Friday, June 10, 2011

The #13 and #14 Seeds

We're nearing the end of the seeding, where the choices become excruciatingly hard to make. I still want to throw in a few surprises, which narrows the available spots more. Yet I believe the surprises are fully justified.

A.) Mary McCarthy.
B.) Norman Mailer.
C.) Katherine Anne Porter.
D.) Edith Wharton.

A.) Edgar Rice Burroughs.
B.) Herman Wouk.
C.) Ralph Ellison.
D.) Isaac Asimov.

I've tried to construct each seed with its own small theme. With #13 I continue to tweak Norman Mailer's ego. In many ways his ego was the best part of him, from a larger American Lit perspective, overshadowing the actual writing. He was the last American author who sought to be as big and ambitious as the land and the culture, as big as the American Dream. (The title of one of his ambitious if failed novels.)

I've surrounded Norman Mailer with three American ladies, who represent an evolution of the American woman in this society. Wharton the epitome of refinement and society still represents too much the box within which our literature has allowed itself to become confined. (The next seed, #14, is a full reaction against such domestication.) Porter shows an increased cynicism and knowingness about this country and about life, if not fully into grotesque Flannery O'Connor territory. Katherine Anne Porter wrote small short story and novella jewels, masterpieces the equal of anyone's. Her novel, Ship of Fools, is underrated.

As for Mary McCarthy, she takes Porter's cynicism almost over the edge in her barracuda essays and novels, which remain highly readable and relevant. For awhile she cranked them out like a John O'Hara, but with her interest in politics kept them intelligent. (One I read about a German terrorist group-- I'll add the name at a later date!-- of course remains topical in this day.)

In the next seed I highlight four diverse popular novelists.

Ralph Ellison a popular novelist? Yes. One of the best of them, though he published only one book in his lifetime, Invisible Man, which is an over-the-top kaleidoscope of impressions, characters, and plot, capturing as well as any author has the noise of America. Was this book the last great melding of "literary" and "pop"? Cynical, knowing, yet throughout, highly entertaining. A full reading experience.

Herman Wouk wrote a ton of novels. War and Remembrance includes the best attempt to understand the mystery of Franklin Roosevelt as a leader-- with two opposite viewpoints on him, either of which might be right. Wouk didn't have the persona of Norman Mailer, nor his joy of using language, but he was a more intelligent writer.

Wouk will be remembered for The Caine Mutiny. If you work jobs you'll encounter a "Queeg" and his situation at some point in your life. The knowledge of personalities caught within a structure of command and hierarchy, as well as the drama of both the mutiny itself, and the later trial, remain compelling. The trial part of the novel became a classic stage play.

Isaac Asimov brought surpassing intelligence to his superb "Foundation" series, the forerunner of Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Whatever, and so much else, much of it admittedly crap.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, for all his obvious flaws, is the greatest pop writer of all time in his sheer imagination and excitement. He took what existed in American legend and culture, with a large dash of Rider Haggard, and created the myth of the Anglo-Saxon Superman which still exists in American culture. See Batman, Iron Man, Green Lantern, A cultural subtext of history, politics, exploration and Imperialism, and, yes, racism. Tarzan has become an uncomfortable stereotype, with much baggage. The John Carter series on the other hand continues to be pure pop reading.

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