Friday, March 4, 2011

Hops: Two for the Price of One!

Literary Blog HopI’m going to try something a little different this Friday and am going to deal with both the Literary Book Blog Hop from the Blue Bookcase and the Book Blogger Hop from Crazy for Books in the same post.

Turning to the Literary Book Blog Hop first, this week’s question is:

“Can literature be funny?  What is your favourite humorous literary book?”

I was a little non-plussed when I read this question.  My immediate response was to slap my forehead and shout, “Well, yeah!  Of course!” at the computer screen.  A roll-call of names such as Saki, Wodehouse, Sharpe, Swift, Twain, Sedaris, Adams leap from brain to fingers to blog post draft without so much as a furrowed brow or a single hum or ha.

Then I jotted down the name of Terry Pratchett and it suddenly dawned on me that the question isn’t about humour after all.  It’s about what counts as literature.  Terry Pratchett has sold millions of copies of his books.  They have made millions of people laugh.  They are, without doubt, funny.  They are also cleverly funny, sometimes even just plain clever.  But are they “literary”?  Probably not, although I think they have literary merit.  I suspect, however, that most people would not term his books as “literature”.  Part of this may be genre snobbery.  Or just maybe, we like our “literature”, our “classics” to be serious.  To wear, metaphorically, spectacles and an academic gown.  To deal with BIG issues in a grown-up way.  Maybe we are a little bit too snobby to allow that humour can be literary.

If so, of course, the question makes absolute sense.  Can deep and meaningful literature really be funny?  Can it make us laugh?  On this basis, we have to discount all of the authors referred to above together with all authors who set out to be funny.  Evelyn Waugh?  Sorry, not literature.  Laurence Sterne?  Sorry, Penguin Classics shouldn’t have included Tristram Shandy in their list.  Shakespeare?  Should have stuck to histories and tragedies?  Oscar Wilde?  Pah!  Voltaire?  Shouldn’t have bothered with Candide, which even made my cynical and sullen 16-year old self laugh.  I could go on. And on.  And on.  All of these authors are, without doubt, “literary”.  And deliberately funny.  So I have to conclude that, as I thought, literature can be funny.

There is a point to the question, though.  I think that, because we associate being funny with being happy, with being light-hearted, we may find it more difficult to apply our judgment to the issue of whether humorous books are also “literary”.  To try and illustrate this and provoke some thought, I list below three authors that I find very funny.  I personally think they are “literary” but others may disagree:

1.         Jasper Fforde.  Both the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crimes series are funny.  They are also very clever.  To be fair, some of the plotting doesn’t stand up to a good prodding and some of the internal logic is weak but they are nicely written and they also deal with interesting issues of identity, time and space and the nature of literature.  But they are set in an alternative reality.  They verge on being genre fiction.  Are they “literary”?  I think so but many wouldn’t.  If you have read him, what do you think?

2.         Roald Dahl. Forget his children’s books.  They are funny and clever and classics but they don’t have a bearing on this discussion. Instead, I present you with My Uncle Oswald.  If you haven’t read this yet, for the love of God (or Richard Dawkins or whoever else you choose to revere) get hold of a copy quickly.  In this book, the title character discovers the most powerful aphrodisiac in the world and, with the aid of a female friend, makes his fortune by stealing the semen of Europe’s artistic and social elite and selling it to women.  Is it “literary”?  I’m not too sure but do think it is very well written.

3.         Kingsley Amis.  Lucky Jim, the story of provincial university lecturer Jim Dixon, is the book that made his name in the ‘60s.  It is very funny and biting.  Is it “literary”?  Definitely.  But is there really that much of a difference between this and the others?

Book Blogger Hop
Turning to the Book Blogger Hop, this week’s question is:

“Who’s your all-time favourite book villain?”

So many too choose from.  Sauron?  Voldemort? Bill Sykes? Cardinal Richelieu?  Iago?  Blofeld?  Moriarty?  Bertie’s Aunt Agatha?  Steerpike?

