Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Perfect Novel?

I'm teaching a class this fall that I'm (1) pretty much unqualified for and (2) totally excited about. It's called The Craft of Novel Writing and we're going to... wait for it... write a novel! We're going to participate in NaNoWriMo in the month of November, and we're going to read a couple books about craft of writing and a novel.

So here's my big quandary. I want my students to read The Perfect Novel. One that is literary but also accessible. 20th or 21st century (not that I don't love the Victorians, but we're not working a three-volume Dickensian novel here.) I need one that is not too long, so we have time to read it, outline, and kind of dissect it to see what makes it work. A novella would be fine. YA novels are fair game, but The Hate U Give is too long and also being read by most of our English majors this semester in a class on YA lit being taught by one of my colleagues.

At the moment I'm considering The Great Gatsby... it's got easily traceable themes, not too long, not too many characters, a very specific writing style... but extra points if you can suggest a novel not written by a white dude. (No offense to white dudes, but because their voices are so often heard in the world, I like to highlight other voices.) Gatsby would work. But I'm not excited about it, you know?

Any great suggestions? Like the novel you read that made you think you wanted to write a novel? It's  a line we have to navigate carefully because it can't be so wonderful that it's off-putting--like "No one else should even write anything because it will never measure up to Beloved."

And I don't really want sci-fi or dystopia because I'm hoping to gently nudge my students away from those go-to genres (unless they're set on it, and then that's fine... it's their book). The form needs to be standard-ish, so nothing like Lincoln in the Bardo, although first person or third person narrator is okay. Multiple narrators might be too ambitious for us.

DOES THIS NOVEL EVEN EXIST?

I was thinking about A Wrinkle in Time but it's too weird. Ruling it out.

The Catcher in the Rye? I used to love this book and now I can't stand it. (Go ahead and give me my I'm Officially an Adult and Also Really Lame badge).

Something that was a recent best seller? I'm looking at this list and I want to read ALL OF THESE, starting with Ill Will and Sing, Unburied, Sing but I don't have time to read the whole list before I decide. And I am pretty sure I should read the book (or at least skim it) before I choose it, and I need to decide SOON. Like, within a week.

(For the record: I've been thinking about this since before Christmas and I still haven't reached a decision.)

Share your thoughts please!

54 comments:

  1. Untwine, author Entwidge Danticat. Poignant yet not toooo heavy.

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    1. Haven’t read it but just downloaded it on my library app... what happens to Isabelle!!!???

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  2. My daughter, age 11, suggests The Giver.

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    1. I love that book! And it’s on my short list. It may be a little too dystopian for what I want, but if I go with a futuristic/other world, I’ll probably choose this one!

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  3. This might seem too dated now —I haven’t read it in a while—but I had success teaching Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It’s understandable by 20 year olds and it’s non-linear in a way that ends up being discussion-rich.

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  4. I'm 20 years old and reading The Hours for the first time...it feels magical like reading hasn't for years! But as a queer lady, I am a niche audience, so that's a tossup.

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    1. I like it, but do you think it requires familiarity with Mrs. Dalloway to really get into it?

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  5. The Stranger?
    The Things They Carried?
    The Goldfinch?

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    1. Hmmmm... Camus makes me shudder (to be fair, i haven’t read The Stranger since i was an undergrad). I’ll get side eye for saying this, but I don’t like The Things They Carried. I do love The Goldfinch, but it’s like 700 pages! You read a very wide range, Janelle! Keep ‘me coming.

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  6. Oh wow, choosing just one is really hard! I don’t make time to read these days, but I have favorites from a past life. Animal Dreams and The Power of One were my huge favorites back in the day, but maybe not awe inspiring literature. I remember loving Eva Luna and My Antonia when I read them for school, but I think Isabel Allende’s books are translated. The Great Gatsby seems kinda overdone, but maybe just because I don’t love it. Hmmm, I’ll keep thinking.

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  7. What about Things Fall Apart? Because it showcases a culture so different from a western / American culture, students might be able to "see" the moving parts of the novel, in terms of craft, more easily? And, if I recall, it is almost archetypal in its structure and characterization. Just a thought! Great question!

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    1. And I love Chinua Achebe! I'm more familiar with his short story "Chike's School Days," which I teach in World Lit. Hmmm. Okay, that's definitely a contender.

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  8. The awakening? Kate Chopin.

    Heavy on symbolism and garners good discussion much like gatsby does.

