This Week in Pretentious Lists

For folks who missed the point the first time around…

Original Story: The Huffington Post

It’s one thing to personally outgrow a book or its themes, like when you go through a Bukowski phase or when the national security threats of a Tom Clancy novel start to seem quaint. But books that fall flat because you’re no longer an uncomfortable, squirming teenager? I don’t think so. You can outgrow the need to relate to a story, if indeed that’s why you were captivated by a book in the first place (which would probably not explain the draw of, say, Nabokov). But unless we’re talking trendy trash like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s pretty tough to argue that we’ve collectively outgrown the classic books on this list.

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand, hardly falls flat in 2011, the Year of our Horde. The fact that AOL is buying the Huffington Post is indicative of our increasing tendency toward homogenization as a culture. Architecture aside (though I have to wonder if this author has ever seen a McMansion), there are individual urges versus collective tendencies galore in that book. Flat? No way. But neither is Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, just because you yourself have become a superficial tool.

And I’ll bet Tom Wolfe would agree: Why isn’t Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas among these titles? Readers discovering that book at age 15 or 16 didn’t usually come away desperate to prove their drug ingestion endurance, but instead emerged with a heightened ability for self-expression. The book showed young, aspiring writers that they could blaspheme publishing’s many rules, that they could articulate naughty and abominable visions and celebrate exaggeration. It’s hardly a scholarly marvel, but it was a grammatical roller coaster ride for young lovers of words, whose pursuit was otherwise (as in my case) filtered through bullying Catholic school nuns and their monochrome chalkboards. Sadly, it does fit into the category of falling flat as well; Thompson’s acuity suffered because of drugs and alcohol and because suicide undercut his writing’s subversive permanence. Either way, it’s certainly more deserving than most of the works on this list.

P.S. I can’t help but wonder if any of these books would’ve been spared if they’d been autographed and worth a few bucks more to the snob claiming they’ve fallen “flat.”

One thought on “This Week in Pretentious Lists

  1. Year of our Horde. Hah!
    One quibble, tho: I think if Thompson’s work was undercut by anything, it’s not the fact that he decided when to check out…

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