19 July 2011


The Language of Books

The last time I joined this meme, the topic was "Books I Have Lied About", which I amended into a list of Books I Simply Let People Assume I Knew Better Than I Did. And it turned out to be one of those "universal" themes I like so much: apparently, every reader lies about books in one way or another (Except, that is, for Lesa and Deb! =P), and some lies are more widely told than others.

Here are the seven titles, two authors and one genre that showed up on the most literary confessions, whether the lie was about loving them, hating them, finishing them, or simply being familiar with them:

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
William Shakespeare
Charles Dickens
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Romance Novels
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Now on to this week's topic, which gave me a lot of trouble. I used to be a full time English Lit teacher in an all-girls private school. When I started, I had big dreams about introducing young minds to "the Canon." By the time I resigned, I hated the idea of "required reading" about as much as my students did.

Now, I still think that certain books are--if you don't mind a gross understatement--better worth our time than others. I also believe that we shouldn't let cries of elitism or racism or whatever make us say that all books are "equal" or any reading is good "as long as it's reading." I enjoy my share of fluff and I love it--but if we are as serious about education as we say we are, then we must remember that it is about language. Everything that can be learned has its own grammar, logic and rhetoric. (Yes, even maths!) And the level of learning any person has achieved is always obvious in the way he "speaks" what he knows.

When I was in uni, I took a paper called Classical Traditions, which looked at mythological allusions in relatively "modern" poetry and fiction. The lecturer made a big deal about past writers' familiarity with the ancient myths, saying that they were as "fluent" in them as we moderns are in, say, Disney characters. The main difference being that one who can "speak myths" can be understood over two hundred centuries (at least!), while one who only "speaks Disney" is trapped in a span of a few generations. I think a proper education should make us bigger than our own age. Don't you?

A Tenner:
Books Teenagers Should Learn "To Speak"

The Bible
Because fluency in Salvation History is just beautiful--especially when one speaks in liturgical, patristic and apostolic tones.

Greek Mythology
Because after our vocabularies forget Mickey and Minnie (or Edward and Bella), we will still remember Zeus and Hera (and Narcissus and Echo!).

The Iliad by Homer
Because we need this epic poem's ineffable sublimity in our accents, even if we never refer to Achilles ever again.

The Divine Comedy by Dante
Because nowhere else can we find such a thorough vocabulary of both ultimate justice and ultimate mercy.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
Because it is a masterpiece in the language of the inner life, which is the essential complement to any (effective) active life.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Because nobody mastered the language of "the lunatic, the lover and the poet" (and the teenager) better than the Bard.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Because everyone from Socrates to Confucius (to Pope Benedict XVI!) could read this and know it is wise.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
Because every poet should learn to talk like a policeman--and every policeman to talk like a poet.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Because Nadsat is just the slangy (if slightly Manichean) tongue of goodness and badness, and teens especially need to be fluent in these values.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Because there's no better time than when one is young and rebellious to exorcise all the concepts embodied in Objectivist jargon.

This list is limited to the books I've already read, which are not as many as I'd like them to be. It is also coloured by my experiences in casting the pearls of literature before some really swiney students. (You know that's a joke, right?) This is a dream syllabus that might never see the light of any school day . . . but I guess that's what book blogs like this one are for.

For other Top Ten Tuesdays posts I've done, please see my Books page. =)

Image Sources: a) Biblia Sacra Vvlgate Editionis, b) A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare


Syrin said...

I agree with all the ones on this list that I have also read. :) There is something about greek mythology that just stays with you, doesn't it? And A Clockwork Orange is one of those works where I can't decide if I enjoy the book or the movie better, because I like them both for very different reasons.

I've also read The Bible and The Iliad, in case you were curious.

Enbrethiliel said...


Norse mythology might be more beautiful and sublime, but there's something about Greek mythology that just hits all the right spots!

I actually love the Clockwork Orange novel so much that I don't want to see the movie. But I'm sure I'll get to it one of these days.

And why am I not surprised you've read the Iliad? Those sublime Homeric accents are all over your blog! =D

Let's Evaluate said...

Great picks! I haven't read a few on your list, will definitely look into checking them out. [:

Erin @ Let's Evaluate

Laurie said...

