Joke's Book Club: Spending time with the Classics
Which is fine.
After all, one day students will have to take a course on Early 21st Century Novelists and someone has to write those books for students to read and discuss things the author never intended ("Is the use of duck dressed as a sailor a...'Christ symbol'?")
But that doesn't mean this must comprise my sole reading diet. So I vowed to leaven the whole thing with The Classics. The next part comes in defining, precisely, what a Classic is. Different people have diverse definitions. Scholars debate this and LitCrit types engage in pointlessly, stupidly abstruse arguments. Therefore, after considerable research, I have come up with a fairly airtight definition of a Classic.
Y'wanna hear it?
Classic [klas - ic]: A book written before my parents were born that is still famous and which won't bore me into a coma.
That last bit is very crucial, because it frees me from having to reread absolute drivel like James Joyce was fond of churning out, mostly for the benefit of people* who like swanning about, exhibitionistically displaying their academic plumage. If I may make this aside, when confronted with these poor deluded bastards, the best thing to do is simply mumble "You know best." in a conciliatory manner and go about your business. After all they know this stuff is the worst sort of effluvia, but much of their self-view hinges on publicly espousing the opposite cause, so you let it go at that. You really don't want to get them off on a rant about how they, like Mr. Science, know more than you. You'd rather be reading Joyce. Hell, even
At any rate, this still leaves the problem of finding a Classic to read. You are pretty much on your own here. The great learned minds are still busy admiring the Emperor's new clothes and suggesting James Joyce or some bright and cheery 800 page tome by some 19th Century Russian who went into anaphylactic shock whenever there was any seratonin within 50 yards (or, if you'd rather, meters) to be of any use. After all, the vast majority of those learneds would rather die of flatulence than suggest something, y'know, enjoyable.
So I chose to delve into Lewis Carroll.
I had found a reprint of his original manuscript with the title of Alice's Adventures Underground. It's very similar to the eventual and more famous final version as Alice's Adventures In Wonderland which we all know and love, but contains a lot that eventually was excised from wider circulation. Basically this is the compilation of stories he used to tell to the children of Dean Liddell (the most famous being Alice) when they went on picnics and rowing and assorted other expeditions. These little nuggets are often satirical references to people in their circle, but even without the back story they are charming and amusing and serve the story well.
It's helpful the book is funny, less so that it's reprinted, not in typeset, but in Carroll's own penmanship. Interestingly, he illustrated this original version of the story himself and apparently, among his myriad other skills, he could also draw -- perhaps not at the "professional illustrator level-- quite well. Beyond this, the book is layered (layered, I tell you!) with wordplay, mathematical puzzles, and allusions and clever inside jokes seamlessly woven into the fabric of the narrative.
Of course, by the time the "real" book was published a lot of the inside stuff had been polished out, but it's fascinating to see the story we all know (or think we know) in its embryonic stages.
*You know you have such a person on your hands, as it were, when he -- or she, because one never knows these days -- starts to assert that he (or, as previously discussed, she) truly enjoys James Joyce, a thing which is patently and self-evidently absurd in normal adults with a working knowledge of English.
** I hope this makes sufficient amends, Miz Badge.