Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, March 25, 2010

tournament of novels

I don't want to give my friend Joe Carter too much of a hard time, but there's some bad craziness going on here. The Pilgrim's Progress is not a novel, nor, without stretching a point, is Charlotte's Web. And the only way you get The Hunt for Red October in here is by opening the field to every team.
Worst of all: two number-one seeds (Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov) facing off in the first round. Anti-Russian bias, anyone?


  • I blame the Brits and the Modern Library: All of the selections came from the best novel lists of The Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/oct/12/features.fiction) and the ML lists (http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html).

    The ML Reader list included the Clancy book and the British added the books by Bunyan and Bunyan. I agree that they aren't really novels, but when it comes to literature I almost always defer to the English.

    I have to take the full blame for the Karenina vs. Karamazov match-up, though I think it is justifiable. You can't put a Russian up against an American in the first round (a lesson we learned in Rocky IV). And I didn't want the Russian giants to fatten the stiff upper lips of my favorite works from the U.K. either. So the only fair thing was to let them go head-to-head before they start slaughtering the competition.

    There are a few additional selections that made me cringe and a few other low-brow choices included just to make sure I added books I was sure a majority of people had read. After I put it all together I thought to myself, "The only two people I know who have read all 64 novels are are Jody Bottum and Alan Jacobs."

  • Aha! Anti-Russian bias proved! I shall report you to the NLMA — the National Literary Management Agency, which, you probably didn't notice — few did — was created in a rider Barney Frank attached to the health care bill. It will provide complete administrative oversight to America's literary activities, and will soon put the kibosh on tournaments like yours.

    Also, I have read only 58 of the 64 works on your list. I will leave it to you and my readership to guess which ones I haven't gotten to. (But I'm not saying anything else.)

  • Under what definition is Charlotte's Web not a novel?

  • I think Charlotte's Web is a beast fable for children, but you certainly can call it a novel if you want to. I think we need more distinctions in these matters, not fewer, but then I'm an English professor, so what do you expect?

  • Look, I enjoyed Red October when I was a kid, but the only way it gets in is via automatic bid by winning its conference tourney. (Cold War Thriller Conference, American Division?) But I would pay good money to watch Clancy get pounded by one of those Russians in a first-round blowout. What delicious irony.

  • Novels as generally understood are a length, not a genre. All fictional works above a certain number of words are novels.

    If you want to go back to the old French criteria, and thus to considering novels as a genre, you need a new name for them. "Novel" is pretty securely taken.

  • "All fictional works above a certain number of words are novels."

    Really? Is the Iliad a novel, then?

  • A novel to be qualified a novel (that is, literature and not fiction) has to have some universal themes embedded in it, speak to the joys and travails of the humanity and lead us into asking some important philosophical questions, such as "who am I? Who is God? Is there a God?," etc. Not to mention, symbolism and irony (such as in let's say, Flannery O'Connor's work) must be alive. Contemporary works do not demonstrate this, unfortunately. The only work of literature, a novel, I have read lately by a contemporary writer was a debut novel by C.E. Morgan, "All the Living."

  • Oh my yes, All the Living. A true novel. And, of course, out of print very soon because it is authentic and true.

  • Emina Melonic said...

    Out of print? Seriously? Already?

  • If All the Living goes out of print, I will throw myself off a cliff and not read another novel out of protest. Well, obviously, because I'll be dead. But you get my point. Books like that are the only reason I continue to read contemporary works.

  • Geena, I agree with you completely!

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