Smart People Like to Waste Time, Too


What a silly waste of time. Everyone knows it's The Big Sleep anyway.
Paul, maybe you missed the memo, but they're going to destroy all other American novels once they settle this.

Anyway, it's probably going to turn out to be The Da Vinci Code or something, so all this literacy you've been wasting your time and money on will be for naught.
Of course there's an answer: it's Lolita.

Some of those other books are great (Stein, Ellison) and some of them are crap (Henry James) but none of them really have anything to do with the American experience. Only Nabokov. He's the only one who really gets us. There's Lolita, and then there's all the rest.

Twain did once, but that America is gone now. I'm not going to give up my first edition or anything, but the champion is Nabokov. If there is ever to be a new champion, it's not going to be a straight novelist; it's going to be something by Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiassen.
You can look at the list as a whole.
You can have lots of tall mountains in a range, and one of them can still be the tallest.

Then again, I guess that would only be an apt synecdoche if the official definition of a meter was "the amount of height that really speaks to you."
Oh, gross, Fnarf. Eww. I haven't wanted to not be an American this badly since the PATRIOT Act.
@3, 6 - Buzzfeed did a list, as they do, about people's favorite books. I would draw your attention especially to #27.
Sometimes a Great Notion.
Where is "Andersonville"? "A Separate Peace"?
@6 is spot on. It's like Sharknado, but without the plot.
No Cormac McCarthy? Blood Meridian makes a hell of a case for itself. But I suppose McCarthy might be too broad. His time is All Time. For my part, I'm willing to give it to Huck Finn. The conversations between Huck and Jim are so archetypal to American letters that you're hard pressed to go a day without encountering at least one iteration of them. I don't think any novel can be the Great American Novel without touching on race. Lolita, I think, is too broad, like McCarthy's Meridian; Lolita is at bottom about the cruel inadequacy of the aesthete, the lack of moral imagination. This is far too universal a phenomenon to be confined to America. The Great American Novel, must, in my view, be more particular.
This is all a bunch of elitist bullshit. As if Americans have anything more valid or great to say than anyone else.
The issue is the "novel" was never a real art form because it was never a populist art form.

Initially, as in Dickens day, they were serials. Every week, the authors would dash off a new chapter in their soap opera which people would eagerly consume (because the only fibers in those days were clothes lines).

Eventually some guy got the idea to take every "episode" and put them into a book and call it a novel. Then they made schoolkids read it all at once, sort of like the way we watch whole seasons of The Wire in a weekend. Only it's reading, so you can't eat as easily at the same time.

Then there are "modern novels" which is a complete oxymoron. By the time crazy artists started writing things that were longer than a newspaper, the only ones who would read them are big fancy snooty-snoots who no longer could count literacy as a way of distinguishing themselves from the lower classes, so they used really hard words, arcane sentence structure and odd narratives to keep the barbarians outside the gates.

They literally electrified those gates with SAT tests.

Nowadays people sit at computers and read all day, but it doesn't count. It only counts if you read a web page that sells you an e-book that you pay for and download and read. Then it counts. This doesn't count either.

But what about 50 Shades of Grey???
This is sort of like "what is your favorite color"--in what context do you answer that question?
@13: the impression I got from Tolstoy is that he was writing for the 1% of his day, namely the 1% in Russia who could read. That said, he did write some great novels even if they were designed to pass the time by obscenely wealthy people.

As for "the Great American Novel" I'm with #12. It's solipsistic horseshit. Just write from the heart, and leave the Great American baggage out of it.

P.S. Lolita? Really? Ew.
You people are all illiterate. The journey across the country in the car in Lolita is the greatest thing that's ever been written about America. "Ew" is the reaction of a philistine who's never read any book, let alone that one. It's a beautiful book, and that has nothing to do with "gorgeous, hypnotic, seductive language". You could make a similar but more limited case for Pnin and Pale Fire.

@13, using "initially" to describe Dickens suggests that you might not be able to recognize a clue if it crawled up your leg and bit you on the scrotum. There are some folks named Defoe, Fielding, Sterne, and Austen you might want to investigate. Especially Mr. Sterne -- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy is the greatest thing ever. The first postmodern novel -- two hundred years before postmodernism.

I'm sorry to find Slog so failful when it comes to classic lidderacherr.
Couldn't agree more about Nabokov getting us. Hard to choose between Lolita and Pnin, though.

Also, True Grit (Portis), Train Dreams (Johnson).
I agree with @15 about Lolita.