Stopwatch Novels.

Sometimes, when I’m lying awake at night, I play a parlor game (in the parlor of my sleepless brain) that consists of trying to list the novels an average English-speaking reader of fiction (say, one who reads book reviews and cares about who gets the Nobel — not a specialist) would name if you held up a stopwatch and said “You have thirty seconds to name [name of nation] novels: go!” For French novels it might be Gargantua and Pantagruel (though the person being quizzed might simply say “Rabelais”), Dangerous Liaisons (too recherché?), Madame Bovary, Les Misérables, In Search of Lost Time (probably “Proust”), and maybe Nausea (is Sartre still on the tip of the average reader’s tongue?); for German, The Sorrows of Young Werther (?), Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain, All Quiet on The Western Front (?), Berlin Alexanderplatz (?), and The Tin Drum; for English, Tom Jones, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Heart of Darkness, and Mrs Dalloway (while everyone agrees that Austen, Dickens, and Hardy are great, they wrote too many novels for any single one to come to everyone’s mind). For Russian, I’d say the obvious picks are Fathers and Sons, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Brothers Karamazov. Of course, a lot of people would name Doctor Zhivago, but I’m ruling that hors concours because they are thinking of the Nobel scandal and/or the movie, not of the novel itself. (You may say I am ruling it out because I thought it was lousy, and I won’t argue.) Of course, the lists would be different for non-English-speakers, who grew up with different mental maps of world literature, and it would be interesting to compare.

At any rate, all this is a prologue to saying that I have finally started The Brothers Karamazov, which has been the goal of my years-long march through Russian literature (2012: “I suddenly decided to reverse course and go back to the beginning of modern Russian literature…. There were several motives coalescing in this decision, but probably the most basic was a desire to get to Dostoevsky sooner rather than later”). I am taking it slow and enjoying it thoroughly (people forget how funny Dostoevsky can be), and I will doubtless be posting about it over the next couple of months. I stand at the shore of the Black Sea and cry “Таласса! Таласса!”

Comments

  1. Holy crap, did I get here first? I can’t do the italics or I’ll be here all night.

    Kafka (The Trial), Patrick Süskind (Das Parfum). Does Christopher Isherwood count as German? (I Am A Camera), Fontane (Effi Briest).

    Is this me in the quiz? Because as well as Mrs Dalloway if it’s a woman, they’ll also to have A Room of One’s Own and The Bell Jar. Also Howards End (goddammit, Jim gave me a TV version of that last Christmas, bless him). Every small schoolboy in England has read Lady Chatterley but your person who reads book reviews has also read Sons & Lovers. What about Americans: the whale guy I suppose, definitely Saul Bellow ( Henderson, Herzog or Mr Sammler). What about the elephant in the room, Ulysses? At Swim-Two-Birds? Nah, but maybe The Third Policeman.

    And then everybody’s read Sult, Hunger by Knut Hamsun as well as something by Jo Nesbo and, except for Language, everyone who reads book reviews has read Min Kamp by Karl Ove Knausgård.

    Can’t forget Is This A Man by Primo Levi and The Leopard but I’ll leave French & Russians for someone else.

  2. Holy crap, how could I forget The Trial?

  3. At a recent performance of Christopher Hampton’s Dangerous Liaisons, the highly educated but non-specialist people I talked to did not know the play was based on a novel. They knew the play preceded various film versions.

    So, an anecdote against putting the Laclos novel on that list. Replace it with Candide, maybe. I was assigned that in Western Civ long ago.

  4. May I narcissistically inquire as to your Hebrew picks?

    (Also, I found myself agreeing 100% with your Russian, ~85% with the German and with 60% of your French, but I went all Jules-Vernie and such).

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    For Japanese, this average English reader would probably come up with the Genji, The Makioka Sisters (maybe), The Sea of Fertility and (unworthily) some Haruki Murakami.

    (I enjoy HM, but can’t really shake off the feeling that I’m basically reading very superior airport novels.)

    Oh, and probably Snow Country (just on the 29th second, most likely.)

  6. I don’t think this works for naming novels in one’s native language. Most people are going to be able to name quite a few novels that they have read, which may or may not be of any particular literary merit. On the other hand, the number of people who read novels in foreign languages is very small (I personally tried reading a couple novels in German when I was younger, but I found I did not enjoy it and got more out of reading them in translation), so a quiz on foreign-language works is probably fine, and people will name such books mostly based on their reputations.

    If I were asked to name off British novels, I would probably take the first author of that nationality that came to mind (doing this right now as an experiment, I got John Christopher) and name off as many of their books as I could (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, The Pool of Fire, When the Tripods Came, The Prince in Waiting, Beyond the Burning Lands, The Sword of the Spirits, The Guardians, The Lotus Caves, The Death of Grass, Empty World, and Wild Jack). The time limit would have be a lot longer than thirty seconds before I would get to Middlemarch, even though I own it.

  7. January First-of-May says:

    Not being much of an average English-speaking reader, I’m probably ineligible for the quiz (certainly not for English or Russian, at least), but I agree with Yuval that Jules Verne is much more likely to come up for French than Rabelais.
    (Fun fact: as I write this, Gargantua and Pantagruel still has yet to receive a TV Tropes article.)

    As far as Hebrew goes, I’d probably draw a blank, and/or name some Jewish authors who did not actually write in Hebrew, and/or did not write novels (Sholom Aleichem, Linor Goralik).

    Japanese: Haruki Murakami (if I could think of any specific novel name offhand), Tale of Genji, then probably a blank for a while and/or a bunch of random web novels.

    Norwegian: The Magic Chalk, Jon and Sofus, (after some thought) People and Robbers from Cardamon, then I’d be scrambling at “wait, was this guy Norwegian or Swedish?” for a while – probably still in the “books for children” genre.

    Czech (because why not): Karel Čapek (various), The Good Soldier Švejk… um, wait, Stanislaw Lem was Polish, right? Not sure what else.

    Not actually sure about French and German; half suspecting that for French I’d just be listing Jules Verne novels for the entire 30 seconds.

  8. For French, don’t forget Monte Cristo and the Musketeers – both, like Verne’s works, probably fall into the children’s / young adult categories nowadays, but they certainly are among the French novels most foreigners know. But perhaps the book review reader may find them not sufficiently sophisticated to mention them…
    For German, looking at how often it showed up on the reading lists in different “German literature” classes at English-language schools and universities my daughter attended, I would add Der Vorleser (“The Reader”). What about Grass or Böll? Or has their time in the international limelight already passed?

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    Why “[name of nation]” rather than “[name of language]”? Which authors-who-wrote-in-French are “actually” Belgian and which authors-who-wrote-in-German are “actually” Austrian and etc. is not one of those things one naturally remembers (if indeed one ever knew it) with a stopwatch running. You’re perhaps gonna tell me that Ulysses doesn’t count because it’s an “Irish novel” not an “English novel,” but who thinks of “Treasure Island” as “not an English novel because it’s actually a Scottish novel”?

    Also, who now thinks of “Tom Jones” as the name of a novel rather than the name of that guy who sang “It’s Not Unusual.” And come to think of it the singer’s a Welshman not an Englishman, innit?

  10. @J.W. Brewer: And is Joseph Conrad “actually” Polish?

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    But Welsh singers aside if you asked me to start naming well-known 18th-century novels by English authors and then started the stopwatch, I’m pretty sure I’d hit at a minimum Tristam Shandy, Pamela, and Moll Flanders (the Lady Chatterley of its epoch?) before getting to Fielding. And maybe others. Is Gulliver’s Travels a novel? If so is it an English one or an Irish one, if those are deemed mutually exclusive? I’d probably be stuck on that when I ran out of time.

  12. Yes, I meant to say something about the whole problem of defining Englishness (Joyce? James?) but decided it was too complicated.

  13. @J.W. Brewer: You would get to Moll Flanders before Robinson Crusoe?

  14. For French novels The Stranger has to be top 5, at least in my age group. I would also guess more “average” readers would know Candide than would know Rabelais.

    I also think Pride and Prejudice would do well among English novels and a lot of people might say Frankenstein. Also Harry Potter and Tolkien would probably also come to most people’s lips.

  15. everybody’s read Sult, Hunger by Knut Hamsun

    Or, nobody has read it, but might know it from Knausgård.

  16. J.W. Brewer says:

    @Brett, well R Crusoe is early enough that as with Gull Travs I might get sidetracked by the is-it-really-a-novel issue and uncertainty like that is fatal in this context because of the downside of getting sidetracked when the stopwatch is running. Also I may have had Moll Flanders and Fanny Hill conflated or muddled in my head!

  17. Spanish language novels probably dominate in the minds of most American “average” readers. Hundred Years of Solitude, Like water for Chocolate, various Varga Llosa novels and maybe even Don Quixote would probably make the cut.

    I am probably more skeptical than most commenters here about the ability of the “average” English speaking reader under 50 to name a foreign language novel older than maybe 150 years old. A lot of millennials and Gen Z refuse to even watch black and white movies.Would make a good parlor game.

    But on the bright side, a lot of young people would name Master and Margarita as a Russian novel. It is far better known now than when I was in college.

  18. @J.W. Brewer: You probably were indeed thinking of Fanny Hill, because Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe are (having been written by the same author, just three years apart) structured the same way. And there are no real grounds to doubt either of them as novels.

  19. A good way to get some additional data for which novels are seen as “the core canon” of various countries (from the US perspective, at least) might be to go through high school quiz bowl questions and/or Jeopardy! “answers”.

    In my experience there is a pretty small core set of trivia question answers out there which seems to change little over time and consists of a relatively small number of discrete facts (Einstein’s Theory, Munch’s “The Scream”, whence Napoleon was exiled, the former name of Tokyo, etc.).

    I know from personal experience that Suskind’s “Parfum” and Kawabata’s “Snow Country” come up constantly in high school trivia competitions, for example. No idea why, but they do.

  20. About defining Englishness (languagehat, September 17, 10:23 PM), consider the geographies of the Norton Anthology Unidentical Twins. Henry James, who lived for most of his life in England and died a British subject, is only in NortAnthAmLit, while W. H. Auden, who lived for most of his life in the United States and died an American citizen, is only in NortAnthEngLit. There are good and obvious editorial reasons for both of those assignments, and likewise for the editorial decision to bridge the Atlantic and anchor T. S. Eliot on both sides. But yes: which language creatures are more bound by their creator’s wordy love to Vladimir Nabokov — Humbert Humbert, who lectures his American wife about the superiority of “je viens de” to “I have just,” or Lolita?

  21. I took ‘for English novels’ to mean ‘for English-language novels’ (the same criterion as for ‘The Trial’ and German, obviously). Who cares about what passport these people held. It’s not the Olympics and citizenship is a terrible way to reclassify literature, but it’s moot in Auden’s case because he never gave up his British only added American (I don’t know where you get ‘Auden spent most of his life in the United States’ from. His life was nearly half over when he moved there and he only lived full-time in the US from ’39-48, thereafter spending winters, of all things, in NY and the rest of his time in Europe).

    everybody’s read Sult, Hunger by Knut Hamsun
    Or, nobody has read it, but might know it from Knausgård.
    Right, we’re looking for the most familiar novels. The same with Flann O’Brien; it was midnight, I’d had three glasses of wine.

    A lot of Britishers read Brideshead Revisited after it was on the television, the same with Smiley’s People. Any woman contestant would have many more women writers, so: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Group, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple, Beloved…
    The Maltese Falcon. The Code of the Woosters. Sherlock Holmes – Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie ought to be in there somewhere, but they aren’t one-novel writers.

