Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Guilt Literature

Guilt Literature is a term useful in describing books you did not read, even in the face of conventional opinion that these books were cultural landmarks. You were perhaps too busy, too rebellious, or otherwise distracted.

Guilt Literature is also a term useful in describing the books you did read, perhaps in rebellion at conventional opinion but perhaps because of a significant and addictive interest in something.

Whichever the case, the term Guilt Literature is the line of demarcation between the numerator of obligation to cultural standards and the denominator of individual pursuit of informed pleasure.

Some titles which find their way onto Cultural Landmarks Lists and which, accordingly, ought to be read, and by which reading you may be measured:

The Iliad A Tale of Two Cities Our Town
The Odyssey Moby-Dick Anna Christie
The Aeneid The Scarlet Letter The Grapes of Wrath
The Divine Comedy Huckleberry Finn Pere Goriot
The Decameron The Rise of Silas Lapham The (Kafka)Metamorphosis
The Canterbury Tales Pamela Treasure Island
The Idylls of the King Robinson Crusoe The Last of the Mohicans
The Return of the Native Main Street On Walden Pond
David Copperfield Middlemarch Clarissa
Rise and Fall of the
Roman Empire A Spoon River Anthology Uncle Tom's Cabin

Some titles which are in some degree of rancor omitted from the Cultural Landmarks List and by which reading accordingly, your status may be measured:

Classic Comics The Maltese Falcon Fahrenheit 451
Prince Valiant The Glass Key More Than Human
Smokey Stover The Jungle Book A Stranger in a Strange Land
Krazy Kat Terry and the Pirates The Little Sister
Tom Sawyer Tarzan 1984
Ivanhoe Any Sherlock Holmes Love Medicine
Martin Eden The Green Hornet Ride the Pink Horse
My Antonia Tobacco Road The 87th Precinct Mysteries
The Virginian Lad, a Dog Cat's Eye
Death in the Afternoon A Wrinkle in Time Love and Death in the American Novel

Neither of these lists is complete, which emphasises the point behind the appellation of Guilt Literature. There are over sixty titles referenced in these lists, bringing the total number of titles to over a hundred. I have read all these titles at one point or another in my vagrant life, have had a tidal relationship with many of them (particularly Middlemarch) and can safely say that the only book I can think of at the moment that I truly, irrevocably hate is The Mill on the Floss. I can also argue my belief that the books on the lower list provide as much information of cultural and imaginative (and thus survival-oriented) worth as the A-List.

Reading for pleasure is, alas, not taught in schools; only a rare group of readers chance upon that happy association. The rest are doomed to think that reading is equated with text books and that all eighteenth and nineteenth century novels have overly long descriptions of whale hunting.


Querulous Squirrel said...

On my deathbed I will ask for one of those novels with overly long descriptions of whale hunting, but will nevertheless die guilty.

Anonymous said...

I am guilty and on the lam.

Matt said...

Funny - your A-list seems to include at least 3 titles I've read in the last two years.

Wait, did I mean "Funny" or "Revealing"?