May I steal your paragraph about "speaking myth" vs. "speaking Disney" to use with my students next year? I had already planned an experiential exercise along the exact same lines, and I do believe that your language will add extra 'cred.'. I applaud all your choices, and can attest to how much teens adore A Midsummer Night's Dream, esp. when they get to play it in addition to reading it. The opportunity for delight in wordplay and characterization and comedy is sometimes rare in students' academic lives, and I look forward every year to springtime and The Dream...

LBC said...

Great post. However, I hated Walden so much when I was a teenager that I can't even return to it as an adult. I know that I should, because my experience has been that if I hated it as a teen, I don't usually still hate it. I've also read chapters in isolation and enjoyed them. Maybe someday...

Come visit me at The Scarlet Letter.

The1stdaughter said...

There are so many on your list that I really love now, as an adult, but when I was a teen I couldn't stand. Though I wonder now if I would ever have given them a chance if I hadn't been exposed to them when I was younger? You just never know.

Loved The Iliad, but that's actually one I read in my high school Latin classes. Reading it in Latin added to the enjoyment I think! Great list!

Priya said...

"Because there's no better time than when one is young and rebellious to exorcise all the concepts embodied in Objectivist jargon."

Couldn't have agreed more!! That is why I included The Fountainhead on my list - teenage is the perfect time to read Ayn Rand!

Love your list!

Risa said...

Books I Simply Let People Assume I Knew Better Than I Did - shucks! I missed it! I'd have had fun answering this one!:D... And looking at the list of Top Ten you've put up, Wuthering Heights would've been at the top of my list!!:-/ I've read the rest, except for Eat, Pray, Love. And romance novels?....do people pretend they do read them or pretend they don't?...

I love the fact that you've made language your focal point. I have to admit, I haven't read even half of what's in your list! Okay...I counted, and it looks like I've read exactly half.:D I wondered for awhile why you'd chosen A Midsummer Night's Dream from all of Shakespeare's place until it occurred to me that it's about a bunch of teenagers!...is that why you chose it?

I have a feeling I've read the Chesterton you've mentioned...but I'm not sure. It could just be that the title is very very familiar. For the rest, I really need to buck up!

Kayleigh said...

A Midsummer Night's Dream is my favourite of Shakespeare's plays. I was always devastated that it was never chosen in my highschool or uni coursework because I would have blitzed that exam/assignment!

Karen said...

I loved your post. I hate required reading too. From my experience of tutoring it all depends on the individual and that they should be allowed to go at their own pace with encouragement to go further.

Although, I do wish that I had been taught more classics at school. Particularly the Greek classics. I think I would have enjoyed that. Most of the classics I read were off my own back rather than because the school said I had to read them.

Having said that I have actually read very few books on your list but most of them are books I plan to read eventually.

Enbrethiliel said...


Erin -- Thanks for returning the visit. =)

Laurie -- Steal away! =D It came from my lecturer, anyway, so I can't take full credit.

Sadly, I got to teach A Midsummer Night's Dream only once--and it was during the year when the administration moved the seniors to a new building where everything kept breaking down and the roof insisted on leaking. =/ Not ideal circumstances for study. I'd be surprised if a majority of the girls remember anything about Shakespeare, except that their slightly crazy teacher loved him. =P

LBC -- I admit that I came to Walden through excerpts in two different textbooks, and that experienced helped a lot when I finally read the unabridged text. It's really the ideas in Walden, more than the technical merits of the prose, that I want teenage readers to walk away with.

Right now I'm going through all the posts linked up at The Broke and the Bookish, so I'll definitely get to your post soon! =)

The1stdaughter -- When I was drafting this list, my main concern was that most teenagers really wouldn't care for some of these texts. I put them all in, anyway, because I think some of them are so universally known or understood that one can learn "to speak" them without necessarily reading them.

Oh, I read the Iliad in English, but I started the Aeneid in Latin, so I know what you mean about how that adds to the enjoyment. =)

Priya -- Given that everyone who has graduated from college and is holding down a full-time job just doesn't have the leisure for thick tomes like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, the teenage years might be the only time to read Rand! =P

On a personal note: I was fifteen when I started and that book was The Fountainhead. What about you?

Risa -- You know, you're such a great and insightful reader of the classics, I'm sure that everyone just "assumes" you've already read Wuthering Heights. ;-) Ride that wave for all it's worth!