  22. The core canon, that’s what this is about? War & Peace, sure, but also The Big Sleep, The Talented Mr Ripley, Sophie’s Choice, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse Five.

  23. Stu Clayton says:

    They’re all loose canon, unpredictable and thus unreliable.

  24. I think it’s less core cannon than popular consciousness. Could make a good game for slow dinner parties.

  25. But on the bright side, a lot of young people would name Master and Margarita as a Russian novel. It is far better known now than when I was in college.

    Argh, how could I forget that one? Definitely would make the cut.

    I think it’s less core cannon than popular consciousness.

    Exactly.

  26. Shoulda looked it up. Like discreet, no matter what I do, I can never remember (see also: is the top one systolic or diastolic?).

    I think it’s an excellent way to get to sleep, as Language suggests. Counting sheep, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.

  27. Yes, and (re the nation/language issue) everyone gets to make up their own rules!

  28. A few thoughts in no particular order:

    Contra AJP I think literature in English is extremely regional and does not form a coherent whole. Speaking as a Canadian, CanLit has a very distinct aesthetic, set of thematic preoccupations, and a close connection to federal government funding which relieves market pressure and encourages experimentation (and of course it exists in two langauges though the cross communication is nearly non existent) Even more importantly, the trend has been to diversify the voices in CanLit, which until appallingly receently was dominated by white Anglos – nowadays, however, even a casual glance at recent GIller Prize nominees and winners makes it clear that the great majority of them are immigrants themselves or children of recent immigrants. In other words the lit world is starting to reflect the society at large.

    Ah important stop in this was excizing certain literature from high schools – middlebrow mediocrities like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby, and replacing them with more contemporary works that allow students to engage in the world as it is around them, not as it was half a century ago in another country. THere’s no doubt in my mind that post-colonial works like THings fall apart and Wide Sargasso Sea are a much more valuable learning tool when it comes to racism and prejudice, and I’m happy our school board has made those changes.

    THe flip side of that emphasis on pluralism is that “The Great Canadian Novel” isn’t a trope , let alone the deliberate goal of particular authors (e.g like Franzen in the US). It’s not that there’s a lack of ambition; but it doesn’ take the form of intergenerational epic novel (the idealtyp of sucha novel),, favoring other forms. (as an aside, I’m so glad we don’t have a Franzen, who’s best known to me as a guy whose attempt to convey Midwestern “flavor” was to go on for pages about an ugly recliner in the living room beloved by the family patriarch, a joke so hoary that even Frasier eventually gave iti up)

    It’s kind of perfect, then, that our best writer was a short story writer – in my mind undoubtedly the only real peer of Chekhov in that unforgiving format. The very man who, I also noticed, you left out fo the Russian canon. I undeerstood you to be saying this is the popular percepion (at least among the reading public) but it’s still depressing that a novel that devotes half its pages to dilettantish Reddit-level screeds about Panslavismn and stuff is a classic

    (I will also note that the works mentnioned above reminded me of buying Rolling Stone as a teenager for the top 100 rock albums of all time only to find the top 10 comprised 6 beatles albums, 2 stones, and 2 beach boys or whatever, with virtually nothing from the then-current decade in the top 100. It’s literally nothing more than hidebound tradition (with a healthy dollop of nostalgia). Classics, no matter how revered they are, are just books like any other and ought to be approached critically like any other. The idea that Russian literature peaked in the late 19th century is so self evidently ridiculous; hell if you wanna read a sprawling historical war novel, William Vollmann’s Europe Centreal is more cleverly structured, stylistically superior, and based on actualy damn historical reseasrch and not the blue sky nationaist fantasies of idle nobility.

    What I’ve been driving at is that when you’re a country as young as Canada, and more to the point one who as a matter of government policy fosters a muliticultural society, the concept of a national novel just doesn’t fit. and if you insisted on naming a few, they’re virtually all be books published after 1990 – In the skin of a Lion, Life of Pi, the Book of Negroes, probably Handmaid’s Tale thanks to its resurgence. And really only one of those is about Canada in any meaningful way.

  29. A lot of millennials and Gen Z refuse to even watch black and white movies.

    Yes, what’s up with that? The oldest known color film is 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, which was recently rediscovered and shown; the coloring was done by hand-dyeing every frame of every copy. (All known color films before The Wizard of Oz, many now lost.) So all of us have grown up in a world in which some movies are color and some are black and white. Is it really the coloring, or is it the crude special effects, the crude (in another sense) dialogue, and the crude (in a third sense) humor?

  30. “A lot of millennials and Gen Z refuse to even watch black and white movies.” Is there any truth to this, or just another catchy factoid-myth about millennials? All but the most established classics fade gradually from popular currency, sure, as in every generation, but I don’t think an aversion to black-and-white is any part of that. I’d wager more millennials have seen Some Like it Hot than Ben Hur.

  31. nemanja: Contra AJP I think literature in English is extremely regional and does not form a coherent whole.

    Oh, I agree. I never said it wasn’t regional, but that’s more about Texas isn’t in Yorkshire and you can tell by the accent. Looking at passports is the job of officials who have nothing to do with art or literature (with any luck).

    Speaking as a Canadian,
    Canada (also New Zealand and Norway, where I live) is a special case. I support anything Canada can do to avoid being culturally subsumed. Some of the USA’s greatest talent (Gehry, Bellow, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, kd Lang, Neil Young, Jim Carrey, Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd) is Canadian but you’d never hear it from Americans. Even Wyndham Lewis was Canadian (I hate him). Now, even if they share a passport, how you classify that lot plus Michael Bublé, Nelly Furtado, Oscar Peterson, Celine Dion, Arthur Erickson, Justin Bieber, McGarrigles, Grimes & Ryan Gosling as one culture is beyond me but Canadians have brilliant and subtle minds and I expect they’ll manage it. The Band. Ok, I made up Woody Allen. He grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts.
    (I forgot Mordecai Richler.)

  32. J.W. Brewer says:

    In terms of “everyone setting their own rules” re what counts as “English” or what have you, the problem is that this is essentially a Family Feud set-up. You’re trying to guess the most popular answers given to the question by the proverbial hundred people surveyed by the game-show staff. So if the scope of the question is ambiguous you have to guess how it’s most likely to have been interpreted by the Teeming Masses (or the vaguely-defined elite subset thereof hat is thinking of).* Which makes it not a particularly enjoyable alternative to sheep-counting imho.

    *I suspect that many of even hat’s elite respondents may under time pressure first think of most-commonly-assigned-in-school-in-their-generation answers and only if given extra time will think of titles higher-brow than that.

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    To AJP’s point, back in the day and maybe even through the present Canadian radio stations had to meet “Canadian Content” quotas for a certain percentage of the music they played. The rules for what qualified as CanCon were complex but as I understand it were specifically designed to exclude the ability to count toward the quota any recordings by the Neil Youngs and Joni Mitchells of the world who had flounced off to California and not returned, regardless of what passports they might bear. I know that at one point a radio station could get half-credit for playing a foreign artist’s cover version of a song by a qualifying-as-Canadian songwriter (I guess because it would generate royalties that Revenue Canada would then get a piece of?), which by the 1980’s created a certain incentive for third-tier European metal bands to do lame versions of old Guess Who numbers.

    One could presumably apply a similar analysis to creators or performers in non-musical lines of work.

  34. middlebrow mediocrities like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby

    I wish people didn’t feel the need to lift X up by putting Y down. The Great Gatsby is a great novel; I know it’s overexposed and I’m sorry if you had it rammed down your throat in high school (that ruined Dickens and Hardy for me), but that doesn’t change its esthetic value.

    It’s kind of perfect, then, that our best writer was a short story writer – in my mind undoubtedly the only real peer of Chekhov in that unforgiving format. The very man who, I also noticed, you left out fo the Russian canon. I undeerstood you to be saying this is the popular percepion (at least among the reading public) but it’s still depressing that a novel that devotes half its pages to dilettantish Reddit-level screeds about Panslavismn and stuff is a classic

    WTF? In the first place, I was explicitly talking about novels (note the post title), and Chekhov didn’t write novels. In the second place, I’m not sure which “novel that devotes half its pages to dilettantish Reddit-level screeds about Panslavismn and stuff” you’re talking about, but all the Russian novels I mentioned (apart, of course, from Zhivago) are among the greatest in world literature; if you’re unable to get past the Panslavism, that’s your loss. To quote Randall Jarrell’s famous definition, “The novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.”

  35. This is another example of how destructive nationalism is. “Our writers rule, yours suck!” Bah.

  36. Without a doubt, the person who singlehandedly put Canada in general and Toronto in particular on the map, especially with younger people, is Drake. He was our first megacelebrity who didn’t decamp to the US when he became successful, in fact he did exactly the opposite – consistently and strongly identified himself with Toronto, appearing courtside at Raptors games, coming up with “the Six” nickname, opening trendy restaurants in town etc. And especially as a person of color, he helped break the (American, mostly) image of Toronto as a lily-white place (when in reality it’s far more diverse than any US city including New York). I have great affection for most of those other entertainers but their Canadianness did not seem very deeply felt or foregrounded in their public appearances. Drake, on the other hand, made it front and center, and perhaps even more importantly set a new norm, leading people like the Weeknd and Shawn Mendes to do the same.

    Literature is a bit different though, in that the business isn’t truly global except for a few megastars like Murakami and Ferrante. I suppose Atwood is our exemplar of that, but her writing isn’t especially concerned with Canadianness as such.

    To be quite honest the last decade or so and especially since 2016, our permanent anxiety vis-a-vis the Americanas has dissipated, replaced by a mixture of revulsion and pity. Whereas once the governmnent had to intervene quite heavily to protect Canadian culture, that’s no longer a real priority.

  37. John Brewer says:

    Hey, enough of those old CanCon rock bands managed to break into the US market that we American teens knew all about the essence of Canadianness a full 40 years ago when I was in junior high school. April Wine … Triumph … Saga … all “whiter” and cheesier and less boho-urbane* than even the most Midwestern US arena rock acts of the period like Styx and REO and Kansas. And then of course there were Bob & Doug McKenzie as further exemplars of the Canadian national character. (I was probably already reading Robertson Davies novels on the side by then, but he seemed likely to be atypical of any broader demographic.)

    *I think the first widely-known-to-be-Canadian band I ever listened to (other than The Band proper) that could give off a credible boho-urbane vibe was the Cowboy Junkies. But they came along later.

  38. Well let me clarify my objections – to Kill a Mockingbird is, I suppose, a perfectly fine novel and also a hideous distortion of Jim Crow -era South, which nowadays would be slotted into the “white people solve racism” genre. Perhaps more importantly, it’s just not a very helpful or useful book for Canadian teenagers, most of whom know only the barest outlines of US History. Especially when the opportunity cost is a neglect of our own legacy of racism and violence against the FIrst Nations. I might have less issue with it if they read Beloved, which at least has the benefit of confronting the issue head on instead of serving it up in a palatable package for white readers. But fundamentally my issue is that our kids should be learning about our history. And so they are, now. But when i was In HS there was basically no mention of First Nations history, and that was only 20 years ago.

    And well I disagree about Gatsby’s main problem being one of overexposure. I would rather point to the hamfisted plotting, which to me reads a lot like an episode of Gossip Girl or a similar snow. I can see why it became a popular school read – even the symbolism (eg. the spectacles on the billboard) is extremely on the nose. But as with Mockingbird the real issue is a kind of thoughtless submission to cultural imperialism, in which we unquestionably accept American books as not only good but apparently better than our own. This is probably as nationalist as I get, but I feel very strongly that assigned reading in high schools should be from Canadian authors, because unlike most of us here many students might only read that one novel for the entire year. It only makes sense if the novel is something that connects to and illuminates the society around them, not something distant and alien and unfamiliar like Jim Crow South or the tonier enclaves of Long Island.

  39. Perhaps more importantly, it’s just not a very helpful or useful book for Canadian teenagers, most of whom know only the barest outlines of US History. Especially when the opportunity cost is a neglect of our own legacy of racism and violence against the FIrst Nations. … It only makes sense if the novel is something that connects to and illuminates the society around them, not something distant and alien and unfamiliar like Jim Crow South or the tonier enclaves of Long Island.

    I understand your points, but you seem to be interested in literature only as a tool for the understanding and improvement of social conditions, which is the exact opposite of my point of view. I have zero interest in the social/political aspect of literature, and tend to be leery of writers touted on such grounds because I suspect their political appeal covers up esthetic sins. Many of my favorite writers had horrible views: Dostoevsky and Pound were nasty anti-Semites, Faulkner was racist as hell, etc. etc. I can sympathize with people rejecting artists they don’t agree with, but I feel sorry for them; they’re missing out on a lot.

  40. I completely agree that the consensus on War and Peace is that it’s one of the greatest novels in history. It’s also a brief for a kind of gross imperialist project under the supposedly noble banner of Pan-Slavism. As a Slav, and a descendant of those who were the intended “beneficiaries” of Russia’s benevolence I think I’m entitled to a visceral reaction to Tolstoy’s half-baked notions that the Slavic people need the protection of tutelage of Russia.

    To my mind his best book is Hadji Murat – you can probably figure out why. But I’m also well aware that it’s hardly anyone’s favorite by him, let alone likely to be thought of as a national novel.

  41. January First-of-May says:

    The idea that Russian literature peaked in the late 19th century is so self evidently ridiculous

    Not as much as you might expect; after all, your typical (reasonably famous) Soviet novel would more likely than not either glorify communism (and/or socialism), or be all about how the Soviets are terrible, and the former isn’t very popular anywhere (…except possibly China) now that the Soviet Union is gone, while the latter isn’t really in fashion any more (again, because the Soviet Union is gone). And the post-Soviet literature didn’t really have enough time to become classics yet.
    Which leaves… Bulgakov maybe? Not a lot of famous-ish novel authors from the 1900s, 1910s, or 1920s – that I could think of, anyway. (And of course the 1990s have Pelevin and Lukyanenko.)

    That said, I personally do rather enjoy a lot of Soviet sci-fi from the 1960s and 1970s (and 1980s), despite the whole “communism is actually kind of neat” thing – from the Strugatsky brothers (probably an international household name) to Kir Bulychov (a household name within Russia) to Vadim Shefner (far more obscure than he deserved) to Georgi Gurevich (I had to google what his name was – it’s been a while since I’ve read any of his stuff) to Evgeny Veltistov (a household name by proxy – a lot of people know his one most famous book, if perhaps only via the movie, but few would be able to name its author, or any other books he wrote).

  42. something distant and alien and unfamiliar like Jim Crow South or the tonier enclaves of Long Island

    Today I read an article in the NY Times that mentions the size of Anna Wintour’s LI garden. It’s 40 acres – huge and really lovely, but there’s nothing about a mule. I would have had a mule and I was thinking the garden designer could have had a few tobacco plants (they’re very nice, we have them in England) and some cotton.

    A lot of millennials and Gen Z refuse to even watch black and white movies.
    Yes, what’s up with that?

    I don’t know. It’s so weird. My 25 y.o. daughter won’t watch b&w and she’s a visual artist (architect), so you’d think she’d get it.

  43. Without a doubt, the person who singlehandedly put Canada in general and Toronto in particular on the map, especially with younger people, is Drake.

    Who even knows Drake is Canadian? If any musical act put Canada on the map, by becoming popular yet remaining very peculiarly not American, it would be Rush.

  44. Not a lot of famous-ish novel authors from the 1900s, 1910s, or 1920s .

    Bely, Bunin and young Nabokov. And Ilf and Petrov.

    Gazdanov was more 1930s, but deserves to be better known. Same with Platonov (although both seem fairly well known in the German speaking world).

    Grossman is 1950s but seems to be having a resurgence.

  45. I fully realize I’m in the minority on this but Master and Margarita is better than anything either Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky wrote. Nabokov (partial credit), Strugatsky brothers, Sholokhov, Varlam Shalamov, Vladimir Voinovitch. Solzhenitsyn I suppose. More recently there is Svetlana Alexievich, who may not be regarded as sufficiently literary by some but who could absolutely teach Tolstoy a thing or two about honestly rendering real events using literary language.

    Part of the issue when reading classics is social desirability bias – everybody knows that such-and-such a book has been proclaimed the greatest of all time by professors and literary critics etc, so there’s a very natural reluctance to express a view contrary to that. A sincere and honest but “incorrect” reaction to a classic is invariably taken as evidence of your fault as a reader, never a shortcoming in the work itself, or even simply an aesthetic choice that’s not to your liking (again, it simply means your taste is wrong because the classic is by definition good , and not only good but the best at every aspect of the novel.

  46. Whether Drake or Rush seems more ostentatiously Canadan presumably depends on one’s age and music preferences. I’m not a fan of either, but I am vaguely aware that each is from Canadia.

  47. Gogol, Dead souls. Stevenson, The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Nabokov: The defense, Invitation to a beheading, Pnin, Lolita, Speak Memory. Josef Roth: The Radetzki March. Leo Perutz: Under the stone bridge, Little apple, From nine to five. Lampedusa, The Leopard. S Y Agnon, A simple story. Tanizaki, Naomi, The Makioka sisters. Kawabata, Snow country. Raymond Queneau, Zazie in the metro. Georges Perec, Life, a user’s manual. The Brothers Karamazov, Magic Mountain: too long, boring.

  48. Who even knows Drake is Canadian? If any musical act put Canada on the map, by becoming popular yet remaining very peculiarly not American, it would be Rush.

    No offense man but literally everyone knows Drake is Canadian (even Americans who tend to be oblivious of such things) and as much as I love Rush, they are basically anyonymous to anyone under 40. And even at their absolute peak they did not enjoy a fraction of Drake’s popularity. He literally invented a nickname for Toronto that everyone just uses now!

  49. January First-of-May says:

    Bely, Bunin and young Nabokov. And Ilf and Petrov.

    I think I put Ilf and Petrov into the 1930s, but of course Russian literature didn’t stop when the USSR started – it just became much less likely to get translated and/or internationally popular. I admit that they should count.

    Nabokov certainly deserves recognition for Anya in the Land of Wonders, but I didn’t think he wrote anything else that early – did he?
    (Apparently he did, in the late 1920s and early 1930s. I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know that Anya was so late – for some reason I thought it was from 1912 or so.)

    As for Bunin and Bely, I think I just didn’t associate them with novels, as opposed to short stories and/or poetry; however, unlike their approximate contemporaries Mayakovsky, Blok, and Kharms, they apparently did write some fairly well known novels, which I just didn’t happen to remember.

    One author that I really should have remembered: Alexander Grin.

  50. David Eddyshaw says:

    Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust has a very similar plot to To Kill a Mockingbird, and is told from the viewpoint of the lawyer’s child – well, nephew – in just the same way, but it’s better in pretty much every way.

    Not least because the unjustly accused man is no mere plot device but a recurring and central Faulkner character with an elaborate backstory and an extremely marked character of his own. He also gets to say the last line in the novel, which is my personal nominee for Best Last Line EVAH.

  51. is the top one systolic or diastolic?

    Systolic has the high stressed vowel (in the first syllable), so it’s the high number. Diastolic has the low stressed vowel (in the second syllable), so it’s the low number. Works for me. Of course, if you emphasize -stol- in both of them, that may not help much.

    The Great Canadian Novel” isn’t a trope

    I think Jack Kerouac spent his life trying to write it.

    Woody Allen […] is Canadian

    Eh? Woody Allen, as is obvious as soon as he opens his mouth, was born in Brooklyn. His parents were born on the Lower East Side, and if he or his family has any connection with Canada, neither Dr. Google nor his Wikipedia article know about it.

    middlebrow mediocrities like To Kill a Mockingbird […] hideous distortion of Jim Crow-era South, which nowadays would be slotted into the “white people solve racism” genre.

    I won’t argue mediocrity, that’s a matter of taste. But “hideous distortion” it is not. I daresay there are people here on the site who grew up in it and can tell you otherwise, and though I was not, my wife certainly was (born in North Carolina in 1943). I just checked with her, but her opinion of your opinion is unprintable, except for “Do your homework” (she’s a teacher).

    As for “solving” racism, the black character ends up dead. See, if you like, my explanation of the Scottsboro Boys and how much the series of appeals that Tom Robinson turned down was worth to them: somewhere around 150 man-years.

    I do agree 100% that it is unsuited to Canadian teens today.

    I don’t think an aversion to black-and-white is any part of that

    My grandson Dorian (born 2008) definitely had, and perhaps has, a hard time understanding them. The picture on the screen is just too different from the picture all around him, as well as the picture on the screen otherwise, to make visual sense to him. (WTF are all these things?) But then, like the Lord Chancellor’s Devonian lawyer, Dorian is only eleven.

    Anyway, the two Canadian novelists that come to my mind first are Robert Sawyer and Spider Robinson (adopted). Of course Robertson Davies, but he was very far from being only a novelist. That leads to Northrop Frye, not a novelist at all, but certainly a great writer as well as a great Canadian.

  52. Never heard of Drake or Rush, so I don’t think of either as Canadian.

    Woody Allen, as is obvious as soon as he opens his mouth, was born in Brooklyn.
    I thought he was from Massachusetts. Unless it was maybe Brooklin, Maine, come to think of it? That’s why he wears all the LL Bean clobber. New York? Ridiculous. You’re just thinking of the Brooklin name.

    Works for me.
    Thanks, John! I’ll try that.

  53. The idea that Russian literature peaked in the late 19th century is so self evidently ridiculous

    Forgot to respond to this: nobody was talking about Russian literature in general; again, the post is about novels, and nobody said Russian novels peaked in the late 19th century — the point is simply that for most people the famous 19th-century novels come more readily to mind. I personally think The Gift is greater than any Turgenev novel, but I’d be delusional to think any substantial number of English-speaking readers would be quick to name it.

    In general, you admit you have a chip on your shoulder and are using a very personal measuring stick, so I’m not going to argue further.

  54. I never even knew Canada had literature before this thread…

    Anyway, I can name Australian stopwatch novel – it’s called “I Can Jump Puddles” by Alan Marshall.

    It was translated into Russian and was pretty popular among Soviet teenagers for a while. Not sure if anyone else outside of Australia heard of it.

  55. Rush I have heard of; Drake not (except David “In-Love-With-His-Female-Characters-and-Missiles” Drake, who is no Canadian and you wouldn’t want him).

    I sometimes think L.L. Bean ships most of their product to the Big Apple. I also know people who buy it, wear it for a while, and then ship it back, claiming under the lifetime guarantee so that they can buy more.

  56. I’ve heard of Drake but didn’t know he was Canadian. I knew Rush was, but I’m afraid that’s mainly due to Bob and Doug McKenzie and “Take Off.”

  57. I just realized (and checking with Wiki confirmed) that S.M.Stirling is Canadian (well, Canadian-American if there is such a thing).

