Roger, I don’t view you as being contrarian and I don’t disagree with Fussell or you. But, I do find considerable value in various forms of writing, including fiction, and figure it’s often worthwhile to at least start with an author’s best known or most popular works. Although I don’t always abide by that principle, for example if someone has never read Kerouac, I advise them to pick up DHARMA BUMS instead of ON THE ROAD.
I did take your advice and read Dharma Bums first. You were correct in your recommendation. That is a book I would buy and keep.
BTW, Christopher Moore wrote a follow up book to Noir – Razzmatazz.
Scott, nice score on the Dickens. I’ve got a bunch of Dickens that I should get around to reading and I just found a $1.00 nice hardbound copy of THE PICKWICK PAPERS that I have now added to my nearly infinite TBR pile.
Kent: Well, I’m glad I didn’t offend you. And it’s certainly reasonable to start with an author’s best-known or most popular work. I’d make exceptions for Henry James, Faulkner, and one or two others. Pynchon, but then there’s probably not a good starting place with him. Maybe Inherent Vice. By the way, glad you’re liking the Willentz book. And I hope I spelled aspidistra correctly.
Roger, thanks for your take on Orwell. I read Animal Farm back around 1970 and much of it applied at the time. So, I liked it. Not so much for Orwell’s writing prowess, but because it seemed relevant. Good satire. I read 1984 a few years ago and I found it a struggle. It had some relevant points and I got the satire, but couldn’t get into it. If I had read it when it was written I may have felt otherwise. I guess, my inherent cynicism draws me to such things.
Mike: I read both of those books in 1970 and haven’t picked up either since. I’m afraid I’d be let down if I did, having read so much Orwell since. And there’s more of his I’ve yet to read. The problem with Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four is not that they’re bad books, but that many people have the idea those works are Orwell’s best. Fussell says Orwell’s “fate” as a writer is similar to that of T.S. Eliot, Evelyn Waugh and Ernest Hemingway, all of whom are in some circles best know for minor works, respectively, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Brideshead Revisited, and The Old Man and the Sea.
Scott, My first “big book” to read in high school was Dickens’ David Copperfield. An old Irish nun accompanied us through it and therefore I was able to go on to read without intimidation of length or difficulty — to Austen, Faulkner, Woolfe, Joyce, Garcia Marquez… It’s great to visit and old classic.