For another layer of reply insets:
> >2. ...a major achievement by the author. The huge effort and care
> >that went into this work is obvious. Clearly the author was both
> >knowledgable and intelligent as well as dedicated and full of
>I actually added this to address an item on your list, Michaela:
> >WAR AND PEACE, Leo Tolstoy. I didn't "love" the book a great deal,
> >but it's such an immense accomplishment that I can't help but honor
> >the achievement.
But you can define "immense accomplishment" in terms of the other elements.
W&P is a technical masterpiece, juggling huge numbers of characters without
losing a beat and holding interest in all of them (in a way which I think,
incidentally, that Exiles occasionally fails). The structure is (arguably;
some people dislike the fusion of history and personal drama) clean and
close to flawless, and Tolstoy's own technique is beautiful and innovative.
There is a clear message with a carefully developed argument born out
precisely by the events. It's entertaining and at times enthralling. Its
achievements fulfill the other qualities on the list without necessitating
the redundant 2.
>Again from Michaela:
> >It's Dostoevsky's firm
> >belief that any kind of morality is impossible unless one is Eastern
> >Orthodox (because no other religion is true, and outside
> >religion--as we're discussed--all morality is relative).
> >Right, back to your qualifications. Anyway, does the author's
> >message have to make sense at all, or can merely the manner in which
> >he thinks about the issue make it worthwhile?
>This is the one thing that suggest that I might not like _TBK_. I
>may find his arguments interesting, but since I think it's quite
>likely that all morality is in fact relative, I'll keep getting stuck
>on the fact that he's basing his points on the false premise.
Which premise? That no other religion is true? Of course that's irritating,
but thankfully BK contains no extended rants against Western Christianity
like Writer's Diary does. What is interesting is that he does grasp that
outside religion all morality is relative; he merely may be incorrect on
what people might do in such a situation.
The arguments that I thought you might find interesting are not his own.
They are the words which come out of the mouths of his famous antihero, Ivan
Karamazov. They are the idea which he is attempting to refute indirectly
with this book. And even if you don't agree with them--as I do not--I would
be quite surprised if you don't find them fascinating. That's where I got
the quote I used earlier with regard to my original moral issue. Because
even if what Dostoevsky believed is now virtually defunct, he was not a
foolish person nor a blind one, and the manner in which he discusses
virtually all ideas and questions (before he comes out with his own opinion)
is interesting, valid, and immortal.
> >Not to say that books that are
> >entertaining were not hard work to create, but I don't agree with
> >saying a book is great because it was a major achievement unless it
> >also does its job of entertaining.
> >Is entertaining the job of a book?
>Absolutely! To entertain and to educate, with an emphasis on
>entertaining for fiction and an emphasis on educating for
>non-fiction. Just my opinion, of course.
Is "entertaining" the word you want to use? Because (to me, at least), that
word implies sitting back with a smile on your face and not really thinking
about what you're reading. The idea I'm more interested in is for a book to
be absorbing, and not merely an intellectual exercise. It should be
something that you *enjoy* reading, for whatever reason: for the great
tragedy (not so entertaining) or the humerous moments (entertaining).
> >What's the difference between "greatness to you" and "favorite"?
> >How, in your opinion, does the best of Shakespeare not fulfill your
> >six qualities?
>First point - no difference. That is my main issue with your making
>two lists in the first place. I am trying to suggest that if we can
>at least in principle agree on a set of things that make a book
>great, then why are those not also the things that make a book your
>favorite? If you are using different criteria for your two lists,
>what is the difference?
>Second point - good question, and I don't want to duck it, but maybe
>I'll go back and re-read _Hamlet_ first. However, I hope it wouldn't
>be unfair to put the burden back on you: You are the one who
>included _Hamlet_ on your top ten; so what is it that makes it
>deserving of that honor, when others, such as May's books, or
>_Ender's Game_, make it to your favorites list but not your
I asked the "first point" question only because you used the phrase
"greatness to you" at one point to explain something you were saying, and I
definitely thought that there was no difference. The point of "greatness" is
that it's universal, that there are certain criteria which are generally
agreed on. Favorites are whimsical and born in the illogic of unknown
feelings (I suspect that the young Marc would have tried very hard not to
like any book which was not enshrined as a classic (though that may not have
been rebellious enough for him)!)
Shakespeare revolutionized the English language, putting words together in
ways that had never been done before and have been often done since. All his
plays are great stories and absorbing to watch or read, while coherent large
ideas and messages are contained as well.
Here is why Ender's Game and May's books aren't "great": They fail to add
anything to the techniques of writing or of thinking or what is thought.
They're entertaining, true, but the reason why they're favorites to me has
more to do with particular ways aspects of the books happened to strike me
than something in them as a whole. The Ender's Game saga is flawed because
of the lengths to which Card went to pull out a happy ending, which causes
me to be deeply mistrustful of all of the ideas contained within the books.
I've already talked about May's works' structure; I'll add that at times the
characters have failed to rise above their archetypes to gain the complexity
that would make them more than just postmodern mythology.
> >I don't consider them great literature. I simply can't, because even
> >though there are ideas floating about, even though these may be her
> >great achievement--I personally have seen little in the prose to be
> >stunned by, and I have never been able to get out of the opinion
> >that the Exiles is structurally an absurd, diffuse mess at some
> >points (what's up with all the characters who would become important
> >by the end--Aiken, Elizabeth--dropping out of the first book
> >completely, and one who is at least as important--Marc--not showing
> >up until the third? To me, there were too many minor storylines that
> >were unnecessary.)
>...but forgive me if this seems a little like the "undefinable"
>qualities you mention wanting to avoid. I would say that those minor
>storylines are not unnecessary as far as fulfilling my all-important
>element four - entertaining the reader. And although Marc is of
>course important, he doesn't become important until he shows up, so
>what would be the point of dropping hints in the first book about him
>hanging around in Ocala?
People have mentioned the numerous hints already, and I've just posted about
that myself, but here we see one of the problems with placing "entertaining
the reader" as the most important quality. What entertains people is much,
much more subjective than any of the other qualities. A depressingly large
number of people appear to be "entertained" by "American Pie 2" this summer.
I was much more "entertained" by "Apocalypse Now Redux," and I find
Shakespeares tragedies more "entertaining" than his comedies.
I thought the numerous subplots--which I found difficult to keep track of, a
possible sign that they were problematic, because the same thing didn't
happen with W&P--were not entertaining at all. They distracted me from what
was most absorbing and were at times confusing.
Are you saying that criticizing the prose and the structure are
"indefinable" areas? They are not. They fall under your categories, or at
least I thought they did. They are the stuff as great fiction is made of,
and hardly indefinite.
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