So, I’m reading Angel by Elizabeth Taylor—no, not that Elizabeth Taylor–which I found out about (or, to talk super-hip, “discovered”) thanks to the “What we’re reading” segment of the New York Times podcast earlier this year. I actually bought the real book at Literati, a great bookstore in Ann Arbor.
Anyway, this is one of those “Modern Classics” books that had its day and now is being brought back. Its original printing was in 1957. I love doing this. I discovered Stoner in a similar manner, and there are plenty of other examples around on these bookshelves if I was making a list.
There are a couple reasons for this.
First, the beauty of loving literature is that you will never run out. You could go your entire life and there could never be another book published and you’d never lack for a great book to read for one second, provided you had access to a library and such things continued to exist. Point is, the lack of books wouldn’t be the issue.
Second, and I suspect this is the driving point, is to confess that I am a modernist at heart. The post-war story-telling style is, to me, what a book is supposed to be. I’m not much on the literary “devices” that came after it. These were the great authors when I was learning to love reading adult literature in the 1980s, and a very good modernist book fits like a comfortable sweatshirt.
There will be a review of Angel coming later, but it is very good. And funny. Dry and funny, doesn’t work too hard for the jokes and that’s the best kind. (Funny novels like this are surprisingly difficult to find).
This is not to say that there was nothing of value written since that era. I’m not much on literary “devices” that overtake the story, but there’s plenty of great writing now. But the modern era is home.
I was reflecting on this when reading the latest Iowa Review, which I understand makes me sound like an impossible douchebag but I actually did read it.
Anyway, there are a couple short stories that make my point. The first is by Jed Phillip Cohen and is called Salad Days. It is very much in line with the short stories you read today, which is a collection of events the narrator wanders through without a defining plot. It’s a fine and interesting story and I liked it and it is very clearly in line with the contemporary way of writing these stories.
In contrast was the story Harlan and Grace by Patrick Connelly. This is a story with a traditional plot. Some exposition, introduction of a new variable, the result of that introduction, a couple new variables and then a resolution. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, which was a throwback to the more modern style and much more of what I look for in fiction.
Note: Stephen Markley has an essay in the book, which I also read. It wasn’t the greatest essay I ever read–it works a little too hard to bring nihilism and LeBron James together–but I know the name because I’m set to review Markley’s Ohio before it comes out in the Fall and I’m very excited about it.