Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Classics Courtesy of Armchair BEA

So, since I am participating in Armchair BEA I will be blogging about all different things this week.  How fun!  Today the discussion focuses on classic literature.  I have to admit, there is so much classic literature I have yet to read.  But, let's see if I can't discuss some of my favorites.

I was always in advanced English classes, and when I was a Sophmore in High School we had to pick a classic author and read much of their work (it was the first semester of the class) and then we had to write a thesis on them and their writing.  To be honest, I wasn't sure who to pick but I decided to choose Kurt Vonnegut.  Up until that point I hadn't read anything by him, and I wanted to expose myself to his work, some of which I had been told was really out there.

To pick a favorite book by him is almost an impossible task.  I wasn't prepared when I picked up Slaughterhouse Five (the first book of his I read) to fall in love with an author's work like I did with his.  Have you read Slaughterhouse Five? If not, here is some information:

Adapted for a magnificent George Roy Hill film three years later (perhaps the only film adaptation of a masterpiece which exceeds its source), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is the now famous parable of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran and POW, who has in the later stage of his life become ""unstuck in time"" and who experiences at will (or unwillingly) all known events of his chronology out of order and sometimes simultaneously. 

Traumatized by the bombing of Dresden at the time he had been imprisoned, Pilgrim drifts through all events and history, sometimes deeply implicated, sometimes a witness. He is surrounded by Vonnegut's usual large cast of continuing characters (notably here the hack science fiction writer Kilgore Trout and the alien Tralmafadorians who oversee his life and remind him constantly that there is no causation, no order, no motive to existence). 

The ""unstuck"" nature of Pilgrim's experience may constitute an early novelistic use of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; then again, Pilgrim's aliens may be as ""real"" as Dresden is real to him. Struggling to find some purpose, order or meaning to his existence and humanity's, Pilgrim meets the beauteous and mysterious Montana Wildhack (certainly the author's best character name), has a child with her and drifts on some supernal plane, finally, in which Kilgore Trout, the Tralmafadorians, Montana Wildhack and the ruins of Dresden do not merge but rather disperse through all planes of existence. 

Slaughterhouse-Five was hugely successful, brought Vonnegut an enormous audience, was a finalist for the National Book Award and a bestseller and remains four decades later as timeless and shattering a war fiction as Catch-22, with which it stands as the two signal novels of their riotous and furious decade.

This is not the only Vonnegut book that really caught me off guard.  As much as I love Slaughterhouse Five, it does have some competition.  Welcome to the Monkey House has a few stories in it that I would rank as some of my favorite reading of my lifetime (and I have read A LOT).

Do you know the story Harrison Bergeron?  If not, I strongly encourage you to read this one, as it will really blow your mind.  If you do know the story, what do you think about it?  Do you think that in the future the government might try to control us in this way?  You already see some evidence of things like this, just in a different way: cloning, lasik surgery, plastic surgery...will we all be 'equal' in the future, none better than the other?  Here is the information on the book as listed on Amazon:

This short-story collection Welcome to the Monkey House (1968) incorporates almost completely Vonnegut's 1961 "Canary in a Cathouse," which appeared within a few months of Slaughterhouse-Five and capitalized upon that breakthrough novel and the enormous attention it suddenly brought.

Drawn from both specialized science fiction magazines and the big-circulation general magazines (Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, etc.) which Vonnegut had been one of the few science writers to sell, the collection includes some of his most accomplished work. The title story may be his most famous--a diabolical government asserts control through compulsory technology removing orgasm from sex--but Vonnegut's bitterness and wit, not in his earlier work as poisonous or unshielded as it later became, is well demonstrated.

Two early stories from Galaxy science fiction magazine and one from Fantasy & Science Fiction (the famous "Harrison Bergeron") show Vonnegut's careful command of a genre about which he was always ambivalent, stories like "More Stately Mansions" or "The Foster Portfolio" the confines and formula of a popular fiction of which he was always suspicious. Vonnegut's affection for humanity and bewilderment as its corruption are manifest in these early works.

Several of these stories (those which appeared in Collier's) were commissioned by Vonnegut’s Cornell classmate and great supporter Knox Burger, also born in 1922.

There are so many classic books out there I could and would recommend, here is just a partial list (as I could go on and on):

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (quite possibly my favorite book of all time)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (really need to re-read before I see the movie)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - how can you go wrong?
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
last but not least, ANYTHING by Edgar Allen Poe, lol!

I can't wait to see what you say your favorite classics are.  There are so many out there, and many I have yet to read.  Maybe it's time to make a pact, when I was younger, every third book I read was a classic.  Seeing as how I have read many, maybe I'll weave them in every fifth or so.

Thanks so much for stopping by!


  1. East of Eden is one of the classics I have not yet read that I really want to- hopefully this summer- great list. I hope you enjoy the Armchair BEA

  2. Kurt Vonnegut is one of my absolute favorites! He's so funny, but in such a sad way. Very similar to Mark Twain, another of my favorites. I loved Cat's Cradle more than any of his (Vonnegut's) other works, I think, but The Sirens of Titan was also great. Your suggestions are wonderful. The Picture of Dorian Gray and East of Eden are two of my top favorites, always (so glad to see East of Eden getting so much love today!), and I love Poe and Fitzgerald, too! :)

    1. I am thinking I need to pick up some of these as well as some 'new' classics. How much time do I have to read, lol?

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