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    1. LOVE it. Classic, but feminist. A contender for sure.

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  9. How about To Kill a Mockingbird? Biased bc it's my favorite. :)

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    1. I think it's too long. But it's a interesting one to consider, especially with the buzz about Atticus's character after the sequel came out.

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  10. White Oleander by Janet Fitch

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    1. That is a great book, but I remember it being long(er) than what I think we can work with for the kind of project I'm envisioning.

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  11. Casting my vote for Ordinary People by Judith Guest. The characters are written beautifully. The story has a clear arc. It is about grief, though, so possibly too heavy.

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    1. Haven’t read it but putting it on my list.

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    2. Have you seen the movie? Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore. Amazing.

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    1. Haven’t read it in ages. Will go back and take a look.

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  13. What about Rebecca? I read that decades ago and still remember exactly where I sat when I read it, I enjoyed it so much.

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    1. Omg I love it. It’s so good but too long for this class. I should teach it next time I teach gothic novels, though!

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  14. Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read.

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    1. Beautiful and DEVASTATING. I love it but I don’t think I want to do a historical novel. I’ll consider it, though.

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    2. Ha! Yes, it was devastating.

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  15. White Teeth, Zadie Smith. Maybe extra inspiring for college-aged crowd since it was her first published novel at age 23.

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  16. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Also, this is going to be a great comment thread for me to find reading for the next few months!

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    1. Hmmm... I’ll consider this one! I’m also thinking about Never Let Me ago by Ishiguro...

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  17. Ooh, I second White Teeth!

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    1. I feel bad saying I’ve never read it! There are some big gaps in my reading history while I was I in grad school only reading 19th century stuff. I’ll skim it, though. I’ve heard great things.

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  18. A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

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    1. I am going to skim this one. I’ve never read it but the length and subject matter look perfect.

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    2. I read A Separate Peace in high school and really enjoyed it.

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    3. It's excellent and I think it's perfect for what you are looking for. Let us know what you decide! You have a lot of really good suggestions here :)

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    4. Love A Separate Peace...

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  19. The Poisonwood Bible?
    It’s many narrators, but the narration is probably its strongest point and might really drive home how someone’s voice shapes a story.
    It’s not written by a white dude, it’s set in Africa (Congo) and is quite critical of white dudes.
    Either way, it’s a good read.
    -katherine

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    1. It’s a wonderful novel, but I think it’s about 300 pages too long for what I need in this class. I do love it, though!

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    2. Sorry, yes! It’s about 15 years since I read it, and I didn’t remember it was this long until I dig out my copy last night! I’ve been thinking about your “perfect novel” question and it’s actually quite hard! Fun to contemplate though! Good luck!
      Katherine

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  20. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society! Though it's written as a series of letters so not sure if that would work for you - but excellent, excellent novel. Also The Red Tent. And I loved The Sparrow but it's science fiction (though the sci-fi elements are really secondary to the story which is more about fate/faith/friendship). I'd also second the recommendations for A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird, and also Gatsby - some of my favorite books we read in high school and all definitely very teachable, but I didn't love them quite as much as these others.

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    1. Guernsey is one of my all time favorites!! You know the film comes out in April? And it basically stars all the cast of Downton Abbey. I'm so excited. But I don't think I want to do an epistolary novel. Will look into the others. I like The Red Tent, but I think I want to avoid historical fiction, too. I'm SO picky!!

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  21. I completely second To Kill a Mockingbird! Otherwise, how about The Bell Jar?

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    1. The Bell Jar has a great narrative voice, so it's a definite possibility...

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  22. The River Why by David James Duncan

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  23. I second The Remains of the Day!

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  24. How about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith? A wonderful coming of age novel.

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  25. Also, you mentioned Sing, Unburied, Sing - probably too long, but goodness gracious, what a book. What about The Reader, Bernhard Schlink?

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  26. I've just added quite a few of these books to my GoodReads list! My all-time favorites of appropriate length include Where the Red Fern Grows, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Custom of the Country, The Book Thief, The History of Love, Crossing to Safety, and Lolita. I could discuss/list books all day...

    Thanks for sharing the link to the best books of 2017. I'm at the beginning of Sing, Unburied Sing, and am engrossed, but loved and recommend Celine, Pachinko, Lincoln in the Bardo, Exit West, and Little Fires Everywhere. And if you want something dark, but so incredibly well-written, My Absolute Darling was fantastic.

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  27. Their Eyes Were Watching God

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