Friday, November 03, 2006

A modern classic next time?

I've been tagged by Danielle for the next Slaves selection, but before I throw out a few titles for the group's consideration, I wanted to say that I hope we can modify our schedule and put off discussion until late January instead of at the end of December. That would give us all time to make some headway with our own out-of-control reading lists between now and the end of the year, and maybe, possibly some of our errant members or others who'd like to read along with us for the first time will resolve to take part if they have a bit more time to plan for it.

At any rate, there are three books I'd enjoy reading with the group: Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles; L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between; and Elspeth Huxley's The Flame Trees of Thika. I assume we're all considering taking part in the Classics Challenge in January and February, and any of these titles count would count toward that as a modern classic.



The Street of Crocodiles is a novella by a Polish writer who was killed by the Nazis during WWII. If you're a fan of Calvino or Garcia Marquez, if you like your stories Kafkaesque, if you're in the mood for something poetic and odd, then this appears to be your baby. I've wanted to read it since Nicole Krauss referenced it in The History of Love last year.

First paragraph:

In July my father went to take the waters and left me, with my mother and elder brother, a prey to the blinding white heat of the summer days. Dizzy with light, we dipped into that enormous book of holidays, its pages blazing with sunshine and scented with the sweet melting pulp of golden pears.


The prologue to The Go-Between begins with a line I'm sure you've heard before: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

An old man looks back half a century to the adolescent summer that changed the course of his life. Proustian memories triggered by the unearthing of an old diary. The loss of innocence at the height of Empire. An Ian McEwan plot and an Evelyn Waugh setting. The Heinemann Foundation Prize of the Royal Society of Literature and an internationally successful film.

'Has the twentieth century,' I should ask, 'done so much better than I have? When you leave this room, which I admit is dull and cheerless, and take the last bus to your home in the past, if you haven't missed it--ask yourself whether you found everything so radiant as you imagined it. Ask yourself whether it has fulfilled your hopes. You were vanquished, Colston, you were vanquished, and so was your century, your precious century that you hoped so much of.'

Elspeth Huxley's family moved to Kenya when she was six to start a coffee plantation.

We were going to Thika, a name on a map where two rivers joined. Thika in those days--the year was 1913--was a favorite camp for big-game hunters and beyond it there was only bush and plain. If you went on long enough you would come to mountains and forests no one had mapped and tribes whose languages no one could understand. We were not going as far as that, only two days' journey in the ox-cart to a bit of El Dorado my father had been fortunate enough to buy in the bar of the Norfolk hotel from a man wearing an Old Etonian tie.

Have any of you already read this memoir? I can't remember. I read Huxley's novel Red Strangers a couple years back and loved it.

Leave your preferences in comments.

10 comments:

Stefanie said...

I'm all for moving the discussion date to the end of January.

And all three books sound so good. But I cast my vote for The Street of Crocodiles.

Dorothy W. said...

I agree with moving the date to January -- no need to interfere with Christmas/New Years. And I'd be perfectly happy with any of the three -- I'm thrilled that you picked three I haven't heard of before. I'm bound to read something new. I'll vote for The Go-Between.

Danielle said...

Great choices!! I would be happy with any of them, but at the moment The Go Between appeals to me most! In any case, all three are now going on my list. And I have no problem with holding off until January for discussion!! I am definitely one of those people trying to catch up on my reading!!

Kate S. said...

As one of the recently delinquent members of the group, scheduling the discussion for the end of January sounds good to me. I read The Island of Dr. Moreau in time for the deadline but somehow never got round to posting about it. With Indiana, I only got as far as checking it out of the library and haven't yet read so much as a page of it. Hopefully with an end of January deadline for the next one, I can organize myself properly to become once again a member in good standing!

All three of the possibilities sound tantalizing. I'm most tempted by The Go-Between. But then The Street of Crocodiles would expand my reading horizons further as it seems less like the sort of thing I usually read. As for The Flame Trees of Thika, I like the novelty of a memoir as the focus for our discussion given that all of the Slaves of Golconda selections have been fiction so far. All of which is to say that I'm indecisive, and I'd be happy to read any one of the three!

Isabella said...

I don't know if my vote as a non-Slave counts? But I would vote for Schulz. And I guarantee, if you choose Schulz I'll read along and participate.

Quillhill said...

Sorry to everyone for my prolonged absence. My time was absolutely consumed with other responsibilities, and because I didn't already own Indiana, I forgot to get it, and thus forgot all about the whole thing until your comments about it starting appearing in my email.

Anyway, as a fan of Garcia Marquez and Calvino, I like the prospect of The Street of Crocodiles. And January sounds like a wise decision.

I do have a question: I had never heard of any of these titles or authors--so what are the criteria for being labeled a modern classic?

snailtrail said...

I vote for Street of Crocodiles.

sfp said...

Hey Jeff! Glad to see you back. And new readers are most definitely welcomed.

Maybe it's just a marketing ploy by Penguin, but my copies are all labeled "twentieth-century classics."

Oh, and I forgot to mention earlier, but the new Francine Prose has the Hartley listed as a book to be read immediately.

So it's 4 votes for Schulz and 2 for Hartley at this point (not counting Kate or myself, who like the idea of all three).

I'll leave the voting open till next Friday in case others are interested and announce the winner then.

iliana said...

Another delinquent member here. All three books sound interesting but I'll go with The Street of Crocodiles.

CitronYella said...

My (non-member) vote is for The Go-Between.