    Damn good books in its genre, though Canada hardly be proud, him being an extremist and all

  58. How about this, Best Dutch novels.

    OK, I have heard the name Rush. They might be heavy metal. Or not.

  59. I wondered where is “The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel” then checked Wiki and realized that Charles De Coster was Belgian, not Dutch.

    Who knew

  60. I just learned about the Žižek game and I like it a lot.

  61. Stirling was in fact born in France, thus instantiating in his own person the Auld Alliance (though perhaps it didn’t affect him much, as he too was born on a U.S. military base).

    John Cowan’s guide to spotting the Hidden Canadians in the U.S. media: note the error “inside” for “beside”.

  62. Questions of nationalism aside, I’m skeptical that any two people would have a very similar list of “stopwatch” novels in their native language. Any avid reader would probably just rattle off whatever came to mind with a bias toward noted novels they personally favored or were forced to read in school. For example, I had a conversation just recently with a middle-aged woman of a literary bent who confessed she’d never gotten around to reading any Virginia Woolf, so Mrs. Dalloway almost certainly wouldn’t have popped up on her list. For my part, I might have included Woolf, but would have been far more likely to say To the Lighthouse (which I’ve read several times) than Mrs. Dalloway (which I’ve read once).

    However, some of the suggestions of novels “everybody” would think of seem very wide of the mark. I doubt that these days anyone not an actual English major would think quickly of any 18th C. writer off the top of their head, let alone have read him. 100 years ago, Tom Jones would have been known, if not read, by all bookish types. Nowadays, not so much. (Confession: I only got around to Tom Jones in my late 40s. It seemed admirable in many respects, but decidedly non-essential for an understanding of English literature.)

    Novels in other languages–especially languages you don’t have a reading proficiency of–work better because you’re likely to have read so much less. If someone were to ask me about Chinese or Japanese novels, I’d rattle off a handful of famous names that I’ve either read or not read, but then would be stumped. I have strong opinions about Russian literature and to a lesser extent French literature, but in any other language I’d certainly be reduced to famous names and/or my own idiosyncratic reading experience.

    Parenthetically, I’ll note that the only problem with The Great Gatsby is that it is usually forced upon callow youth before they are ready for it. My rereading of it was completely different than my first reading of it, and I’ve heard the same from multiple sources.

    Enjoy Karamazov. The thing that doesn’t translate, imho, is how very much LOL humor there is in the Russian.

  63. Robertson Davies is a personal favorite; but even though he died not that long ago the Canada of his novels is like a different and unfamiliar land to me, the kind of place where someone of Irish extraction would be considered a visible minority, where the United Church (!) held enormous sway over public life and policy, where the most prestigious high school was a private boarding institution (nowadays more of a repository for rich kid reprobates), basically an extremely Anglo place in the worse sense, stiflingly conformist and in many ways more invested in the idea of Empire than the British themselves. I still don’t know how we got from there to here.

    All that aside, his work is fantastic. The Deptford Trilogy is without a doubt at the very pinnacle of Canadian literary achievement.

  64. I finally recalled real Canadian novel (hours after stopwatch stopped).

    Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat.

  65. Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

    Um, that’s a memoir, not a novel.

    However, I’ll second nemanja’s endorsement of Robertson Davies. And is it really possible in 2019 to escape awareness of the ubiquitous Margaret Atwood, whose long-awaited sequel to the The Handmaid’s Tale was just released?

    My favorite Canadian writer, however, is very easily Alice Munro. Also not a novelist, though.

  66. I believe it was fiction novel pretending to be a memoir.

    Pretty common thing.

    Besides, wolves don’t eat mice.

  67. I third Robertson Davies (I wrote about him here and here).

    My favorite Canadian writer, however, is very easily Alice Munro.

    Mine too.

  68. Canadian-American if there is such a thing

    Certainly there is, though the first part of that list is Americans of Canadian descent (Madonna, Chrysler, Disney, Kerouac, Groening, Hendrix, …) as opposed to the Canadian immigrants to the U.S. in the second part (besides those above, Samantha Bee, the Chongs, Ted Cruz, Michael J. Fox, Peter Jennings[*], the Amazing Randi, …) Spider Robinson, on the other hand, is an American-Canadian; alas, there is at present no Wikipedia list for him to be on.

    William Lyon Mackenzie, also on that list, was born in Scotland, emigrated to Canada, became Mayor of Toronto, helped to lead the (abortive) Canadian Revolution, was President of the Republic of Canada for a year, fled to the U.S., “took steps toward” (but probably did not consummate) U.S. citizenship, was imprisoned there for violating the U.S. Neutrality Act by trying to start another rebellion in Canada, returned to Canada after the amnesty, became an MP, and died of a stroke, thus making him a Scottish-Canadian-American-Canadian. He should not be confused by ignernt Yanks with his grandson William Lyon Mackenzie King, quondam Prime Minister of Canada. (I had to look about half these details up, pretty good for an I.Y.)

    [*] On whose teleprompter the word lieutenant was always spelled lootenant, lest he slip one day and confuse and baffle the I.Y.s watching ABC News.

  69. I think if a memoir tells lies (most of them do) it’s still a memoir. Only if the first-person narrator is altogether a fiction does it become fiction.

    I too love Robertson Davies (and Samuel Marchbanks), if that wasn’t evident from the above.

  70. As for “solving” racism, the black character ends up dead. See, if you like, my explanation of the Scottsboro Boys and how much the series of appeals that Tom Robinson turned down was worth to them: somewhere around 150 man-years.

    Perhaps worth pointing out that the only lawyer who was willing to take the case was a Jewish man from New York hired and paid for by the Communist Party. Needless to say those attributes pretty much canceled his superior litigation skills.

    I do agree 100% that it is unsuited to Canadian teens today.

    Sorry, what I meant by that was that the book essentially presents racism as a matter of personal feeling rather than a system of oppression. It’s a booklength version of “I’m not racist, but….”. And of course it centers the narrative on Atticus as the archetypal white savior figure, who delivers an impassioned speech about how he (Atticus) is an honorable man, barely mentioning Tom at all. For all its faults, the sequel is a little more tethered to reality in portraying him as a segregationist and a member of the KKK.

    It’s unsuited to Canadian teens because it is (or was) assigned in Grade 10, with students approaching it with not even a rudimentary knowledge of US history, the socio-political system in place in Alabama at the time, etc. You can’t even present it as the conventional thinking of bien-pensant Southern liberals of the time, since teh kinds can’t situate it in any kind of context that makes sense to them.

  71. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Davies and Munro set the vast majority of their fiction in the decidedly unglamorous locale of southwestern Ontario (though Davies’ characters tended to travel outside of it frequently). And I don’t think it’s some kind of synecdoche (metonymy?) for Canada as a whole, in fact it’s a very unusual place, which has been bypassed by the demographic and social changes in the rest of the country. But Munro is such an insightful and precise writer she manages to evoke the life and mood and emotions of the place without ever seeming to do anything at all. II I can’te even begin to fathom how she does so much with so litttle.

  72. Only if the first-person narrator is altogether a fiction does it become fiction.

    It’s not that straightforward. Sergey Dovlatov wrote mainly about himself and about what he saw as a first-person narrator, but he twisted and rearranged things that really happened to him so much that his work is fiction par excellence. If you can imagine stories that people tell about themselves at dinner parties (read: drunken parties) made into an art form

  73. I suppose Atwood is our exemplar of that, but her writing isn’t especially concerned with Canadianness as such

    I think Surfacing is pretty concerned with Canadianness, as are Cat’s Eye and Alias Grace!

    For Italian, I guess that The Name of the Rose would also be familiar to the average anglophone reader, and maybe – maybe – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. And, well, Pinocchio, if we’re counting children’s literature.

  74. It’s not that straightforward. Sergey Dovlatov wrote mainly about himself and about what he saw as a first-person narrator, but he twisted and rearranged things that really happened to him so much that his work is fiction par excellence.

    Yes, Russian literature is an advanced course in all the degrees of autobiographical writing, from Aksakov’s family history-cum-autobiography through Tolstoy’s fictionalized trilogy and Gorky’s more straightforward one to Nabokov’s shimmering collection of memories and moments dressed up in showoffy prose and Dovlatov’s manic recreations. Whole books have been written on the topic.

  75. J.W. Brewer says:

    My favorite Canadian rock bands of the 21st century tend to be from Vancouver (e.g. Black Mountain, the Courtneys) but they don’t *feel* distinctively Canadian in style — they could just as well be from Seattle or some other place with a critical mass of youngish people with large record collections and a taste for obscure-ish bands from prior decades living in close proximity to heroin addicts. Whereas this may be projection but those on-the-radio-in-’79 CanCon bands like April Wine and Triumph feel like they came from the reputedly-now-dead-and-gone Canada of Robertson Davies — like if he had introduced some clueless-but-well-intentioned young longhaired dudes from the Maritimes as bit characters in one of his later works, off at the margin of a still-Anglo-dominated world superficially focused on propriety and tea cozies, it would have been those guys.

  76. buying Rolling Stone as a teenager for the top 100 rock albums of all time only to find (…) virtually nothing from the then-current decade

    Yes, among music listeners of above-average avidity, it is a well-known fact that the Rolling Stone is a kind of a dinosaur stuck in the past. Cutting-edge hipsters by now seem to think that even Pitchfork has lost its touch and has by now started instead honing the legacy of what will be probably known as “Dad Indie” twenty years from now.

    For a point of comparison, the current RateYourMusic.com top rock albums of all time are already more decades-diverse, with just three 60s albums in the top 10. Very recent 2010s albums have to wait until Bowie’s Blackstar at #55 and The Swans’ To Be Kind at #91, though; but then the most popular 2010s charts genre is narrowly hip hop (34 entries) anyway, not rock anymore (32 entries).

    (Non-Anglosphere artists still remain marginal; I count one appearing from each of Germany, Japan and Iceland. Gender disparity fares similarly as well.)

    A few other RYM datapoints:
    – the film charts have one b&w movie already in the top 10 and two more within the top 20: 12 Angry Men, Seven Samurai, Persona. (I assume other film-rating sites would turn up something similar too.)
    – by far the two best-received Canadian music artists are Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Arcade Fire, followed by Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell; neither Drake nor any of John B’s mentions make any charts splash at all. (The top score for maximum bare recognizability, then, probably goes to Justin Bieber.)

  77. J.W. Brewer says:

    If you were a real hipster and not too young for Pitchfork’s back archives from 2003, you would be familiar with the thesis that the “greatest Canadian rock album ever” was recorded by Simply Saucer, who floruit c. 1975 in Hamilton but broke up over a decade before anyone actually got those recordings released. Sorta like Emily Dickinson or G.M. Hopkins.

    https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/7704-cyborgs-revisited/

  78. Great anecdote from that link:

    In spite of it all, the band kept experimenting — like the time they cranked up the feedback in their Hamilton, Ontario rehearsal space, and went outside to see if they could hear it (they could), locking themselves out in the process. The local firemen who had to let the band back inside described it as “the loudest sound heard in these parts since World War II.”

  79. locking themselves out
    Oh god, that’s just so typical of so many artists I know but how absent minded can you get if you’re doing it en masse. I bet they’re good.

    the Žižek game
    Aha, Woody. But I agree that in the right hands Žižek could cause the maximum irritation. My wife was once on holiday in Greece with amongst others, a Norwegian psychologist who does this; a very quiet & serious looking guy. He convinced a group of people (Canadians as it happens) that he’d never heard of Germany.

    And yes, I love Robertson Davies.

  80. He convinced a group of people (Canadians as it happens) that he’d never heard of Germany.

    I LOL’ed!