People usually lie about reading Romance novels. All genre fiction has a bad (though undeserved) reputation, and Romance is sadly at the bottom of the barrel. =(

Among other reasons, I chose A Midsummer Night's Dream for its treatment of "dreams"--particularly those of "lovers." Sometimes we "dream" we're in love, and the next day we "wake up" to reality. Doesn't that sound like the first blush of youth? ;-)

And if the Council of Days in which all seven members are named after a day of the week really rings a bell, then you know you've read The Man Who Was Thursday! But the best thing about Chesterton is that you can always go back to a book you think you know, reread it, and then swear he completely rewrote it when you weren't looking! This novel is a short one, so if you have the time and inclination, I definitely recommend you get to it! =D

Kayleigh -- I never took it up in high school, but I loved studying it in uni! And I know what you mean about wishing your favourites were the ones assigned in class!

Karen -- I agree to a point that reading depends on the individual, but I think there really are universal "must-reads" that every student of Literature should be familiar with. Such as, you know, the Classics! =) Like you, I also wish I had read more of them in school.

My class took up the Odyssey, but our teacher pretty much let us get by with the mini-series. And now I don't know if I'll ever set aside time to read Homer's text properly. School really is schola--the last long-term leisure time we'll ever have--but we forget to think of it this way, don't we? Youth isn't the only thing wasted on the young. ;-)

Beth D. said...

Thank you for stopping by. I think it is neat how different our lists are.

lisa :) said...

This seems a rather heavy list for teen reading, but I love your reasons behind each choice. (I've only read half your choices myself and I'm well beyond my teen years).

The analogy of speaking these great works is a beautiful one as well. Wonderfully said and great list!

Enbrethiliel said...


Beth -- I know! There's so much variety in this week's lists, and yet the same titles and authors manage to pop up again and again. (As you can tell, I'm doing another "census"!)

Lisa -- You're right. This list is heavy--which is why I almost didn't go through with it. =P

But as soon as I hit on the theme of language and the idea of "speaking books," I realised that many of these texts have permeated the culture so deeply that we've learned them "orally" even if we've never read them. (And right now I'm remembering the medieval idea that stained glass windows--if executed beautifully and artistically enough--could stand in for books.) It really is about the speaking and the living; the reading is a bonus! =)

christopher said...

...Bah! You and your Clockwork Orange :p (Moby Dick has my vote instead, and I'd probably pick a different Shakespeare, but udder than that, as usual, you've hit the nail.)

lisa :) said...

the medieval idea that stained glass windows--if executed beautifully and artistically enough--could stand in for books

I think that might be the same argument for supporting great film translations of best loved works.

I like the idea of knowing these works (and others) culturally through alternate media and allusion. I think I better appreciate the actual text of a classic work when I approach it with some familiarity. I suppose you could say I enjoy it more when it has already spoken to me.

Enbrethiliel said...


Christopher -- I haven't read Moby Dick yet, sailor. But what else to expect from this landlocked blog? =P

Lisa -- Or perhaps, when you already speak it. ;-)

That's not a typo, by the way: I don't mean you speaking to it, but you speaking it.

Jenna St. Hilaire said...

Great list! I really need to get the Iliad on my to-read list. Badly. :)

Two Bibliomaniacs said...

Wow, great commentary this week! Weighty list... Other than The Bible and Atlas Shrugged I've yet to read some of these great novels. Apparently, I've got some work to do...

BTW - the only reason I chose Bag of Bones was for selfish reasons. I love that book... Okay, maybe not the best "teen" read.

Michael said...

Here are the seven titles, two authors and one genre that showed up on the most literary confessions, whether the lie was about loving them, hating them, finishing them, or simply being familiar with them:

Interesting list. Of the group I have never read Twilight, Harry Potter, have no intention ever of reading Eat, Pray, and Love and can't stand romance novels. Other than that I'm good. :P

The truth of the matter is that I am a serious Shakespeare freak, whoever he actually was, and would be quite happy with a steady diet of his works.

As for the 10 you recommended I would put the Greek Fathers, both their works and lives, before Greek Mythology.

The sheer drama of someone like Chrysostom in 4th century Antioch (I mean come on - an incredibly narcissistic Empress has a Patriarch unjustly removed from his see through a series of slimy moves only to have the city suddenly undergo a series of natural disasters frightening everyone to call Chrysostom back to his post, at which point they subside - I mean you couldn't make this stuff up) matches any mythology, ancient and modern, and gives a living template for the young and young at heart to "speak" in their every day lives. It gives them people outside of "biblical times" to see the beauty of salvation history worked out.

