Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The 10 best modernist books (in English)

Laura Frost, an associate professor of literary studies and chair of liberal studies at The New School, is the author of the new book, The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents.

For Publishers Weekly she named the ten best modernist books (in English)--and offered a few tips for reading them:
1. Take your time: you’re not just reading for plot here; you’re reading for the play of the words on the page, the structure, the overall effect. 2. Be curious: if something is daunting or disorienting, ask yourself what makes it so. 3. Play the game: each book has different principles. The more you figure them out, the more you’ll enjoy reading. 4. Don’t get bogged down: when you come across something like the notoriously difficult “Oxen of the Sun” episode of Ulysses, do your best but keep going until something clicks for you. 5. Finally, re-read. Joyce once claimed, “The demand that I make of my reader is that he [sic] should devote his whole life to reading my works.” That kind of commitment is not required, but it helps.
One title on Frost's list:
Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse (1927) - A novel about time, perception, aesthetics, gender roles, and death, but grounded in compelling, idiosyncratic characters like the patriarchal yet helpless Mr. Ramsay and his quietly powerful wife. Lyrical, puzzling, and shocking by turns (note how Woolf puts the violence of war and major deaths in brackets), few novels rival this one for formal invention and sheer beauty.
Read about another book on the list.

To the Lighthouse appears among the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five unforgettable fathers from fiction, Margaret Drabble's top ten literary landscapes, the American Book Review's 100 best last lines from novels, Amity Gaige's best books, and Adam Langer's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue