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What becomes a legend most?
May 22, 2012 11:30 AM   Subscribe

In 1929, John Galsworthy won a Guardian poll as the novelist most likely to still be read in 2029. Three years later, he won the Nobel Prize, and the prices of his first editions skyrocketed. His reputation has since been on a 80-year wane that shows no signs of abating. The New Yorker asks Why is Literary Fame So Unpredictable? And who will they be teaching in literature class a century from now?
posted by Horace Rumpole (65 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anyone who hasn't read The Forsyte Saga is DOING. LIFE. WRONG.

(Team Soames 4 Lyfe! (Except for the marital-rapey bits) Everyone on the "desire" side of the Forsythian duty-vs.-desire divide is annoyingly fey and irresponsible, and willing to screw with other people's lives to chase their whims. Soames isn't very nice, but at least he doesn't encourage other people to count on him, and then toss his responsibilities to the side when his whims change next week. Irene made me want to scream: selfish enough to ruin other people's lives for her happiness, but NOT SELFISH ENOUGH TO STAND UP FOR HERSELF IN THE FIRST PLACE.)

(Um, I think I'm alarmingly bourgeois.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:43 AM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who are you reading today that you think people will still be reading in the future?

It gives me no great pleasure to say this, but I think Tao Lin. He's idiosyncratic, very good at writing in his particular voice, and so firmly of his time that his books affix a particular moment in the early 21st-century like a moth pinned to a display case.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:54 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


And who will they be teaching in literature class a century from now?

Teenagers?
posted by hal9k at 12:05 PM on May 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


Wow, this was some beanplating. From the essay, general rules of what makes an author's work endure:

--Be the object of a film, preferably by the BBC
--Become an adjective (e.g., Kafkaesque) and/or coin a maxim or two
--Have at least one best seller
--Have other influential, interesting artists read you and be influenced by you and mention that in their own work
--Become interesting to an intellectual movement
--Also, it'll take a while

So, nothing an author can control, other than 'write really interesting stuff that other (hopefully interesting and thoughtful) people will find interesting'. Why does great literature often take a long time to find an audience and wide influence? Because of everybody else. As succinctly put by composer Edgard Varese:

"An artist is never ahead of his time, but most people are behind their own time."
posted by LooseFilter at 12:10 PM on May 22, 2012


(Except for the marital-rapey bits)

Well, it's not just that: there's the creep stalker Soames bits. And the having a son obsession...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:12 PM on May 22, 2012


LAB: Explorations in 21st Century Literature

A survey of proto-Amerasia's semi-decomposed organic waste compounds, in which students physically rummage for "books" and report on their findings. Artifacts containing at least ten legible pages may be presented at a symposium at semester's end for bonus credit.
posted by hermitosis at 12:13 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


hermitosis: Have you ever read "Memoirs found in a Bathtub"?
posted by Grimgrin at 12:15 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm going out on a limb and saying NOT Jonathan Franzen.

It's a very short limb, granted.

Alice Munro, perhaps?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:21 PM on May 22, 2012


I'm doing a masters in post-2000 literature and I'd be really hard pressed to say with confidence which of the authors I've studied might become canonical (other than those who already are, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy etc.). I'm pretty sure Jonathan Safran Foer ticks a number of the prescribed boxes, but he's also kind of awful. Franzen is your obvious candidate for a slide into obscurity and there's something a little Galsworthy-and-water about his fiction, certainly. Perhaps DFW will endure. I hope so.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:23 PM on May 22, 2012


Probably Shakespeare and Dickens.
posted by DU at 12:23 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


HG Wells is a victim of his own success, I'd argue. He, along with Verne, Stapleton, and others, helped give birth to a genre that has grown far beyond his original vision.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:24 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Franzen is your obvious candidate for a slide into obscurity

*huffily checks watch for 20th time*
posted by Greg Nog at 12:25 PM on May 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


which "now"? one guy that'll stand the test of time is Borges, but he's already old-school. there are plenty that'll still be around, but maybe not somebody who's published in the last year, say.
posted by facetious at 12:28 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one is going to be able to predict whose literary reputation will survive until we can predict the future, surely: without knowing what they are going to be preoccupied by we've got no way to think about what they'll have to think through via literature. And sooner rather than later even stalwarts on the list o'literary fame like Shakespeare are going to be unintelligible to readers, and have to be modernised - a little like Chaucer. (And I'd wonder whether the sales of Borges are that much higher than Galsworthy, if we're valuing people by how much they continue to sell.)

The one best seller that always really impresses and surprises me in how well it continues in massive popularity is Stoker's Dracula. The book is a great read and hits on some fascinating themes, but I'm amazed it hasn't been supplanted almost entirely by some later vampire novel. I doubt anyone would have ever thought that novel would have the longevity it does - there are plenty of other great gothic novels out there, like LeFanu's Uncle Silas, none of which have achieved the sheer brute influence of Dracula on chunks of popular culture.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:31 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Except for the marital-rapey bits)

and all the very boring bits.
posted by francesca too at 12:36 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll vote for Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by francesca too at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


and kafka, obvs.
posted by facetious at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2012


I was going to comment that one could do a lot worse than to guess that Wells and Kipling would still be read today.

But, looking at the Project Gutenberg download counts - they both make their appearance near the bottom of the top-75 ranked by number of downloads, an order of magnitude below the winners.

No surprise that Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Lewis Carroll are on top. (Along with the Kama Sutra, recent internet sensation "How to Analyze People on Sight", and a Hollywood-driven Edgar Rice Burroughs novel.) Kafka's Metamorphosis is near the top, as is Joyce's Ulysses, which I find very surprising. Of course, a Project Gutenberg download is probably more equivalent to a count of who has picked up a book in a store, rather than who has decided to purchase it, much less read it.

But, is this really unexpected? Rather a lot of the most popular books on that list are by authors who were quite popular in their day. There just aren't *that* many of them in all. If the world can sustain a few tens of eternal authors, then we only get one every few decades. No surprise that most interesting authors in a given year fail to make the cut.

If anything, the Guardian readers of 1929 would have done better by picking names of authors who were *already* old and popular at the time. If I have to predict who will still be widely read in 2112, my money's on Mark Twain.
posted by eotvos at 12:43 PM on May 22, 2012


Nicola Tesla would like to discuss why scientific fame is so unpredictable!
posted by nicebookrack at 12:49 PM on May 22, 2012


All the action these days is in young adult novels. I bet my (unborn) kids will read to their kids from Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.
posted by miyabo at 12:52 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Probably Shakespeare and Dickens.

It's no great trick to pick someone who has been taught for many years already. Yeah, Chaucer, Shakespeare, probably Dickens. The trick for us is to pick someone new (probably still alive and writing) who will be taught in literature classes in 2112, assuming there is such things as literature and classes in 2112.
posted by pracowity at 12:57 PM on May 22, 2012


I bet my (unborn) kids will read to their kids from Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.

Possibly, but every generation has its own light entertainments. Your kids probably will read the crap that is hyped when they are growing up, assuming they read novels at all.
posted by pracowity at 1:03 PM on May 22, 2012


"All the action today" is a terrible way to forecast future literary fame. Galsworthy isn't an anomaly at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:05 PM on May 22, 2012


Joyce Carol Oates will still be read, but only her short fiction, as everyone throws up their hands at the prospect of picking one book from her SEVENTY BILLION books. Also her estate will still be publishing a steady annual posthumous stream of backlogged novels from manuscript piles she used to prop up lamps, so who needs to go digging through her old stuff?

Coelho's The Alchemist will still be read because it would have to die to release its icy grip on the New York Times Bestseller list, and you cannot kill what is already undead
posted by nicebookrack at 1:06 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there's an always interesting trend of stuff that was written off by critics as being too lightweight ending up with a very long shelf life. For instance, Dickens was pretty much the Stephen King/Michael Crichton sort of writer of his time, pumping out books and getting a lot of press. In music, I'm always surprised that Led Zeppelin was pretty much considered the Nickelback of their day, making populist crap music that sold like hotcakes. It's funny what some time and distance will do.
posted by lubujackson at 1:14 PM on May 22, 2012


Coelho's The Alchemist will still be read because...you cannot kill what is already undead

You could make an effort to destroy all evidence of it, though. A kind of noble de-Stalinisation. Or perhaps future generations will refuse to believe that so many otherwise forward-thinking souls - we invented the internet, for fuck's sake - bought, and then bought into such utter claptrap.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:19 PM on May 22, 2012


Whenever I'm tempted to play this game, I sternly remind myself of a late-19th c. book review I've got tucked away in a folder somewhere, which firmly declares that Mrs. Humphry Ward will be remembered long after George Eliot has been properly forgotten. My own estimate is that it takes about one hundred years for opinions to settle, by which time it becomes clear whether or not a book has irredeemably dated itself; after that, authors are either pretty much there to stay or they suddenly disappear. (If you can get your hands on the very oldest Everyman editions, take a look at their back catalogs. They're very enlightening.)

The importance of adaptations to literary survival predates the twentieth century. William St. Clair points out, for example, that it would probably have been very difficult for many people to have read Frankenstein for most of the 19th c.--none of the editions overseen by MS stayed in print for very long. But it was a big success on stage, which seems to have ensured its staying power.

It's true that Emily Bronte was "nowhere" for most of the 19th c., although her reputation started picking up again in the 1880s, but even at the time, critics saw that there was something worth noticing in WH; they just didn't know quite how to handle it. (Part of EB's nowhereness, ironically, came from people initially believing that all of the Bronte sisters were Currer Bell [i.e., Charlotte] after Jane Eyre appeared, although that illusion was dispelled soon enough.)

I think the afterlife of self-consciously "experimental" literature is hardest to predict, as one century's experiment is another's tedious chore. Nobody has spent much time reading the Della Cruscans or the Spasmodics lately, unless they're poetry specialists.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:23 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not many people read Galsworthy any more, but his cultural influence is greater than ever. What is Downton Abbey if not a vulgarised Forsyte Saga?
posted by verstegan at 1:24 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


William Gibson will seem like Jules Verne does to us now --- steampunkish.

Agree with Vonnegut. Also Pynchon, Salinger, McCarthy?
posted by goethean at 1:25 PM on May 22, 2012


Gabriel Garcia-Marquez? Nabokov?

Trying to think who else stimulated me as strongly as Tolstoy...

Robertson Davies? Margaret Laurence? upvote Alice Monroe..
posted by Trochanter at 1:26 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


For instance, Dickens was pretty much the Stephen King/Michael Crichton sort of writer of his time, pumping out books and getting a lot of press.

The Stephen King analogy I can just about see, but it's easy to forget that there were authors who were almost as (and sometimes more) popular than Dickens who are hardly known today. Marie Corelli is a good example of this - she outsold Dickens, Conan Doyle and others by massive numbers, but try to find even a copy of The Sorrows of Satan, the most well-known book. But her fate is well-deserved; those books are bloody awful. In fact, The Sorrows of Satan remains the worst book I have ever read.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:27 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Possibly, but every generation has its own light entertainments.

Sure, but a lot of the stuff that I read while growing up as a youngster, before I had well-established tastes -- and I think this is true of many people -- was actually from my parents generation. And in some cases, it was stuff that they recalled reading as children which had actually been written for their parents generation.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if a lot of copies of Harry Potter are sold as the original readers (with the best intentions, naturally) push it on their children and grandchildren.

This is even more true of books for non-reading children; Beatrix Potter has probably made it through, what, about four generations now, conservatively? That's a good bit of staying power. Nostalgia is a powerful force.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:31 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm favoriting this thread so I can check back in a hundred years and see who was right.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:35 PM on May 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


Tom Wolfe?
posted by Yakuman at 1:40 PM on May 22, 2012


Barbara Kingsolver? I also agree with Atwood and Vonnegut.

But I think if you wanted to place actual bets on authors who will still be read in 100 years, you'd want to go for, like, Maurice Sendak, Mo Willems, The Monster at the End of This Book -- toddler crack is toddler crack. My kids love Beatrix Potter and Dr. Seuss and Goodnight Moon and other toddler crack of longstanding. More recent toddler crack will similarly survive.

Literary and pop-culture scholarly types, how much will modern mega-media affect which books survive 100 years do you think? It's hard to imagine Harry Potter NOT being read in 100 years, simply because it's been such a cultural phenomenon, and it's good (I don't know if it's great, but it's good). And it's long, which seems to help. But then on the other hand, it's hard to imagine "Twilight" being more than a curiosity for huge fans of early 21st-century costume dramas.

Also I'm not trying to be a putz, but I really didn't think there were any boring bits in the Forsyte Saga. The aside about how the nouveau riche don't use silver flatware because SO MUCH CAPITAL SITTING THERE BEING USELESS makes me giggle still. But then, I think Dickens is nothing but boring bits, so I have no great claims to taste.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:44 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Somebody mentioned Shakespeare and Chaucer concerning popularity, and it's interesting to see the different paths they took. Shakespeare was popular in his day, and his plays, although criticized by some, we well attended and well known. However, he was out of fashion for many decades, and just another playwright of his time. It was not until the mid 1700s that he began to take on the status he now has. Even those who haven't read or listened to Shakespeare likely know some of his words. Shakespeare's obvious ability has allowed him to come back from relative obscurity and earn his reputation.

Chaucer was quite different, with a middling level of success in his day, but promoted to stardom almost overnight upon his death. His friends and family pushed his work as the greatest English writing around, and one academic has more or less called it a conspiracy. But even as early as the mid 1500s people were admitting that they couldn't quite understand his language, and more regarded him as great by repute. Chaucer's reputation far exceeds his readership, yet it was built so early and so thoroughly it's now part of the common knowledge regardless of his actual skill.

Longrun reputations do seem so wilful. Why do we know of the then obscure Thomas Malory and not the renowned Reginald Pecock? And why did anybody ever take Edmund Spenser seriously?
posted by Jehan at 1:52 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


who will they be teaching in literature class a century from now?

They'll be reading reverently from my Book of Several Colors and discussing its manifold virtues.

Unless they want a one-way ticket to the jovian gulags to scrape sulfur off the rocks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:55 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Domine memento totalitas gloriae fluxa
posted by elpapacito at 1:57 PM on May 22, 2012


The contingencies are huge, even with the apparent immortals. Dickens is a good example of this. There is a decent case to be made that, had Chesterton's Charles Dickens: A Critical Study never been written, Dickens would never have maintained the literary respectability that has sustained his popularity through the last century. Modernism tended to sneer at Dickens; without a defender of Chesterton's calibre, he would have been in grave danger of being written off as a mere comic writer at best and a sentimentalist at worst. Neither side of this was predictable at the time Dickens was writing.
posted by howfar at 2:08 PM on May 22, 2012


Not sure about other people in 2112, but I'll be reading Patrick O'Brian. For the 112th time.
posted by stargell at 2:10 PM on May 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


William S. Burroughs is not a contemporary writer, but was writing for most of my lifetime, and will probably become more important in the future. This will be at least in part because of his technical/theoretical innovations.
posted by snofoam at 2:17 PM on May 22, 2012


howfar, I think you're overstating the influence of Chesterton, at whom modernists also sneered. I know that Leavis omitted Dickens from The Great Tradition initially, but then conceded that this omission was an error, because Dickens is the shit. The greater danger to Dickens might be that the scholarly gaze moves on from the Victorian period. Who reads the Augustans now? Undergraduates, mostly, and they don't enjoy it. The same might happen to the Victorians. In fact, who's to say the novel itself won't be considered a historical curiosity eighty years hence?
posted by tigrefacile at 2:20 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, Burroughs has or is likely to cover most of the author's longevity checklist.
posted by snofoam at 2:20 PM on May 22, 2012


Margaret Atwood, for THE HANDMAID'S TALE. Dystopian, feminist, good. School reading lists for the next century. (To which I say Hurrah. I think THE HANDMAID'S TALE is her 1984, and ORYX AND CRAKE is BRAVE NEW WORLD: but the latter is too sci-fi genre to be successful long-term.)
posted by alasdair at 2:33 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


In fact, who's to say the novel itself won't be considered a historical curiosity eighty years hence?

That sentence made me really unexpectedly sad.
posted by Jpfed at 2:44 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


John Sutherland put together an encyclopedia of Victorian Literature (British writers working 1820-1900 roughly). He found during that period there were 60,000 novels published - total. How many today? In 2007 it was estimated there were 62,000 English-language novels published in the USA (or about 100,000 globally). So currently there are more novels being published each year than during the entire 19th century! Maybe the numbers are off a little, but pretty close. Nobody really has any idea what's out there much less what the future may anoint as being worth reading.
posted by stbalbach at 2:48 PM on May 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Edward Bulwer-Lytton outsold Dickens in his day, but no one would know who he was now except for Charles Shultz's popularization of the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night," which subsequently spawned the Bulwer-Lytton contest.

He did have the ability to turn a phrase, though and turned out the following still in use:
"the pen is mightier than the sword"
"pursuit of the almighty dollar"
and "the great unwashed".
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:09 PM on May 22, 2012


(So back around 2000, I had a summer job developing a web site. We needed to have users edit the site, and we didn't have blogs or wikis or content management systems, so I had to roll my own. I needed some placeholder text for a demo, so I downloaded something random from Project Gutenberg that no one had never heard of.

My coworkers laughed hysterically when they read the placeholder pages -- they turned out to be from a hilariously stupid story about a swashbuckling superhero fighting aliens on Mars. Turns out that a mere 12 years later, everyone has heard of John Carter, although they don't seem to be any more fond of it.)
posted by miyabo at 3:18 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Way to make me feel really old, miyaho. I read the John Carter of Mars books in about 1960.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:35 PM on May 22, 2012


I think you're overstating the influence of Chesterton

It's certainly possible, even probable. The realm of counterfactual history is hardly reliable and deservedly far from respectable. I offer it more as an example of the idea that the history of an artistic reputation is as contingent and unpredictable as any history. How contingent and unpredictable that is is an exercise left for the reader.

On your second point, I'm not sure that the position that Dickens has come to hold is as one of the Victorians. Who reads English Renaissance writers now? No-one much. Who reads and watches Shakespeare? Pretty much everyone, whether they wish to or not. I think it is arguable that, at least in Britain, Dickens has acquired a cultural significance that few writers possess. Shakespeare and, in Scotland, Burns are the only names that spring out at me in the same way. Chaucer is more referred to than popularly read, probably due to the seemingly eternal guilt and wrangling that goes on over the matter of spelling and translation.

A Christmas Carol is probably the single most significant factor in Dickens' grip on the popular consciousness. It reflects and sustains a view we have of ourselves and our Christmas tradition that goes beyond a particular interest in Victorian literature. Perhaps Dickens' work more generally does this too. Maybe Dickens will endure, like Shakespeare perhaps, for as long as we need his particular version of the myth of Merry England.

Maybe. I'm equally open to your contention that "Dickens is the shit".
posted by howfar at 5:21 PM on May 22, 2012


My understanding is that Galsworthy's drop in popularity was mostly the result of his selling the Greek muse he'd been keeping imprisoned in his attic.
posted by kyrademon at 5:23 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I needed some placeholder text for a demo, so I downloaded something random from Project Gutenberg that no one had never heard of.

My coworkers laughed hysterically when they read the placeholder pages -- they turned out to be from a hilariously stupid story about a swashbuckling superhero fighting aliens on Mars.


You all had heard of Tarzan, though. ERB's legacy survives in that regard, even if not many people read the novels today.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:29 PM on May 22, 2012


I think these discussions - originating as they do with literati - tend to grossly underestimate two things:

1) The role of genre & genre writers
2) The cosigns we attached to any particular age

If you look at writers that are championed, I would argue that they either tend to be either writers almost outside their time by virtue of genre, especially if they are seminal in the creation of genre, or deeply symbolic of what we have chosen to distill their time into.

For example: Frankenstein, Dracula, & The (lesser known but just as good!) Priest are all part of a genre. Other writers like Steinbeck (great depression), Fitzgerald (Jazz age), Austen (social fencing of 19th C), Dickens (class poverty of 19th C) etc are effectively symbols of their time. Part of the reason I think they may or may not be championed at the time is because we don't really settle on what an age is about until after it's receded somewhat. I mean, what are the nineties about? What would a nineties novel be? Far easier to look at books in the nineties as part of a literary, not historical discourse, and place them in that framework. But I would argue that time has a tendency to erase that framework.

The other thing, I think, is they have to be accessible. I can think of only a few "classic" authors, whose works are actually demanding or difficult, and their stature is nowhere near the "easy" authors (Thomas Mann, Henry James, Beckett all leap to mind). It's hard to be classic if no one reads your books. Also, it's helpful to have an oeuvre with a lot of similar themes. There aren't a lot of Melville's.

"Modern" authors I think will become considered classics:
John Le Carre
Patrick O'Brian
Haruki Murakami (though I don't feel he really deserves it)
Anne Tyler
Angela Carter
perhaps Joyce Carol Oates
And some Indian or Chinese authors - I lack the knowledge to make a call which and they may not even be published in English yet.
posted by smoke at 6:41 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hell, Melville was almost forgotten until the 20s, when Moby-Dick became what it is today. That's like a 70-year lag time between publication and Canon-ization, so who knows... maybe Galsworthy still has a shot.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:54 PM on May 22, 2012


"Modern" authors I think will become considered classics:
John Le Carre
Patrick O'Brian
Haruki Murakami (though I don't feel he really deserves it)
Anne Tyler
Angela Carter
perhaps Joyce Carol Oates

Too many people have been pushing me to read Patrick O'Brian: I guess I'll cave in. Where do I start?
posted by francesca too at 7:19 PM on May 22, 2012


I mean, what are the nineties about?

The seminal nineties novel will be written in 2036 and will present itself as a bizarrely formatted walkthrough of an adventure game that doesn't exist.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:36 PM on May 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Too many people have been pushing me to read Patrick O'Brian: I guess I'll cave in. Where do I start?

I found the first book 80% shit (final 20% great). Had way to much sailor-talk in it for me - and I don't mean swearing, I mean literal sailor talk; "fo'c'sle the yardam etc". My copy had a diagram of the boat on the inside, and I was shocked when I realised it wasn't even 20 metres long, I swear they have a name for every cubic centimetre.

I'm not finished this series yet, but the rest are far, far more readable, and you only miss a soupcon of the characterisation by skipping the first. I suppose it depends how completist you are - definitely read the series in order though.
posted by smoke at 7:40 PM on May 22, 2012


Reminds me of a 'conversation starter' question I sometimes ask people here in Japan: "Who, living today, might be venerated as a god tomorrow?"

We have a long tradition in Japan of raising great leaders to divine status and building great shrines where people pray to them. Hachiman was once a real man, as was Tenjin-sama. Most people have the opinion that the age of raising humans to divine-like status has passed, that it is anachronistic.

I wonder if the same can be said of literary figures and other auteurs.
posted by jet_manifesto at 8:55 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


An 80 year wane? That hasn't actually gone to zero? That ain't bad.
posted by effugas at 11:03 PM on May 22, 2012


Francesca, I had to read Master And Commander almost phonetically, not knowing any sailing terminology at the time. Still it was excellent and in retrospect necessary to understand the relationship between O'Brian's two central characters. Post Captain was a crashing bore and I skip it whenever I reread the series. The rest are pure book crack.
posted by migurski at 12:13 AM on May 23, 2012


Reminds me of a 'conversation starter' question I sometimes ask people here in Japan: "Who, living today, might be venerated as a god tomorrow?"

Takeshi Kitano, right?

/end derail
posted by hap_hazard at 1:47 AM on May 23, 2012


/running on a parallel track

hap_hazard, Kitano is well respected in Japan, but mostly as a comedian. I think he is taken far more (too?) seriously outside of Japan.

posted by jet_manifesto at 2:15 AM on May 23, 2012


Another important aspect is the lingua franca of the era. As English has been ascendant for decades, there is more room for older and contemporary writers. On the other hand, as French has been overshadowed, fewer people will be reading de Musset, Abbé Prévost or Houellebecq.

Chaucer's reputation far exceeds his readership, yet it was built so early and so thoroughly it's now part of the common knowledge regardless of his actual skill.

He does tell the best ass-kissing tale ever told though.
posted by ersatz at 5:33 AM on May 23, 2012


Too many people have been pushing me to read Patrick O'Brian: I guess I'll cave in. Where do I start?

I agree with smoke that the first book has too much incomprehensible sailor-talk, but it worked just fine for me to flip through the "ship stuff happens here" bits to read the bits with scientist Stephen Maturin squeeing being Very Scientific over puffins. Also Maturin and Aubrey's meetcute/hatecute at the symphony is great.
posted by nicebookrack at 5:49 PM on May 23, 2012


who was that guy that wrote "Shogun"? he'll be remembered.
posted by facetious at 9:24 PM on May 23, 2012


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