Tuesday, March 11

The 100 List

Posted by Shelly Holder

Remember those really annoying top 100 lists of the classics you should read in high school; before going to college; sometime in your lifetime? "These are the lasting influences of the ages": Moby Dick, Great Expectations, The Scarlet Letter, 1984, blah blah blah. But what about the other classics just floating around out there? The ones that you never hear of? I guess it was just subconsciously programmed into me that these top 100 were the ones you had to read, and the only ones you had to read. And then I got to college. Persuasion? Whadda mean, Persuasion? It's Pride and Prejudice that's on the list! Jospeh Andrews? Fielding isn't even mentioned! Villette.... wait, you mean Charlotte Bronte wrote something other that Jane Eyre??? It's really sad, but totally true. I was totally caught by surprise when I saw the reading syllabus for some of my classes. And yet, most of these books are really important to the literary world, and the populace at large doesn't know they exist, have never heard of the authors, because the stereotypical idea of "the classics" has been boiled down to a list of 100. So I start a strike, here and now, against established classics. And I will write about the works that may or may not be on the list and why everybody should read them (whether they like it or not). =p

First! Villette by Charlotte Bronte. In my opinion, much better written and way more interesting than Jane Eyre ever was. It's also highly based on autobiographical events, which makes everything so much more intriguing. And I guess I'll give a brief summary too (but don't expect to find Villette on SparkNotes or Cliffs or Pink Monkey or Anti-Study or any of the others- they seem to be limited to the list of 100 as well, a fact that supremely irritates me, and probably will be a subject for future rants). Lucy Snowe, having lost her family, seeks employment as a companion/governess in Victorian era England. After a brief time working in England, she decides to travel to the Continent to find work. A travel companion on the ship leads her to a school called Villette. She becomes a nanny for the school mistress's children, but is soon promoted to the status of an English teacher. And it is here at Villette that Lucy experiences love and loss. (And I won't tell you any more because it will spoil the story. haha So just go ahead and read the book. Do it! (* peer pressure peer pressure peer pressure*) It really is well-written; Bronte is of course, verbose and sometimes overly-lengthy, but... isn't most Victorian era pieces??? haha.

Second. Sherman Alexie's collection of short stories titled "Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven". This comes from the course listing from my Native American Literature class (this is what I am talking about. I didn't know there was such a thing as Native American literature. It wasn't on the list! Of course, the list deals mainly with novels in the British tradition; even the American novels tend that way as well, ie The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick and Mark Twain. I guess Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Huston and Langston Hughes are all too "modern" or whatever to be considered classics for the 100 list.*snort of disdain for whoever was stupid enough to come up with the 100 list*) It's really good- I LOVE his introduction: "I'm a poet who can whine in meter" and "Hello, you've reached Sherman Alexie, one of the major lyric voices of our time. Please leave a message f you're not too intimidated and I'll get back to you, with my versatile and mellifluous voice, as soon as possible." (italics original) And his stories.... well, I haven't figured out how I feel about them yet, but I don't they'll ever fully leave me. I might forget some of the details, the title might slip my mind, the names might become a little fuzzy, but ultimately the stories will be there, riding like a forgotten passenger in the backseat of my mind. Same goes for the other titles of my Native American class: Ceremony by Leslie Silko, House Made of Dawn by Momaday, The Antelope Wife by Louise Eldrich. (Actually Antelope Wife so far really intrigues me. But I haven't finished it yet, so I dare not comment on it here- not quite yet.)

Of course, the opposite of what I have been "preaching" is pretty much true too. I see absolutely no reason why Kafka should ever appear on a list of 100, and hope to goodness that I never will. The Trial I find is pointless and repetitive, and as one girl in class said today "like a joke with no punchline". I'm sure Kafka wrote it for a reason, but WHAT REASON? Sigh. Thank goodness we finished him in class today. No more Kafka for me, thank you very much. I'm sure he speaks to someone, out there, just as I'm sure that not every will find the same poetry and inspiration in Villette, but really..... just... really?

Anyways, I have a paper that is glaring at me from my desk, reminding me that a Friday deadline doesn't include all the time in the world. Sigh. The life of a college girl. The life of an English major. The Agonies of a Young Author. haha