I might change a couple of others as well but that would simply be reflective of our reading history and particular theological setting and commitment(s), so given this is your post I will refrain from commenting. :P

On the other hand, Objectivism is wacko, so while I respect a number of things Rand said, I would no doubt love the opportunity to guide some young minds through the maze that is Randianism.

Thanks for another fun post. A breath of fresh air (in terms of fun) compared to my normal hangouts on the web.

Lauren B said...

I completely agree with you about the canon. I had a lecturer who criticized it as subjective and containing mostly works by dead white Anglo Saxon protestant males.
I am an English Lit lecturer at a college and try to be wide ranging in the works that I choose to teach.
Thanks for stopping by.

kaye said...

well said! and thanks so much for stopping by.

Enbrethiliel said...


Jenna -- And I need to do the same for the Odyssey! Badly! Thanks for stopping by. =)

Two Bibliomaniacs -- There is at least one title on this list that's here mainly because I really like it, so I'm hardly one to criticise your choice of Bag of Bones. ;-)

Michael -- He will "refrain from commenting," he says . . . in the longest comment on this thread! ;-)

You're right about the Fathers of the Church. I'd still put mythology in there (along with faerie tales and other folk literature), but the stories of the Fathers definitely count as Catholic folk lit. I'm not sure why I forgot to mention them--especially since my first draft drew a snarky contrast between "speaking Scripture" in "liturgical, patristic and apostolic tones" and the same in a "sola Scriptura" twang. =P Which is to say, I think it would do us all good "to speak Catholic." Or if you prefer, "to speak orthodox and universal." ;-)

Atlas Shrugged only made it in because I couldn't think of a tenth book that was both really good and really universal. (If I had made this list for, say, Filipino teenagers, it would be a bit different. I think every teenager should read at least one very good Historical novel.) So I picked Rand's worst book, deciding that I might as well go with something really bad and universal only in its wrongheadedness.

Lauren -- To anyone who says the canon is "subjective," I respond that it's "traditional." But when I was teaching high school English, I tried to balance both traditional and wide-ranging texts. I'll always stand behind the Great Books, but it's also good to mix things up sometimes. =)

Kaye -- Thank you! =)

Dauvit Balfour said...

I hate the "at least it gets them reading" argument for a book. It's preposterous. It's a lie. I, too, am a fan of occasional fluff, but I don't delude myself into thinking it's special just because I'm reading it.

I, too, love the observation about "Speaking Disney" versus "Speaking myth". The enduring beauty of literature betters our lives in ways that shows like Community, for all its wonderful pop culture references, cannot. I know many people whose only exposure to A Christmas Carol is from the Muppets, and that's sad.

As for your reading list, I'd have left off Rand as not worth the time. My list would run something along the lines of The Bible, Greek Myth, Fables and Faerie Tales, Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and something by Dickens, maybe David Copperfield. There's so much more, but of the things I've read, these are some of the most universal.

Also, I love the comment about everything having it's own grammar and rhetoric, and you are right that that applies to mathematics as well, both from a linguistic point of view and from the literal point of view of mathematical grammars.

My favorite post in a while, because I used to be a book nerd. Maybe I can become one again. Here's hoping.

Kate said...

This is such an interesting post (and I'm late as usual.)

It's funny about Greek (or Roman) mythology as I'd never paid it much attention other than knowing what I needed to know, and with a minor in classical archaeology that was still plenty, but it never really spoke to me. Now I find myself being more interested in Norse mythology more than I'd thought I would be. I blame 1. living in England, 2. JRR Tolkein, and 3. Chris Hemsworth (I'm not made of stone.) But it's so interesting to see how mythology can be used and appropriated. I think I'm almost more interested in the permutations than the originals, to be honest.

I also love seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream, it's delightful to see performed or to be a part of a performance. (Also re: the pop culture/high culture debate, as a person who's spent long years working in museums in the middle of those debates and is also an unapologetic consumer of pop culture, it's always fun to remember that some of the things we think of as high culture today were pop culture at their time of production. I put Shakespeare in that bucket, which will no doubt tick a lot of people off! :)

@Lisa: the medieval idea that stained glass windows--if executed beautifully and artistically enough--could stand in for books

I think that might be the same argument for supporting great film translations of best loved works. - Yes! This exactly. Well put.