  81. And that seems like a very Norwegian thing to do.

  82. I forgot to mention that, for somebody with my musical tastes, heavily weighted toward folk, the quintessentially Canadian musician is Stan Rogers.

    Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
    To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
    Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
    And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.

  83. January First-of-May says:

    I just learned about the Žižek game and I like it a lot.

    …I just looked at the list on that link and realized that much of it would probably give me more problems finding someone who had heard of this than pretending I had not.

    Items I legitimately do not recognize offhand, not even on the order of “seems vaguely familiar”: Morrissey, David Lynch, Banksy, Withnail and I, Afrika Burn, the expression “garbage person”, the expression “grammar nerd” [at least, as something distinct from “grammar Nazi”], Joy Division, and “The Mighty Boosh”.

    Items I only recognize on the “I think I’ve heard that name somewhere” level: Slavoj Žižek (OK, no longer, I guess), John Updike, Bauhaus (of either variety), bunting, William Gibson, the Beats (unless it’s referring to Beats by Dr. Dre, in which case it’s two categories down), and CrossFit.

    Items I know are a thing, and could probably place in a vague major genre, but couldn’t tell more than a few words about, if that: Twin Peaks, Jack Kerouac, “Gilmore Girls”, magical realism (though it’s more of a “not sure what it refers to”), and trance parties.
    (If it’s what I think it is, The God Delusion would probably be in this category as well.)

    Items I only know about vaguely through popcultural osmosis, but never actually encountered otherwise (that I recall): Radiohead, Woody Allen, bongs, Cards Against Humanity, and Fight Club (this last one might actually be in the previous category).

    Oh, and I never got around to either reading or watching A Clockwork Orange, but of course I know what it is – I just never happened to get around to it. (This is probably also true for a bunch of other classic novels and/or films not on the list.)

    [EDIT: among names mentioned in the article but not in the main list, Lacan would be in the first of the above categories, Hegel in the fourth, and Roman Polanski in the third.]

     
    …Then again – how many of you have heard of Elektronik, Viktor Tsoi, Gelsomino in the Land of the Liars, Gianni Rodari in general, Monday Begins on Saturday, ivasi (food), Ivasi (band), Oberiu, Guest from the Future, socialist realism, the Emerald City series, Karlsson on the Roof, or Robert Wood?
    And I could probably relatively easily go on for another two or three dozen listings.

    [EDIT 2: reposting with updates, because the edit function did not work. You can delete the first copy.]

  84. I might be closer to the Žižek game’s implied target demographic than J1M, but I still score six items in the zero recognition category [two shared], at least if presuming that “bunting” does not refer to the bird. Modern culture is extensively wide and extensively hyperbolic: just two steps from you there’s always going to be thousands of reference points you’ve never heard of.

    (Blank on everything except social realism on J1M’s list. For that matter, as neither L1 English nor an active reader of commercial fiction, blank on eleven of the novels Hat mentions in the OP.)

  85. British TV did a “100 greatest novels of all time” poll about 15 years ago, with a 3-hour results countdown, during which they interviewed an academic specialising in 18C Eng Lit and asked for his personal 18C top 5 and which he thought would do best in the poll.

    Then they told him the earliest novel in the Top 100 was Pride and Prejudice (1813). His face fell in several directions at once.

  86. Everything about the Zizek anecdote comes across as deeply sad projection. I seriously doubt that the story ever occurred (though I have no doubt that the author dwelt lovingly in her imagination on just such a scenario, as of course anyone who reads Zizek naturally behaves like Zizek. It’s science). Morrissey? Fight Club? What decade is she writing in? Like these aren’t even things with an ardent fanbase so much as what she imagines to be the tastes of a certain type of man she dislikes.

    Caring about stuff is lame. Knowing lots of things is sad and pathetic. Playing misantrophic head games with strangers – now that is the height of mirthmaking. Jesus what

    Ugh.

  87. January First-of-May says:

    Then they told him the earliest novel in the Top 100 was Pride and Prejudice (1813).

    …Wow. I guess Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels aren’t as popular those days?

    (I don’t know much about 18C and 17C English lit, but I thought those two works in particular are pretty famous.)

    For that matter, as neither L1 English nor an active reader of commercial fiction, blank on eleven of the novels Hat mentions in the OP.

    Ten for me – Dangerous Liaisons, Nausea, Death in Venice, Magic Mountain, Berlin Alexanderplatz, The Tin Drum, Tom Jones, Middlemarch, Heart of Darkness, and Mrs. Dalloway.

    For eight more (Madam Bovary, The Sorrows of Young Werther, All Quiet on the Western Front, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Fathers and Sons, Anna Karenina, and The Brothers Karamazov) I could have told you that it’s a novel, and in some cases the author, but not much else.
    The Idiot, Doctor Zhivago, and In Search of Lost Time are either in the same category or just barely past it.

    That leaves Les Miserables, which I had not read but do know some details of the plot of, and the other three works with “and” in their titles, which I have indeed read (one for enjoyment, and two for high school literature).

  88. In places like student newspapers I nowadays see columnists pretty regulary, if not directly complaining about Morrissey’s apparently now politically incorrect opinions, then at least complaining about either people complaining about him, about people trying to defend him, or about the existence of the entire debate. Really I get the impression this has become something of a micro-Dreyfus Affair [or, if you will, a micro-Gamergate] of indie music, and I will happily continue to keep an arm’s distance to everything involved…

  89. January First-of-May says:

    I’m assuming from the above description that Morrissey is probably a fairly popular indie musician?

    (This is legitimate, by the way – I actually had no idea who or what Morrissey was, but didn’t want to google the name either.)

    As for my own list – with the exception of small-I ivasi (which was only there for the pun) and Robert Wood (of whom I am a big fan), it was basically a (partial) list of big-name 20th century Russian cultural icons, some of which are of foreign origin but still much more popular in Russia than in English-speaking countries. So yes, I expected that most English speakers would not recognize them.

  90. J.W. Brewer says:

    RC and GT are probably too popular in the wrong sorts of ways (e.g. you will likely have first come across them in a dumbed-down adapted-for-kids version in a non-school context rather than as Officially Assigned Reading in a school context) to count as “Great Novels,” for the value of Great that is suspicious of excessive informal grassroots popularity and amenability to paraphrase and adaptation.

    It would be interesting to compile a list of novels voluntarily read with some frequency by teenagers some significant number of decades after their first publication yet rarely if ever given out as Officially Assigned Reading in school. Some possibilities for Americans of my generation that might rank high on such a list might include Gone With the Wind, Lord of the Rings, and Atlas Shrugged. Probably at least something by Agatha Christie but maybe not converging on the same title. Not to argue the merits or demerits of any of them, but the question of how a book remains a steady seller (or at least popular library check-out) over a reasonably long time period going beyond a single generation of readers without “official” endorsement and support from the educational establishment (“Big Syllabus,” you might call it) is an interesting one.

  91. Stu Clayton says:

    Caring about stuff is lame. Knowing lots of things is sad and pathetic. Playing misantrophic head games with strangers – now that is the height of mirthmaking.

    I agree, almost ! “Stuff” is hardly worth caring about. “Lots of things” is the same as stuff. Zizi sins on the side of overproduction. He pushes the price of ideas down by flooding the market with them. It’s a familiar capitalist move to take out the competition.

    I disagree only about “the height of mirthmaking”. I would call it a local maximum.

  92. I’m assuming from the above description that Morrissey is probably a fairly popular indie musician?

    LOL. “Fairly popular” is a relative term, of course. A more apt descriptor, though, would be “one of the most popular” British pop stars of the 80s and 90s, first as frontman for the beloved, wildly successful group The Smiths, then with a chart-topping solo career of his own. If his star has dimmed today, it’s only the fate of most pop stars over 50.

    He’s kind of perfect for the Žižek game, as, love him or hate him, in my own peer group it truly would be a mind-blower to meet someone unfamiliar with the name, but only within my own peer group. Someone who came of age at a different time or in a different place could well draw a blank.

  93. Morrissey? Fight Club? What decade is she writing in? Like these aren’t even things with an ardent fanbase

    The point is not an “ardent” fan base, the point is that in certain subgroups one is just assumed to have that knowledge and people think it inconceivable you wouldn’t. Her list sounds like a late 20 something’s list to me. You can’t spend 5 minutes on Reddit without someone referencing Fight Club (“the first rule of x, is never mention x..”) My 19 year old American son would probably score 100%, other than “Mighty Boosh” and Withnail, which I think are still more popular in the UK (and RSA apparently).

    I can see the game might be a bit mean spirited, especially if used on people on the spectrum.

  94. And that seems like a very Norwegian thing to do.
    Could be. The other thing this guy did was a kind of reverse Zizek, asking if they sold eagle at the sliced-meats counter at KaDeWe in Berlin (like Harrods in London it claims to be able to get you everything).

    The satisfaction to be derived isn’t about laughing at people, nemanja. And it’s not at all mean-spirited (obviously, targeting autistic people would be ugly, it’s not about that) – just a tiny bit self-centred possibly. It’s for the kind of people who get a kick from Surrealism, making a tiny change in what seems normal.

    Withnail, which I think is still more popular in the UK
    It seems to be impossible to stream is the reason for that. At least, it’s not available at the usual places. Too bad, it’s quite a good movie.

    Morrissey’s apparently now politically incorrect opinions
    From what I gather it’s the odd combination that bemuses the audience. He’s a vegan, massively opposed to animal cruelty. He’s also against immigration and (possibly, I’m not sure) racist.

  95. Father Jape says:

    FWIW I am thoroughly familiar with everything on that Žižek game list, but I doubt I would have ever learned Drake was Canadian if it hadn’t been for this comment thread.

    Also the author is South African, so that may explain some of the British stuff on the list, and I think it’s more of a mid-30s than late 20s thing.

  96. My 19 year old American son would probably score 100%, other than “Mighty Boosh” and Withnail, which I think are still more popular in the UK (and RSA apparently).

    Though several decades older, I’d be in the same position as your son, except I’m not sure what “bunting” is supposed to signify. Surely, not a reference to American baseball, but decorative flags and small birds seem equally improbable. Is there some slang usage that is off my radar?

    Pearl-clutching about the “misanthropic head game” of pretending not to know Slavoj Žižek seems extremely silly to me. In the context of the essay, the author used it to shut down a pub bore, which seems an entirely worthwhile, relatable objective.

  97. Father Jape says:

    Indeed. It is expressly aimed at a certain kind of tiresome hipster middlebrow faux-intellectual mainsplainer bro.

  98. Needless to say those attributes pretty much canceled his superior litigation skills

    What on Earth do you mean, “canceled”? Did you even read what I linked to? No, most of the Scottsboro Boys weren’t actually acquitted. But compared to what was going to happen to them? I didn’t mention the Jewishness of the lawyer, but I did mention the CPUSA.

    the book essentially presents racism as a matter of personal feeling rather than a system of oppression

    I deny that. I think it’s evident from the (unanimous!) jury verdict. Indeed, even people who are not racist as a matter of personal feeling (Atticus among others) are caught up in the system. The conservative (not reactionary) point of view he espouses was best summed up IMO by John Campbell: “Cultural patterns are written in plastic explosive. If you apply slow steady pressure, they deform into any shape you want. If you hit them with a hammer, they explode.” MLKJr. would certainly agree.

    who delivers an impassioned speech about how he (Atticus) is an honorable man, barely mentioning Tom at all

    Have you actually read it? It’s less than 1200 words. And Atticus is not defending his own honor: he’s saying what his principles are, and trying to inspire the jury to feel them too.

