encapsulated the kind of freedom and spontaneity of the Beats.


message 32: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) Nadine wrote: "
Am I the only female who hasn't dropped Infinite Jest "like a sweaty jockstrap"? I read it maybe 10-ish years ago, but I don't remember it being bro-y, although most of the characters are men. Many of the male characters are definitely not bros.....


Well, I'm female & I still very much like Infinite Jest. It opened me to a world of books (many by women - Cynthia Ozick immediately comes to mind & probably Zadie Smith too, though she's so entangled with Wallace now that it's hard to remember which came first...). Anyway, one of my go-to comfort listens in the car are the footnotes I bought on audio just b/c so many are hilarious. I know there is controversy about the author, but the book still stands for me.

Catcher is interesting b/c I adored it SO much as a kid that I can't read it now, as an adult. I fear I will lose the love, and that's a love I'm not willing to reevaluate, so I leave it where it is in my heart, untouched. I would still venture to guess that there is a kid somewhere in the world reading Catcher right now thinking "someone gets me." Maybe not as many, but at least one.

I thought "the rules" was out of the zeitgeist when it was first published, but I could be wrong.

The article is full of snark and made me wonder if some of the books mentioned had been read.


message 33: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 28, 2019 09:45PM) (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments Ella wrote: "I thought "the rules" was out of the zeitgeist when it was first published, but I could be wrong.."

Stuff could become part of 'the zeitgeist' back then just because it received a lot of press coverage - only a small group of journalists talking about it. Plus it had high sales. Whereas now social media would be a lot more important. (And some things get big sales without being talked about a lot on Twitter because the demographics don't cross over that much.) Also, here at least, it and Sex and the City seemed in Britain to be part of a cultural import of American ideas about dating, which had once seemed like merely the way they did things over there, and that was something noticeable. (Hephzipah Anderson, the writer of that article, wrote a sex and dating memoir, Chastened, in the late 00s, which means she'll have been very aware of that stuff - and it itself bounced off some of the Rules ideas.)


message 34: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
I've always wondered if Catcher in the Rye ever resonated with teenagers, or if it was always a book that adults thought should resonate with teenagers.

I was probably one of those primed to appreciate On the Road, but I disliked it before getting 10 pages in. It's easy to be a bro-ey bohemian when you can go sponge off your aunt when the money runs low, and when you don't give a crap about anyone but yourself and your fellow bros.

Funny story about Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I had a manager who was really taken with Richard Bach and his pseudo-philosophy. He asked me once in our open-plan cube-ville if I'd ever read 'Illusions'. When I replied "you mean by the seagull guy?" in a faintly derogatory tone, a voice came from across the wall, "I don't usually tell people this, but because I can hear where this is going, he's my father". Turns out my co-worker had some very entertaining stories about growing up with Richard Bach as her dad.


message 35: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Whitney wrote: "I've always wondered if Catcher in the Rye ever resonated with teenagers, or if it was always a book that adults thought should resonate with teenagers.

I was probably one of those primed to appr..."


Oh, man. What an awesome moment. I read Seagull because — in that moment when it first was published — everyone did. It would have been difficult to not know what it was about and go about ones daily life conversing, otherwise, as if one was Rip Van Winkle and unaware of this thing everyone was talking about. Plus it can be read in approximately 35 minutes, going slowly. But then the moment passed. I don’t think there was a living soul even then who thought it was important or a novel anyone would read twenty books years later, except for the voluminous number of used copies in circulation. It fit a moment. So did Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying but the moment was more significant and of a longer duration and yet, somehow, JLS is recalled and FoF isn’t.

I agree with you on Catcher.


message 36: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 210 comments The thing for me about Catcher in the Rye is that when it was published it was utterly unique, but now it sounds like a lot of YA fiction that has been published since. The voice has been copied and mimicked for decades, to the point where Salinger seems like he's derivative, rather than the other way around.


message 37: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Lark wrote: "The thing for me about Catcher in the Rye is that when it was published it was utterly unique, but now it sounds like a lot of YA fiction that has been published since. The voice has been copied an..."

Lark, do you know whether teens read it by choice when it was first published? A similar story — uniqueness — applies to S.E. Hinton’s novels, The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is Now, but teens read them, devoured them, not at adult direction but because they chose to. And hence the category of YA was born, as we know.


message 38: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 210 comments Carol wrote: "Lark, do you know whether teens read it by choice when it was first published? A similar story — uniqueness — applies to S.E. Hinton’s novels, The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is Now, but teens read them, devoured them, not at adult direction but because they chose to. And hence the category of YA was born, as we know...."

I don't know.

Interestingly, I have such a different idea of the market forces that caused YA to happen--I've always imagined that books like Catcher in the Rye weren't interesting to teens at all when they were first published, but that they were re-packaged for the YA market, and for teen readers, after writers like Judy Blume started the YA market movement...that publishers went back and cherry-picked older novels for repackaging as YA only after contemporary authors began to write books with teen protagonists.

I like your idea better!


message 39: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Lark wrote: "Carol wrote: "Lark, do you know whether teens read it by choice when it was first published? A similar story — uniqueness — applies to S.E. Hinton’s novels, The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is No..."

I claim no original thought here. Truly, I thought this was generally accepted wisdom. See the NewYorker article linked below as an exemplar. :)

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newy...


message 40: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 210 comments Thanks Carol. That's an interesting article. What a great publisher S.E. Hinton had to recognize the market trend. I'm fascinated by YA marketing history. Especially the way YA-marketed fiction has attracted such a big market of adult readers...it seems to indicate that there's something about adult fiction just now that leaves a segment of adult readers cold.


message 41: by Sam (new)

Sam | 189 comments I found the article amusing though not particularly of any academic merit. The use of the word cult seems intentionally misleading. The books chosen seem to be popular reads primarily from two different decades and the negative blowback stems from a variety of reasons. Hemingway is a Pulitzer and Nobel prize winner. There has been criticism for his machismo, misogyny, racism or ethnicism, but the quality of his prose holds the test of time. Salinger was known as a New York writer (Catcher is still a fine New York novel) and as a Jewish writer, which lock his significance IMO. Mao's Red Book is kind of a curiosity. I remember a couple of friends having a copy, but don't remember anyone reading it. It was an accessory book, something to go with a blue bandanna and Mr. Zigzag patch. It was for show not for reading. I remember it being picked up by the media as an iconic example of the times but it was no more popular than Marx's Manifesto or Mein Kampf.


message 42: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments Lark wrote: "Thanks Carol. That's an interesting article. What a great publisher S.E. Hinton had to recognize the market trend. I'm fascinated by YA marketing history. Especially the way YA-marketed fiction has..."

Or a segment of the population that used to read adult novels is now busier with other things, more tired and/or more stressed than they used to be c. 30 years ago? Wanting to escape from the current state of the world is a motivation I've seen mentioned in a lot of articles or discussions about adult YA readership ever since the recession c.10 years ago.


message 43: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Sam wrote: "I found the article amusing though not particularly of any academic merit. The use of the word cult seems intentionally misleading. The books chosen seem to be popular reads primarily from two diff..."

Valid point. But I think most of these books qualify as cult in the sense that they are books that people would carry around or display prominently as a sign of their adherence to a particular ethos. Even if in many cases, as you say about Mao's Red Book, they are more for show than actual reading.

For better or worse (I'd say worse), The Old Man and the Sea was the book most chosen as representative of Hemingway's manly man stoically going about the business of being manly. I agree with the article that the book really didn't hold up well with changing mores, and as such may reflect somewhat unfairly on Hemingway's entire oeuvre.


message 44: by Mark (new)

Mark | 289 comments Thanks for the link to the BBC.COM article! As a critique of books that exemplified the 20th century zeitgeist, that doesn't mean they need to feel appropriate today. In fact, I would argue that Seagull was as good an avatar of its time as avocado painted deep-fryers (still got mine). Ditto, Old Man. It captured an ideal of masculinity for its time. Personally I still remember episodes of Richard Bach's autobiography, Stranger to the Ground, with its awareness of the thin line in the business of flying between commonplace and disaster.

For this century, I'd put in a vote for everything by Ali Smith, both for plot and style. It'll be interesting to see how she holds up in 50 years.


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 431 comments Half-way into Quichotte, it's practically a laundry list of 21st century ills and woes, but maybe that makes it too on the nose for zeitgeist. (This isn't a criticism of the book - I'm enjoying it.)


message 46: by Elaine (last edited Sep 30, 2019 10:16AM) (new)

Elaine | 103 comments I mentioned DeLillo and I still think his perspective holds up. I haven't read Infinite Jest, so can't comment on that. But no one seems to have mentioned Richard Powers. I think his take on the environment is spot on for the times: The Overstory. There are just so many monumental things coming undone at this time that it's hard to find one novel that encompasses it all.

Yeats's terrifying poem still resonates:

The Second Coming
BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


message 47: by Maggie (new)

Maggie Rotter (themagpie45) | 54 comments Carol wrote: "Lark wrote: "The thing for me about Catcher in the Rye is that when it was published it was utterly unique, but now it sounds like a lot of YA fiction that has been published since. The voice has b..."

I was a teenager who read Catcher maybe 8 years after publication. It was required NOT reading in Dallas but nobody at home cared what I read. I didn't "like" the book, found Holden to be whiny and wanted to smack him. (I still don't like whiny and have a special antipathy to actors who play Hamlet that way.) On the other hand, I love Nine Stories and the Glass family books - fascinated by the New York setting, the family so very different from mine
and the angst.


message 48: by Maggie (new)

Maggie Rotter (themagpie45) | 54 comments Elaine wrote: "I mentioned DeLillo and I still think his perspective holds up. I haven't read Infinite Jest, so can't comment on that. But no one seems to have mentioned Richard Powers. I think his..."

Powers - yes, yes, yes! and thank you for the Yeats - goosebumps


message 49: by Sam (new)

Sam | 189 comments Nadine wrote: "Half-way into Quichotte, it's practically a laundry list of 21st century ills and woes, but maybe that makes it too on the nose for zeitgeist. (This isn't a criticism of the book - ..."

I don't wish to comment further than what Nadine said since she is reading the book, but Rushdie did seem to have a good eye for the present in Quichotte.


message 50: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) Maggie wrote: "Carol wrote: "Lark wrote: "The thing for me about Catcher in the Rye is that when it was published it was utterly unique, but now it sounds like a lot of YA fiction that has been published since. T..."

My main gripe with teacher Catcher in schools is that those who don't like it (which seems to be most people forced to read it in school) will then be put off the awesomeness (if that is a word) of the rest of Salinger. I loved pretty much all of his work (5 books that I read, I think) but I've met loads of people who hated Catcher then loved the stories or Franny & Zooey decades later & said, "I only waited so long because I hated Catcher in the Rye in school." I always try to read more than one book by an author if I hate the first one, and this is why.


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