Enbrethiliel said...


Dauvit -- Quite a few lists have called Harry Potter and Twilight "must-reads" simply because they got young people reading. Spot the circular reasoning yet? ;-)

Rand probably isn't worth the time, but as I've just told Michael, it made it in because I couldn't think of a good tenth book and decided I might as well include a bad one. =P

Kate -- There is something more beautiful and transcendent about Norse mythology that the Mediterranean myths have never matched. (That quality of "northerness," I suppose? Was it Tolkien or Lewis who loved that term?) And yet the former are not half as accessible as the latter. Only Thor seems to have successfully crossed over into pop culture.

To (mis?)appropriate your terms for a moment, Kate, I've felt for a while that to those with no cultural or geographical ties to the early Norsemen, Norse mythology is high culture; whereas Greek mythology manages to hit all the right pop culture notes with every generation that encounters it.

And now that we're on that point, I agree that there's really no essential divide between pop culture and high culture, if our primary distinction between the two is that one is "new" and the other is "old." If something is good, then it's good. I'm just more likely to vote with the "democracy of the dead" than with the mob of the moment. =P May future generations forgive me! (The same future generations that will vindicate me after my death when they prove that Harry Potter was just a fad after all.)

PS -- I was actually thinking more about stained glass windows and film adaptations today, and why I don't think I'd rank them together. The limitations and potential of each medium aside, stained glass artists just weren't interested in achieving the kind of realism that film strives to capture more perfectly in every reel. The windows grew out of a cultural, communal knowing (I can't think of another term) in a way that movies do not: they were as much a work of those who only looked at them or even those who died before seeing them (and heck, even those alive today who still believe what they depict). You'll never hear someone criticise a stained glass window because it's "not as good as the book." And although, in a certain sense, each film adaptation is a similar product of the generation that produced it, we still speak of a director's vision or a screenwriter's spin. We don't care that medieval artists are anonymous, but we look for the fingerprints of filmmakers whose styles we think we know in every movie they work on.

Kate said...

That's an interesting take on the mythology. On a personal level, I'm not certain why one has appealed to me more than the other, and I wonder sometimes if it isn't the fact that one is familiar and the other foreign to me in terms of education. Also, I suppose in my personal view the Norse myths have this bombastic, overbearing very "myffic" (Terry Pratchett speaking) quality to them whilst the Mediterranean ones seem to have a very earthy, humanistic quality to them - neither one is better than the other, just different. But at the end of it all I think what appeals to me most about Norse myth is that I *didn't* learn about it as such. I've learned it from Gaiman and comics and other pop culture references whose use of it made me really want to understand it more. I've come to it through the back door, I guess, and decided to learn about it on my own terms, and as a ridiculously stubborn person with authority issues :) this method appeals to me!

Ok, have to look at the other bits...

Kate said...

"If something is good, then it's good."

Oh yes, I completely agree. I've made a habit of defending what I believe is good, no matter what it might be. I also think that being a historian makes me have a ridiculously long view on some things, so I can read a book and shrug and say, "eh, that was nice but it'll never survive," and it doesn't bother me. I do also think that sometimes we dismiss what's good because it's new, and that does tend to bother me sometimes, but one man's trash is another man's treasure and really we're not the ones who are going to be judging that, it'll be our grandkids. (And that was an incredible run-on sentence, sorry.)

It's just an interesting conversation to me as I used to work in the arts (the museum work), and always thought that dealing in contemporary art was the hardest job in the art world. How can you gauge whether something's good or Good? You really can't. You have to default to the good and hope it ends up all right in the end. And that you didn't spend your yearly purchasing budget on something that's going to have no artistic or social relevance in 100 years.

Checking back again...

Kate said...

Re: films and stained glass. Put that way, you make a good point. But I'll try a more pragmatic example: those who looked at the window weren't likely to read the book (or in that case, the Book if you will) but came away from it with an understanding of what it meant. Adaptations can be seen the same way: a body may have no intention of ever reading Doctor Zhivago. But he or she can watch the film and come out of it with a similar understanding. Would he or she be able to discuss or think about the film in the same way that one who's read the book would read the book? Certainly not. There's generally something lost in translation. But I think the concept behind both is to give a person an understanding if not a direct, literal viewing/reading, and in that way I think the analogy is successful.

In other words, I guess I largely tend to think of film adaptations as for people who haven't read the book. I wonder if that might not be where our difference lies? (And saying that, yes, I tend to watch the films of the books that I like. There are a few films that I actually like better than the book, honestly!)

CMinor said...

(Sigh.) I'd gotten far enough into Walden to conclude that Thoreau was preachy and irritating, but since you insist, I'll keep going!

Darwin said...

Because after our vocabularies forget Mickey and Minnie (or Edward and Bella), we will still remember Zeus and Hera (and Narcissus and Echo!)

Snickering loudly at Narcissus and Echo, even though I'll freely admit I've not read Twilight either.

--MrsDarwin (in case Blogger signs me in under the wrong name again...)

Enbrethiliel said...


Kate -- It is so undignified to be as time-bound as we are, isn't it? We know all the old things which are good, but can never be sure about the things which are still new. And like the scribes and pharisees, who boasted that they would never have stoned the prophets their forefathers had treated so badly, we might end up rejecting the greatest contribution our generation will ever make to the canon of high culture. But we'd never even know it, would we?

That's a fascinating point about contemporary art! I never thought of it that way.

As for film adaptations, I also tend to think of them as aids for people who'd rather not read the original novels. And I'd be more at peace with that if the movie were to the novel what the "novelisation" is to the movie! =P

It's not really what gets lost in translation that bothers me, but what gets lost in knowing. (There's that term again.) G.K. Chesterton once wrote that you're not really reading your Bible unless you're reading everyone else's Bible, too--and despite what other schools of literary criticism have said since then, I'd say it is true for all books.

Now, it's funny that you brought up Doctor Zhivago as an example. Ironically enough, I've seen the movie but not read the book (Ha!), but since it's such a beautiful film, I easily believe it when people say it's a particularly excellent adaptation. But when we started discussing adaptations in this thread, the ones which I recalled immediately were the "bad" ones: Northanger Abbey (1987), Pride and Prejudice (1940), Brideshead Revisited (2008). =P

CMinor -- Perhaps it was just his style? I put Walden on the list because it's one book I read as a teenager which has provided so many recurring refrains in my life. The bit about the telegraph and the princess' whooping cough, for instance, is a classic. And I always remember what he had to say about making a knife (or was it an axe?--I can't quite recall) whenever I ponder the current state of education.

Mrs. Darwin -- Oh, Twilight gives all who read it a whole new language as well! And aren't you even a tiny bit curious??? =P

Michael said...

He will "refrain from commenting," he says . . . in the longest comment on this thread! ;-)

Haha! Really? To be honest I didn't read a lot of the other comments because they seemed long and I have been working my way through a couple of 200+ comment threads so I can respond intelligently. I thought I would just make a quick comment here for a change of pace. ;-)

You're right about the Fathers of the Church. I'd still put mythology in there (along with faerie tales and other folk literature), but the stories of the Fathers definitely count as Catholic folk lit.

Oh I would leave them as well, but I would expose them to the lives of the Greek Fathers first.

I'm not sure why I forgot to mention them--especially since my first draft drew a snarky contrast between "speaking Scripture" in "liturgical, patristic and apostolic tones" and the same in a "sola Scriptura" twang. =P

Haha! So "E" :P

You might appreciate this quote:

Orthodoxy is fine music made in the conservatoire; Protestantism is low music made in the honky-tonk bars”

Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev

And I agree with you and several of your commenters that age (old versus new) or original use (high brow vs low brow) has little to do with good.

By the way, I would like to see that list for Filipino teenagers. :P

Kate said...

"But when we started discussing adaptations in this thread, the ones which I recalled immediately were the "bad" ones: Northanger Abbey (1987), Pride and Prejudice (1940), Brideshead Revisited (2008). =P "

I'm only going to pop in for this since it's time for *my* Friday night film (Skeletons - 2010 Scotland) - funny enough the only one of those that I've seen is Brideshead, which was neither a good adaptation nor a good film. However, I also tend to like the 2005 Pride and Prejudice over the 1995 one because I think the 2005 one is a better *film*, though the 1995 is definitely a better *adaptation*. I guess I just try to separate the two since they're different art forms to me. Like, No Country For Old Men the film lost a lot from the book, but as a film I still think it's brilliant.