    Something else I’ll assert without defending it: the book is not primarily about the trial.

    a very natural reluctance to express a view contrary to that

    There’s also a very natural urge to express a contrary view. Counter-suggestible people are not rare (I’m one of them).

    the southwestern corner

    The Ottawa Valley was (and still is to some degree) strange too. Canada isn’t as monolithic as it looks, even Anglo-Canada.

    Texas isn’t in Yorkshire

    The parallels are striking, though Texas is divided into fithings rather than (th)ridings.

    I think Surfacing is pretty concerned with Canadianness

    As is, though indirectly, The Handmaid’s Tale.

    the quintessentially Canadian musician is Stan Rogers

    Oh hell yes!

    You can’t spend 5 minutes on Reddit

    The first rule of Tautology Club is the first rule of Tautology Club. See also Fish Club. Moreover, the first rule of Linguist Club is to explain who belongs to Linguist Club.

    The Smiths

    What I know about the Smiths is this: “Not to know The Smiths is not to know K.X.U.” —K.X.U. (no, I don’t know who that is either)

    Ugh.

    Double ugh.

  99. Father Jape says:

    John Campbell: “Cultural patterns are written in plastic explosive. If you apply slow steady pressure, they deform into any shape you want. If you hit them with a hammer, they explode.”

    A great quote! Could you provide the source?

  100. From my personal experience I would say that the great English novel that people would be most likely to name (and are most likely to have read) is Pride and Prejudice. I can’t even think what would compete with it. The Lord of the Rings?

    It may be a generational thing (I was born in the 1980’s) – there has been so much Jane Austen or allusions to her in pop culture in my lifetime (the 1990’s TV adaptation of P & P, the Bridget Jones novels and films, the Sense and Sensibility movie, Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley, PD James writing a sequel to P & P, all the way to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Partly this popularity has damaged appreciation of Austen as a serious novelist (I once overheard a teenage girl refer to Pride and Prejudice as “just a romantic comedy”).

  101. A great quote! Could you provide the source?

    Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, June 1968 (Vol. 81, Issue 4), p. 180:

    But perhaps, rather than saying they are written in tar, we should say they are written in plastic explosive. Press slowly and steadily, and it molds anyway you wish; shock it, however, and it immediately ends your desire to change it — and you.

  102. Something else I’ll assert without defending it: the book is not primarily about the trial.

    Hear, hear.

  103. J.W. Brewer says:

    And surely one of the takeaways of TKAM is that while Atticus is rather conspicuously more noble and principled than those around him, those positive qualities do not reliably lead to positive outcomes, and what lessons are we to draw from that? (Perhaps multiple lessons that do not all point in the same direction?) Consider the scene toward the end where Atticus is being so gosh-darn noble that he is impeding the expedient, pragmatic, and humane solution to the difficulty at hand that has been identified by the more worldly characters with responsibility for the situation, and accordingly has to be overridden: “I may not be much, Mr. Finch, but I’m still sheriff of Maycomb County and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night, sir.”

  104. In that last scene is To Kill a Mockingbird, there are three possibilities for who knifed Bob Ewell: Ewell himself, Jem, and the actual culprit, Boo Radley. When he is arguing for full disclosure, Atticus appears to believe that his son was the killer. The other characters are advocating that everyone should lie about what they think happened; Atticus thinks they are trying to spare Jem, while they actually are trying to protect Boo Radley, without explicitly mentioning his name. It is not clear that Atticus actually understands the situation until Scout gives her final speech about killing a Mockingbird.

  105. January First-of-May says:

    …Then again – how many of you have heard of Elektronik, Viktor Tsoi, Gelsomino in the Land of the Liars, Gianni Rodari in general, Monday Begins on Saturday, ivasi (food), Ivasi (band), Oberiu, Guest from the Future, socialist realism, the Emerald City series, Karlsson on the Roof, or Robert Wood?

    …And now I’m wondering whether I should explain those for the benefit of the non-Russians (and/or the non-Russian-speakers, and/or the non-Russian-culture-fans) in the audience.

  106. David Marjanović says:

    Why “sorrows” and not “suffering”? Just to keep the plural of die Leiden?

    Systole & diastole are completely transparent etymologically: the systole is when the heart contracts (syn- = “together”, and the Greeks have never been great fans of the cluster /ns/), the diastole is when it relaxes (dia- = “apart”).

    Due to the US politics of this millennium, I’ve read plenty about A Handmaid’s Tale and even recognize the author’s name. Had no clue there’s anything Canadian about Atwood…

    Besides, wolves don’t eat mice.

    They do when they’re hungry enough; but the claim that wolves mostly eat mice in the wild is greatly exaggerated. Wolves are too large for that to be economical.

    that he’d never heard of Germany

    Today Bielefeld, tomorrow the world!

    socialist realism

    Familiar – but partly for family reasons (i.e. my dad grew up in it, or at least that’s what his complaints sound like).

    (At first I typed party. There is no escape.)

    Karlsson on the Roof

    I read it when I was little! It didn’t make sense, so I barely remember anything. 🙂 “From” the roof in German.

    Gamergate

    Gamerghazi, with the suffix for manufactroversies.

  107. January First-of-May says:

    “From” the roof in German.

    The Russian version of the title is an outright circumlocution – it literally translates to “Karlson who lives on the roof”.

    The original Swedish had , which Wiktionary says means “on”.

  108. J.W. Brewer says:

    As it happens, I was at a parents’ back-to-school open-house last night so I can give an update on the current state of play in Officially-Assigned Reading (for 10th-grade honors English): a bunch of short novels that are venerable Officially-Assigned-Reading standards from the middle of the prior century (Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men), some pre-20th-century Big Names (Dickens, Shakespeare, Aeschylus) and then one choice which elicited a strong WTF reaction from me, namely Neil Simon’s _Brighton Beach Memoir_, which strikes me as … I dunno, so lightweight and stereotypically middlebrow as to make Steinbeck seem substantive and highbrow? But wikipedia tells me it made its Broadway premiere a few months before I graduated from high school myself, so perhaps it has become a high-school reading-list standard more recently and I was just unaware of it. OTOH, if the desire was to assign a 20th-century American play, it’s probably no worse than some things I was made to read in high school like Inherit the Wind and The Crucible which were well past their sell-by dates even in the early 1980’s.

  109. They probably want to avoid controversial subject matter: transsexual unmarried mothers who smoke, drink, have abortions and drive diesels for kicks, except at the same time they want to be bold and tastefully ‘tackle’ a few things in a positive and PC way. So for postwar US lit. no Last Exit to Brooklyn but they’ll grudgingly accept Catcher in the Rye. There are only about five books that have been found acceptable to all pressure groups and they have to keep reusing them. This might be an example of where private education is better than the public school system. Potentially, I mean. I don’t know about in practice although I know a few kids who went to Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights and really liked it.

  110. PlasticPaddy says:

    The crucible is unfortunately not past its sell-by date: there are still witch hunts and children continue to be used as (more or less manipulative) pawns in adult power games 😦

  111. Sigh. If that’s the “Honors” curriculum, one wonders what is being inflicted upon those who don’t make the cut for Honors.

    If you’re ever going to read Catcher in the Rye, though, you should absolutely do it as a young teen, even if I have difficulty believing any teen in 2019 finds it even vaguely relatable. It was past its sell-by date 40 years ago. And Brighton Beach Memoirs does seem a bizarre addition—the one time a revival was attempted on Broadway, it was a notorious bomb—but, unlike the others, at least it wasn’t on the syllabus when I was in the 10th grade in the early Reagan administration.

  112. Stu Clayton says:

    venerable Officially-Assigned-Reading standards from the middle of the prior century (Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men)

    Well, what has been written in America the last 50 years that 10th graders would thank you for when forced to read it ? I have not much of an idea, since I haven’t read many American novels at all after Bellow – two Franzens, a few Kingsolvers, as many pages of Bears and Dunces as I could stand. Thus I think the frowning classes are not entirely to blame.

  113. PlasticPaddy says:

    A confederacy of dunces

  114. PlasticPaddy says:

    Has a very positive yet realistic Black protagonist.

  115. PlasticPaddy says:

    More seriously perhaps, Donna tartt’s first novel.

  116. since I haven’t read many American novels at all after Bellow – two Franzens, a few Kingsolvers, as many pages of Bears and Dunces as I could stand. Thus I think the frowning classes are not entirely to blame.

    Paraphrased: “I’ve read almost no new fiction since the 1970s. This must mean there’s almost no new fiction worth reading.”

  117. A common thought process, alas.

  118. Well, what has been written in America the last 50 years that 10th graders would thank you for when forced to read it ?

    There’s now a whole genre of Young Adult literature aimed at teens. From glancing at reviews here and there, YA novels seem to tell stories of earnest young people coming to terms with their sexuality, learning to understand racial diversity, coping with friends who fall into drug use or alcoholism, wrestling with suicidal thoughts, learning compassion for the downtrodden, etc etc.

    When I was that age books for teens were about youngsters having jolly adventures and solving a kidnapping or murder along the way.

    (I don’t know whether your typical 10th grader is thankful for being made to read modern YA literature).

  119. David Eddyshaw says:

    There’s always been Improving Literature. No self-respecting teenager has ever read any unless it was threeped doon their thrapples by Educators who felt (misguidedly) it would Do Them Good.

    Worse, many an Author targeting the young turns out to be merely an Educator him/herself. Wolves in sheep’s clothing (to coin a phrase.)

  120. J.W. Brewer says:

    AJPC, it would cost me $49,725 per year (not including transportation) to send my 10th grader to St. Ann’s. That sort of artsy boho pose has become an extreme luxury good well out of the reach not only of actual artists and bohemians but plenty of the otherwise comfortable bourgeoisie.

  121. J.W. Brewer says:

    I urged my now-college-freshman to read Conf of Dunces when this past summer she had extra time on her hands and (quite unusually!) asked me for reading suggestions. Not sure that she followed through on it. I guess I could recommend Tartt to either of my teenagers. Their stepmother likes Tartt and one of their aunts went to college with Tartt and perhaps has some amusing and/or insightful anecdotes about how the first novel does/does not reflect the reality of that quite eccentric school during that quite eccentric time in its history.

  122. Stu Clayton says:

    Both Hat and Iowai dodge the question I asked – what is out there worth recommending to 10th graders ? Name names !

    I set out my own ignorance for all to see. I have read only bits of novels bruited in blurbs. If none of that is worth recommending (in my opinion, and apparently yours also, given the lack of protest), what else is there ? Sure looks like the frowning classes are not all wrong about good reading matter suitable for 10th graders. Something as anodyne and teeny as Catcher.

  123. Both Hat and Iowai dodge the question I asked – what is out there worth recommending to 10th graders ? Name names !

    Good lord, how am I to know? You’re asking the wrong crowd.

  124. Or are you working on the drunkard’s search principle?

  125. John, maybe try a less condescending tone when making your points – do you seriously think I have anything to learn from you about the nuances of Canadian culture having spent much of my life between Ottawa and SW Ontario? But thank you for your thoughts on “Anglo Canada”, I’m sure you have equally trenchant insights about Siam and Prussia and the new Packard sedan.

    Regarding the racial politics of TKAM, I think they are rather well summarized by MLK himself in the letter from a Birmingham Jail, the part regarding the white moderate “who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

    It is not surprising, in the main, that a book which portrays 1930s Alabama using the white moderate frame became very popular with the Boomer generation. But it’s also not surprising that younger generations, more sensitive to the systemic nature of racism and dynamics of power, read it and interpret it in a much less favorable light.

  126. Stu Clayton says:

    Hat, my comment had picked up JW’s anecdote about assigned reading. How you got from there to “common thought process, alas” is not clear to me.

  127. Well, what has been written in America the last 50 years that 10th graders would thank you for when forced to read it ?

    Well, Fight Club obviously. 😉 I thought we had established that up above.

    My older sons loved Iain M. Banks’ novels when they were in 10th grade (but he’s English?), Ursula K. Le Guin wouldn’t be a bad choice either.

  128. How you got from there to “common thought process, alas” is not clear to me.

    I was responding to laowai’s “I’ve read almost no new fiction since the 1970s. This must mean there’s almost no new fiction worth reading.” Which is indeed, alas, a common thought process. No particular reference to you intended; I am as subject to that chain of thought as anyone.

  129. It’s not artsy boho to my knowledge. One that I know of is the daughter of two successful artists, she went on to a good midwestern college and has done really well in a TV career, the other two who went on to Yale College and became successful (i.e. employed) actresses are daughters of an architect & a photographer. One wrote some nice stuff about their teachers. I agree the $50-odd thousand is a drawback but I’m certain you’ll end up paying it at some point (college & grad school). We’re currently paying about double that a year for grad. school and lodging in London (thank god, the student gets a lot of the lodging money back from the Norwegian gov. and grandma’s paid most of the school fees). Since the student is becoming an architect it’s unlikely she’ll recoup the cost though future earnings, and of course this is precisely what accounts for the large number of rich kids studying “artsy boho” subjects like Art, Architecture and Drama but unlike you apparently I don’t despise them or their parents for it.

  130. John, maybe try a less condescending tone when making your points – do you seriously think I have anything to learn from you about the nuances of Canadian culture having spent much of my life between Ottawa and SW Ontario?

    No. But I am not addressing you privately, I am addressing the whole community when I speak here, some of whom are I.Y.s and some of whom are from Absolutely Elsewhere and know nothing about all this.

    In addition, I do not “make points”: I say what I think or what I know, as the case may be. I don’t hurt people’s feelings on purpose, but I also don’ t care whether I convince (or impress) them or not.

  131. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’m sure you have equally trenchant insights about Siam and Prussia and the new Packard sedan

    I would expect nothing less, and indeed would be disappointed otherwise.
    (There’s a new Packard sedan?)

  132. I’m sticking to my Stanley Steamer.

  133. J.W. Brewer says:

    AJP: I do try not to despise people who can afford things I can’t afford simply on the basis of comparative wealth (not least because I am mindful of the negative dynamic places like NYC and London create where those in my economic circumstances who are much much better off than the median person lose sight of that because distracted by unbecoming envy of those who are another few standard deviations above median). My point is only that the sort of fancy alternative approach to education offered by a school like St. Ann’s, which was never affordable to the average family, is now affordable only to an increasingly rarified and ever-shrinking group. But it seems always to have been the case that schools that self-consciously offered an alternative to “regular” schools (whether public or private) with their hierarchy and grades and nervous competitiveness have usually been a luxury good that were marketed only to the offspring of the affluent. I was just reading about the once-legendary “alternative” English boarding school Dartington Hall, which seems a good example of the same pattern.

  134. Steinbeck seem substantive

    Well, there’s East of Eden: nothing lightweight about that.

    10th graders would thank you for when forced to read it?

    I can’t think that anyone would be happy when forced to read anything. I certainly wouldn’t, and reading is my life.

    Letter from a Birmingham Jail

    Now who’s being condescending? I don’t know if you’re actually one of the present youth or just presuming to speak for them, but I suspect I read that, and agreed with it, before you were born or thought of, and I’m not the only one here.

    prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice

    And you think this describes Atticus Finch? Do your homework!

    YA novels seem to tell stories of earnest young people coming to terms (with this that and the other)

    Many do, but my no means all. The only two absolute requirements for a YA novel in the U.S. are: teen protagonist and no explicit sex. Thassit. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, at least the first three, are just as much YA as anything you’re describing.

    Packard sedan

    At the (progressive) summer camp I attended, the director often took campers for rides in his 1932 model. The starter had long since become inoperable, so he we had to push it downhlll to start it. It was very cool, really.

    I agree the $50-odd thousand is a drawback

    Such a drawback, in fact, that I arranged for my daughter and her grandson to attend Public School 353, where they received an excellent progressive education for the usual sum of $0. This is nothing new: progressive public schools of this kind have been in existence in NYC for some 40+ years.

    Irene went on to the Institute for Collaborative Education, another State-supported public school, but Dorian didn’t because Irene and her family moved to Philadelphia this summer. Irene went on to the City College of New York, a public college, which I was able to pay for in cash because the tuition was a few hundred dollars per semester (when I went there iit was free altogether). Ours, I should perhaps add, is a mostly working-class, mostly Hispanic neighborhood, into which Irene and Dorian fit quite well.

  135. I feel I am uniquely qualified to make judgements about Canada.

    I flew over the place in a plane several times. Saw in the window all these icebergs, snow, forests, tundra, lakes (and not a single town as far as I could remember).

    Kind of surprised that there could be a literature at all, but I guess humans can adapt to any environment.

  136. SFReader is the living embodiment of Jane Jacobs’ famous obseravation that “Americans think that nowhere else is real”.

    Or else it’s just third rate trolling.

    Or maybe both.

  137. John, I’m sorry that it distresses you that Atticus FInch is not quite the hero to younger generations that he is to yours. To Kill a Mockingbird has virtues, to be sure, but it is also the granddaddy of all White Savior narratives. The key thing that people–white people, especially– fail to really grasp about To Kill a Mockingbird is that its POV character is a six-year-old girl. Atticus Finch is noble and heroic because everything we know about him is told to us by Scout. It is a story about nostalgia and the innocent, uncomplicated worldview of a child. People (Boomers, really, but they passed on the view to their children) latched onto Atticus Finch as the exemplar of a noble and anti-racist because it makes them feel good and you get a direct goddamn line from Atticus Finch to Crash and The Help and Green Book.

    What we really need is someone to do a “Wind Done Gone” type rewrite of the story from Tom Robinson’s POV.

  138. Stu Clayton says:

    prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice

    This phrasing is unmistakeably gender-specific, as is my reaction to it. And I do mean gender for once, not physical configuration. It’s such a relief to escape the opprobrium of sexual discrimination !

  139. @AJP Crown: As you are probably aware, Miss Dunham’s parents made piles of money by catching critical praise and then monetizing that by producing commodified “fine” art—repeating the same kinds of artworks over and over, so that lots and lots of rich people could pay to get versions.

  140. Stu Clayton says:

    If only there were more politicians as effective as Miss Dunham ! She may have taken more from the rich than any one tax scheme could.

  141. David Eddyshaw says:

    He found a formula for drawing comic rabbits:
    This formula for drawing comic rabbits paid,
    So in the end he could not change the tragic habits
    This formula for drawing comic rabbits made.

  142. Brett: Miss Dunham’s parents made piles of money by…producing commodified “fine” art—repeating the same kinds of artworks over and over, so that lots and lots of rich people…

    By linking to one series by Carroll Dunham – in fact all his work has the same themes (sex, cartoons etc.) but each series is very different – and then saying they “repeated the same kinds of artworks over & over”, when he & Laurie work separately (always have), you are really missing some great work (esp. imo Laurie Simmons’s). Picasso’s work had the same themes from 1906 until his death, so was he repeating the same kinds of artworks over and over, so that lots and lots of rich people…? So did Velasquez & Goya. Still, it’s your loss not mine. So ironical that you’d portray them as some kind of confidence tricksters raking in the dough when two more honest (& earnest, in Tip’s case) people it would be hard to find. But perhaps you think financial success in art (as opposed to the law, say. How much money do you think Supreme Court justices have? Let’s say RBG?) is a red flag in itself. Artists should be poor if they’re any good? A better short representation than your tendentious link to Tip, & one that also includes Laurie’s brilliant work too can be found here: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/laurie-simmons-and-carroll-dunham-1284521 . I would say why don’t you fuck off and die, but I don’t think your comment was intended maliciously, just generated by ignorance (& suspicion that ‘you’ve gotta watch out because a lot of that there modern art is a con’).

    Here’s a book of pieces by Tip that gives some idea of what he’s about.

  143. nemanja: The key thing that people–white people, especially– fail to really grasp about To Kill a Mockingbird is that its POV character is a six-year-old girl. Atticus Finch is noble and heroic because everything we know about him is told to us by Scout.

    Weird that you grasp it but still think it’s the granddaddy of all White Savior narratives (which by the way is – rightly or wrongly – judging history by today’s standards).

  144. David Marjanović says:

    Or else it’s just third rate trolling.

    It is, but SFReader is not American! 🙂

    Almost all people in Canada live along the southern border. That’s why, if you fly in from Europe, you don’t get to see much evidence of a population before you land in Toronto.

  145. I am pretty sure I have more qualifications to judge about Canada than 99% of Canadians/Americans who often make sweeping statements about some country they never even flew over…

  146. JW: the sort of fancy alternative approach to education offered by a school like St. Ann’s, which was never affordable to the average family, is now affordable only to an increasingly rarified and ever-shrinking group.

    I can’t argue with that. My point about private education is that abolishing it doesn’t help state education. More money for smaller classes and higher salaries that might encourage bright, inspired young people to become teachers is what’s needed (in England, anyway). And in England the way to abolish private education for the rich & powerful is to reduce their demand for it.

    I didn’t know that St Ann’s is the equivalent of Dartington.

    I’d just repeat, there’s no moral difference between paying for education for tenth graders and paying their fees & living expenses in graduate school. And yet many liberal parents seem to find the former an obscenity and the latter a necessary evil.

  147. Stu Clayton says:

    Crown, what great stuff that is from Dunham and Simmons !

  148. And yet many liberal parents seem to find the former an obscenity and the latter a necessary evil.

    I think necessary is the operative word. There are only a tiny number of U.S. tertiary institutions that require neither cash fees nor labor barter, but primary and secondary education for free (modulo taxes) is almost universally available, so that private versions of them are luxury/Veblen goods (demand goes up as the price goes up).

  149. Yes, it is. I’m really glad you agree, Stu. I’ve always liked her work. His it took me much longer to appreciate even though I’ve known him and seen his work since 1980. I’m slightly surprised that Brett who knows & likes cartoons isn’t more positive about it.

  150. It is my understanding that what the private schools in the US actually sell is the absence of undesirable lower class (and usually of the wrong color) kids.

    Some parents will pay a lot for that.

  151. Some parents are paying for the networking. I lived for years in Newton, MA, which has one of the best public school systems in the US (or indeed the world, I would argue, after close acquaintance with Japanese, Austrian and Polish public schools). Yet even in Newton wealthy families would send their children to BB&N or Noble & Greenough. It wasn’t to avoid people of color, because Newton just isn’t that diverse (at least social-economically). It was often about staying in the right social circles. Hedge fund managers want to hang out with hedge fund managers, and old money seeks old money.

  152. David Eddyshaw says:

    Hedge fund managers want to hang out with hedge fund managers

    Good. Reduces the chance of bumping into one.

  153. I gave an equivalent answer to a Quora question about why airlines don’t provide first-class seats when the regular seats get oversold (many people don’t show up, so airlines routinely overbook flights): the thing which airlines are selling when they sell first-class seats is the assurance that if you sit there, you won’t have to see any poors (apparently a current term for riffraff, hoi polloi, NOCD, etc.) except the servants. Gale, whose friend used to work for an airline, tells me that the same is true of VIP lounges: the luxury is amazing, but not (proportionally) that amazing: it’s the exclusiveness that sells it.