It’s an almost impossible task to select one prime nasty.  One of the hallmarks of much good writing is that the villains are usually not pure black archetypes of evil.  There is usually some grey about them, some hint that there badness is not absolute.  Often their counterpoint hero is not totally good either and, in some extreme cases, it can even be difficult to spot who wears the white hat and who wears the black.  I can’t help thinking that for this particular accolade, we are looking for someone really dreadful, a monstrous character who thoroughly deserves a good hissing.  And so, please give up some boos for:

Cthulhu from the Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft.  He’s the high priest of the Great Old Ones.  He’s a cosmic presence.  He’s the focus of doomsday cults.  A statue of him is described as having "represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind."

To top it all, he is coming to eat the world’s soul.  Not nice.  Not nice at all.  In fact, I bet Voldemort would pee his pants at the mere sight of Cthulhu.

Honorable mentions are due to Count Dracula, Milton’s Satan and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.


writer girl said...

wow!!!I really enjoyed your answer.
you have a lovely blog here, I became a follower and look forward to reading your next posts.
here's my hop
I would be honoured if you would visit me.

Falaise said...

Alexandra - thanks very much for the comment. I have just visited your blog and think that your background in particular is lovely.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Of course. You are exactly right. People equate Literary with Serious. That's why Serious always is respected (art, movies, lit) and Funny is derided.

Anonymous said...

You are a brave man to combine these two very distinct hops! Color me impressed. Also, is there anywhere on your blog where you keep track of how many books you have left to read? I was just thinking that really must make you want to read a little slower. I like that you were brave enough to combine the hops and I like the concept of your blog. Consider me a follower.

Howard Sherman said...

kids are telling me they did not receive these links. Perhaps your email
went to their spam folders. Please re-send the emails and this time copy me
on the email.

steve shilstone said...

Funny? Stella Gibbons' COLD COMFORT FARM is at the top of my 'funny' list.
Villain? Steerforth in DAVID COPPERFIELD (Do you think Peake named Steerpike in honor of Steerforth?)

Alison Can Read said...

Hopping through. I think of Wodehouse as a good example of humorous literary novels.
My Hop

Sakura Sandra said...

Hey there, I just followed you for FF/Blog Hop and I'd really appreciate it if you stopped by my blog to follow me as well!

I'm a new blogger (less than two weeks) so I'd really appreciate any other new followers as well! Thanks. (^_^)

Jen said...

Interesting answers! I chose Vandemar and Croup as my villains, from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

I liked reading what you had to say about humor in literary fiction. I don't participate in that hop, but it's been interesting to read the answers on the blogs that do.

Have a great weekend!

@parridhlantern said...

great choices, to which I add Rabalais, Pynchon, Calvino.

Jon said...

Stopping by from the Hop. I'm inspired by your target goal of reading the "musts". What are you going to do for the other 1505 books?
I believe I'm going to have to follow you, just to keep tabs on what you're reading. Should be most informative.
The Steel Bookshelf

Anonymous said...

Tip of the hat to your choice of villain. I love your speculation on Voldemort's reaction to facing a true heavyweight!


Falaise said...

Deb - Thanks for the comment.

Bookbelle - Thanks for stopping by. Whenever I post about a specific book, there is a number at the beginning of the title showing how many I've got left. It actually makes me want to read more quickly so I can get a weird satisfaction from outliving the number! Thanks for following also.

Steve - interesting point on Steerforth/Steerpike. I have absolutely no idea.

Alison - I totally agree but I rave about Wodehouse far too much so didn't want to bash on about him again.

Sandra - Thanks for stopping by. I will make a point to visit your blog soon.

Falaise said...

Jo - I've heard a lot about Neil Gaiman on blogs but have only ever read Good Omens which he did with Terry Pratchett. I must try and read some of his solo stuff.

Parrish Lantern. Good suggestions, although Pynchon is giving me a bit of a headache at the moment!

Jon - the others will be a mix of general fiction, history, politics, food, sport and books bout books. Thanks for following - I really appreciate it.

Jay - thanks for the comment. I'm afraid Voldemort has never really caught my imagination as a really bad guy.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Fforde and Dahl are too of my favorite authors and I agree, both are literary and hilarious.

Sarah M said...

Hopping in and following. I think your goal to read the 1001 Book list is great. I thought about trying it, but I'm not sure I want to read that many older books. I will readily admit I prefer modern books.

I listened to Jasper Fforde's newest book Shades of Grey on audiobook. It was humorous and enjoyable. I am currently listening to The Eyre Affair, but I'm stil undecided so far.