And now I'm going to go slink away before you throw some killer tomatoes for me for my P&P adaptation opinion!!! :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Michael -- I'm still working on that list! =P But it's safe to say that the last four books on this one would not make it. In their stead I'd definitely include Po-on by F. Sionil Jose and Cave and Shadows by Nick Joaquin. (Heck, I'd make it all Joaquin if I could. The short stories May Day Eve and The Summer Solstice, and the "pop story" Johnny Tinoso and the Proud Beauty--which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a gloriously local flavour as familiar to my tongue as green mangoes and bagoong.)

Kate -- Actually, drawing a distinction between a movie as a movie and a movie as an adaptation makes a lot of sense! We don't mind "adaptations" like MTV's Wuthering Heights, because we expect they will twist the familiar tale in a way that is interesting rather than inaccurate. But it's the very attitude that one doesn't have to read the book as long as one can watch "the movie" (Which movie, non-reader? Some novels have inspired several, and you're always only watching "a movie.") that keeps us from seeing movies as movies.

Paraphrasing your comments on mythology earlier in the thread: how can we fully appreciate the permutations when we have no idea what the original stories are?

And don't worry about any killer tomatoes attacking from my direction (although I can't promise I won't assail your ears with a heartfelt cover of Puberty Love!): I can't hate you for that opinion because I haven't even seen the latest Pride and Prejudice movie yet! =P It's "Schrodinger's movie," as far as I'm concerned.

(I'm afraid I do stay away from adaptations, partly out of principle and partly out of habit. On the other hand, I'll watch anything that even hints it was based on Shakespeare.)

Kate said...

I think we all have that "adaptation" line-in-the-sand...I love Austen films of pretty much any ilk or permutations, but I can't tolerate the majority of Austenesque novels that are so popular.

"how can we fully appreciate the permutations when we have no idea what the original stories are?" - I agree. It's just that I come upon a lot of things backwards - i.e., see the permutation and then get into the original to better appreciate both. I think that's why I tend to philosophically be ok with adaptations/permutations since it's a "gateway drug" (if you will) to the original. That doesn't mean I have to *like* the adaptation/permutation (see above re: Austenesque!) but I can see its value in perhaps getting the consumer of it to seek out the original as well.

Boy, I've been long-winded this week, yes? Can you tell I have a lot of time on my hands? :)

Enbrethiliel said...


I had thought to say that since I usually avoid adaptations, they are never a "gateway drug" for me . . . but I've just left a comment under my Reading Diary entry on Meet Felicity in which I admit that the Kit Kittredge movie was what got me into the American Girls books in the first place! =P

Risa said...

Ha ha! I guess the only reason I know so much about 'classics' I haven't read or have just skimmed through briefly is because my mom has read and told me all about them!!!...they're few, though. The novels that come to mind are Wuthering Heights (but you know that already.:D) and David Copperfield. These two are the ones she has spoken to be often enough about in order for me to get by.:D

I really like that...about A Midsummer Night's Dream. I don't think I ever studied it from that view point. The fleetingness of things. I should read it again with those themes in mind! I;ve always thought of it as a very frivolous sort of a play...frivolous but very very pretty!

And nope. I haven't read that particular Chesterton. But now I'm going to see if I can get a hold of it!....I've always liked Chesterton!:D

Enbrethiliel said...


A Midsummer Night's Dream isn't really about the fleetingness of all things, just the intangibles: love (or more accurately, infatuation), inspiration, even sanity! =P

You remind me of a post a friend of mine wrote recently about having been introduced to the classics through the synopses in a "Greatest Books Ever Written" list. She read the whole list through as a child, and since then she has read most of the classics that made it; but she still remembers the synopses better than the books themselves! =P I love a phrase she used in her post: encyclopaedic knowledge of the skeletons of literature. If pushed, I will admit that I think knowledge of the skeletons is enough: aren't they the frame on which one hangs everything else? =)

(In case you were wondering, here's the source: The Classics.)

christopher said...

Regarding lists, this thread has to be on your top ten, no?

Enbrethiliel said...


I think I'll let someone else make the lists on which I feature. =)

But yes, I've been having a good week. Thanks!

cyurkanin said...