Thursday, March 31, 2011
Do you find yourself predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon?
Yes (like). Next question.
Discuss the effect you believe a book’s “status” has on your opinion of it.
Aha! I thought we were getting off easy this week. Ok. Well, I'd like to say that I remain objective in my reviews, regardless of the reputation of the author or work under consideration, but that's simply not true. In fact, I would argue that it's not human. We're all subject to social pressures and preconceived opinions, though some do a better job than others of maintaining a relative objectivity. For myself, I think that a book's status or reputation creates a kind of synergistic effect on my own appreciation of it. If it enjoys a reputation as a classic, I am predisposed to like it, and I tend to be more effusive in my praise of it. On the other hand, if I do not like it, my dislike tends to be exaggerated as well.
A case in point is our recent review of The Man Who Loved Children. Though not widely known, the book enjoys a reputation as a modern classic and, in fact, is included in Time Magazine's list of the Top 100 Novels in the English language from 1923 to the present. I was predisposed to like it. I did like it. And I was probably more effusive in my praise because the book (twice) met and even exceeded my expectations.
What about you? Do you love to love the classics or do you love to hate them?
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I first read The Man Who Loved Children in college some twenty years ago as part of a course on Australian Literature. That course, by the way, revealed to me some of the best work that I had read to that point (including The Man Who Loved Children), and I took away from it an abiding appreciation of Australian Literature thta survives to this day. Upon my first reading, I was convinced that The Man Who Loved Children was among the three greatest works of literature that I had read to that point. Twenty years later, I had only vague recollections of the Pollit family in a constant state of agitation with themselves and one another, along with a healthy respect for Christina Stead's powers of both characterization and creativity based on the relationship between Sam Pollit and his daughter, Louisa.
My more recent second reading has convinced me that The Man Who Loved Children is one of the greatest tragedies ever written and it deserves a place among TLM's top novels for men. Not that it is a book for or about men in particular, despite its title. Rather, The Man Who Loved Children is a book for and about anyone that has ever felt manipulated, repressed, limited, or emotionally dominated by those individuals that are closest to them. In other words, it is a book for and about everyone. It reportedly draws heavily from Christina Stead's own life and her relationship with her father, which is undoubtedly part of its genius.
As for the plot, the blind and dysfunctional Sam is the patriarch of the Pollit family, which resides outside of Washington, DC. At once a dictator and a narcissist, Sam has so alienated his wife, Henny, that they are no longer on speaking terms, communicating only through their children or in written form. This, of course, leads to constant emotional hostage taking in a house comprised of six (and eventually seven) children. Toward those children, Sam believes himself a god, demanding their awe and respect for his various projects and achievements, while also digging so deeply into their lives and their brains as to crowd out any notion of privacy or individuality. Stead does a masterful job of showing each child's reaction to this dominating treatment, as they each struggle to support one another. And it is largely this sense of mutual support in the face of overwhelming and sinister domination (and I am not being melodramatic here) that gives the book's conclusion its tragic force.
Christina Stead creates a world--set wholly within the confines of the Pollit home--that is so emotionally deep and complex that the reader has the distinct feeling of having lived among its characters as a passive (though alternately incredulous and furious) observer throughout the time period covered by the book. I suspect that it is that same gut wrenching emotional journey that has kept The Man Who Loved Children from obtaining the popular acceptance and acclaim that it most certainly deserves. In any case, I have no problem whatsoever making The Man Who Loved Children TLM's new number eight.
Has anyone out there read The Man Who Loved Children? More importantly, is there anyone out there that read it and did not absolutely marvel at Stead's skill at characterization?
Friday, March 25, 2011
So, what do you think? Is this really as much of a problem for the publishing industry as it has been for the music and film industries? Have you ever looked for a pirated copy of a particular book or known anyone that has? Thanks for any (anonymous) insight that you may be able to provide.