Literary Greats

Pretty often, I’ll come across literary allusions when I read. I’ll generally recognize that they are allusions but not get the full impact because, more often than not, I have not read the work to which the author is alluding.

Sometimes I am ashamed because, you see, my English degree was largely an English literature degree and I have not taken it upon myself to read many of the “great works” of the age. I must admit that is because sometimes, I try to read a “great work” and find myself wondering what on earth someone could get out of that. James Joyce’s Ulysses, for example. Although I almost want to read it simply because the main character is Leopold Bloom, and it makes me wonder why the main character in Mel Brooks’ The Producers is also Leopold Bloom.

Which brings me to my question: If you had to recommend five books to someone, basing your recommendations largely on how much they have permeated the culture, how often you see allusions to them, and whether you liked them, which five would you recommend?


3 thoughts on “Literary Greats

  1. Thought about this a bit – I would suggest not so much five books as five authors. Seems to me that certain writers or artists come along every once in a while and move the entire landscape of their medium into a different geography (in art, think of Renoir or Picasso). So I would suggest Shakespeare (especially Hamlet and Macbeth), TS Eliot (The Wasteland, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock), Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury), any one of the early women novelists – Jane Austen, George Eliot, or the Bronte sisters, and the King James Bible. Perhaps you meant only novels, which would exclude most of my selections! For influential novelists I would include Dickens, Hemingway, William Golding (Lord of the Flies), Thomas Hardy. For me it’s not so much whether I like them so much as whether they move our thinking in challenging directions. I do have to concur about James Joyce – rather a bore, really. But then so is Hemingway. Sacrilegious, I know. I used to feel like you that I MUST read all these famous writers, but a little while back I decided life is far too short and precious to waste it reading boring or pretentious books.

  2. I would definitely agree with Shakespeare and would add The Merchant of Venice and some of the more famous sonnets. For Eliot, I might also suggest Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, but just for fun; I didn’t even think about Love Song. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein would be really high up there for me. I, too, think Hemingway is a bore, but I’m still glad I was exposed to him (The Sun Also Rises). I can’t decide on a fifth, but I like your suggestion of the King James Bible. INCREDIBLY pervasive in the entire culture, not just among Christians.

  3. I thought of Frankenstein later – very pervasive and has spawned LOTS of imitators. I also can’t believe I forgot Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath especially. Glad you agreed that poetry and drama count. Hemingway tends towards a laconic, story-teller style that I like very much in other authors, but he just makes a long story out of a short one. đŸ™‚

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