  154. primary and secondary education for free (modulo taxes) is almost universally available, so that private versions of them are luxury/Veblen goods (demand goes up as the price goes up).

    Universally in the sense of ‘every place in the States’ and I quibble with “so that” but also I’m in no doubt, having attended high quality versions of both fifty years ago in Britain, that private secondary education was at that time better than state. It had better teachers, fantastic facilities, more interesting and generally smarter pupils from better educated families, a much better library at a time of no internet and a higher proportion of university acceptances. At the same time, there was and still is overkill. The state school could have got me into university. 15 year-old public schoolboys studying art, theatre and architecture with very expensive high-tech equipment that most lucky kids would first encounter at university – that’s wasted money in my opinion. Having a former England captain teaching rugby depends on your attitude towards sport. As you might expect, for my daughter state secondary education was a good choice in Norway. The schools were great, still are. Private schools are for French & American children who choose to follow the curriculum back home and then there’s one school in Oslo that the king’s grandchildren may (I’m not sure, who cares) be attending (it’s a pretty good school but so are the free schools). As for the networking, an unremarkable boy in my state school class is the deputy governor of the Bank of England. If he’d only said he was planning that career I’d have kept in touch.

    why airlines don’t provide first-class seats
    There was just a weird article in the Guardian about that.

  155. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just to be clear I don’t think it’s immoral for anyone who can afford it to send their kids to whatever schools they want to — and good public schools, in much of the US, do depend on your ability to pay for more expensive housing and more expensive property taxes — in complicated places like NYC, you can access good public schools w/o having a lot of $ if you have the social capital and skill set that makes you better than average at gaming the system, filling out paperwork, etc etc. (Put a bit less pejoratively, the NYC system systematically advantages kids with parents who take the initiative to seek out the better options available and figure out the right strategy to take advantage of them at the expense of kids with parents more inclined to just go with the flow and settle for whatever the system will provide by default — and which kids are more likely to have which sort of parents is not random, in terms of social class etc.)

    All of that said, the difference at least in a U.S. context between expensive private college and expensive private K-12 school is that paying for four years (when you’ve had eighteen years to save up, and financial aid resources are often more substantial for those who were unable to save up enough) is rather different than paying for seventeen years without even getting into whatever you might have done before kindergarten, because the latter requires the ability to cover the expense out of current income year after year after year. And the degree of cost matters — a private day school that costs $49K/year like St. Ann’s is necessarily going to have a rather different student body than a private day school that costs under $10K/year — such as Cardinal Spellman H.S. (under Roman Catholic auspices) in the Bronx, which is the alma mater of Sonia Sotomayor and is barely a 10-minute drive from my house after you’ve crossed the invisible line from “suburban district with good public schools” to “the borough that simultaneously houses both the spectacularly good and free-to-NYC-residents-who-do-well-enough-on-the-exam Bronx Science and a rather larger number of extremely low-performing public schools.” And there are all sorts of price points in between in the NYC area, and plenty of other places where the market just hasn’t gone quite as high — the poshest private day school where I grew up, barely a hundred miles from Manhattan, is apparently now up to a mere $31K/year. But as with college tuition, posh private-school tuition in the U.S. has, over the decades since I was school-age myself, gone up much faster than average inflation or average wages, exacerbating the social-class dynamics substantially as compared to what they already were circa 1980.

  156. I’m in no doubt, having attended high quality versions of both fifty years ago in Britain, that private secondary education was at that time better than state.

    In the U.S. today, insofar as we know anything at all (and we mostly don’t, as I’ve pointed out before), private schools have higher-scoring students, but this may be because they have a strong incentive to filter them on the way in. My dad used to point out that all U.S. law schools gave the same education (except for Yale and the University of Louisiana and a few others); Harvard graduates did better going out because they did better coming in.

    Teacher pay and perks are better in public schools, though, so the amount of uplift being done (i.e. correcting for the above issues) is probably greater. Public-school teachers are more likely to have higher degrees as well. Class sizes are of course smaller in private schools, and they can almost pick their own curriculum, though public schools like the ones my family attended are now able to do that too (there are standardized tests in New York State, but they are widely boycotted on various grounds). Diversity is higher in public schools: I count that as a huge advantage, but obviously many do not. Uniforms are becoming more usual in public schools after many years in which they were unthinkable, but they can only be encouraged, not made mandatory, thanks to the First Amendment.

    Tuition fees are bimodal, with a median cost per year of about $7K for Catholic schools and about $21K for the rest. About 10% of the student population is attending a private school at any given time.

    UPDATE: Brett and I were writing concurrently, and I agree with all he says: the stats I’m giving inevitably tend to smear out such effects.

  157. J.W. Brewer says:

    That American private schools charging exorbitant tuition generally do not prioritize hiring teachers with master’s degrees in education but American public schools do is imho pretty good evidence that those “higher degrees” are essentially worthless. Or rather, they have obvious worth as a paper credential in a credentialist bureaucratic system that automatically pays higher salaries to those in possession of them, but no worth as a predictor of actual teaching ability.

  158. Brett and I were writing concurrently, and I agree with all he say

    Do you mean J.W. Brewer?

  159. “My older sons loved Iain M. Banks’ novels when they were in 10th grade (but he’s English?)”

    Good choice. I’ve always preferred the great Catholic novelists like Saul Bellow and Philip Roth myself. They’re easily the equal of the German masters like Bulgakov and Tolstoy.

  160. Haha. Iain Banks & Iain M. Banks, he Scottish.

  161. Father Jape says:

    “Teacher pay and perks are better in public schools, though”

    Huh… but where does all that parent money go?
    Also this seems counterintuitive considering there are more public than private schools. What am I missing?

  162. Almost all people in Canada live along the southern border. That’s why, if you fly in from Europe, you don’t get to see much evidence of a population before you land in Toronto.

    There’s a bit of an all-or-nothing wager depending on your exact route. The one time I flew to Toronto from Europe, with an exchange in Amsterdam IIRC, the flight ended up coming in along a corridor almost following the Saint Lawrence, allowing sighting all of Québec City, Montréal and Ottawa (plus various smaller towns) at least from some distance.

  163. What am I missing?

    That public schools are unionized (like most government sectors) and private schools, like most private enterprises, are mostly not. The parent money, to be sure, goes into the pockets of the investors, for whom teachers are a monetary liability, probably their biggest one.

    Do you mean J.W. Brewer?

    I did indeed. Joint apologies to both of you.

    “higher degrees” are essentially worthless

    I thought my Ph.D. high school teachers (one in world history, one in chemistry) were in fact superior to most of the others. We knew who they were because they were addressed as “Dr.”) My LL.B. social studies teacher was also excellent. But in any case I don’t think that private high schools prioritize learning any more than the University of Phoenix does.

    more expensive property taxes

    In New Jersey, where I grew up, funding schools solely from local property taxes was held to violate the Constitution of New Jersey, which guarantees a “thorough and efficient education” for all children in the state. Consequently, there is a complicated formula whereby poorer districts get state funding to make up the shortfall. New Jersey government is notoriously corrupt and always has been, so doubtless there is plenty of jiggery-pokery around this, but the principle at least is correct. NYC has a unified school district with about a million students at any time, so it too can and does transfer funds from richer neighborhoods to poorer ones.

  164. Father Jape says:

    So… why does one become a private school teacher in the US (as opposed to a public school one)?

  165. Trond Engen says:

    AJP: I’d just repeat, there’s no moral difference between paying for education for tenth graders and paying their fees & living expenses in graduate school. And yet many liberal parents seem to find the former an obscenity and the latter a necessary evil.

    I don’t think the moral question is very interesting — not on a personal level, anyway. Trying to solve social issues by enhancing personal moral is like trying to fix an open sewer by preaching the virtues of fresh air.

    (Parenthetical edit: I don’t think I’m arguing against anyone here. I just used that paragraph as a starting point.)

  166. David Marjanović says:

    Yeah, sorry, I used Toronto as an example, but haven’t ever flown there (I arrived by train from the US). I flew over a lot of Canada once, but landed in San Francisco.

    I am pretty sure I have more qualifications to judge about Canada than 99% of Canadians/Americans who often make sweeping statements about some country they never even flew over…

    I correct myself: first-rate trolling, éclatant les bien-pensants. 🙂

    I’d just repeat, there’s no moral difference between paying for education for tenth graders and paying their fees & living expenses in graduate school. And yet many liberal parents seem to find the former an obscenity and the latter a necessary evil.

    I remember being on the street protesting against the introduction of tuition fees at the public universities (i.e. practically all of them) in Austria. They were introduced, but at a level Americans wouldn’t even notice, and they’ve been abolished since. For a few years they’ve been gone in all of Germany, too.

    funding schools solely from local property taxes was held to violate the Constitution of New Jersey, which guarantees a “thorough and efficient education” for all children in the state.

    YES
    SANITY
    FINALLY

  167. why does one become a private school teacher in the US?

    Money isn’t everything; conditions of work are important too. If small classes, homogeneous classes, and orderly students matter to you, you’d probably want to avoid public schools in many places. (Discipline in private schools is a paradox: order is considered very important, probably more important than learning, but expulsion is not available as an ultimate penalty, because every expulsion hits the bottom line very directly.)

  168. @John Cowan: No apology necessary. I pretty much agree with everything that you and J.W. Brewer said.

    As to why people teach private school: Another reason is that it generally does not require the same credentials as teaching in the public schools. I have known a couple of people who left graduate school with master’s degrees in math or physics and went straight into teaching at private academies. (One of them got a job at a boarding school that also provided him with housing, which was one of the reasons he took the position.) The public schools would have possibly required them to have additional coursework (in the College of Education) and definitely in-class student teaching experience in order to get a teaching certificate. So some people can start working in private schools, using the experience they gain there to earn their certification before transferring to a public school system.

    (As I write this, I realize that I need to get in touch with the College of Education here to find out how they handle the bookkeeping for students’ in-class practicum hours. I am in charge of the committee that has been tasked with rewriting the university-wide attendance policy for undergraduate courses, and I have discovered that the College of Nursing is not in compliance with the current policy, because of the way they need to ensure that nursing students have sufficient practicum hours to qualify for licensure. The same issue may exist for students studying to be teachers, and I had better look into it.)

  169. I thought my Ph.D. high school teachers (one in world history, one in chemistry) were in fact superior to most of the others. We knew who they were because they were addressed as “Dr.”)
    We had the same thing at my state school, Dr Derry for History and Dr Rose for English. And the current head of my fee-paying school is Professor someone, who’s been granted a 5-year sabbatical from a university, though “professor” when they’re out of their natural environment sounds to me a bit like Professor Popkiss in Supercar with his gofer, Dr Beaker.

    “higher degrees” are essentially worthless
    I know from my wife that even if you’re a visual artist in academic Norway nowadays you don’t exist before you’ve got yer PhD (she’s a supervisor). I may be an old fart but I can’t reconcile this requirement with teaching Art, only with Art History & Critical Theory where it might indeed be useful, innit.

  170. I wonder about the origins of the surname Veltistov. It’s clearly to do with βέλτιστος, but in what way?

  171. It’s a seminarist surname, one of many artificially created out of Greek or Latin words encountered in church-related reading; cf. Aristov from ἄριστος ‘best.’

  172. Ευχαριστώ πολύ!

  173. J.W. Brewer says:

    This just in from one of the major political parties in the UK: “Comrades, we must abolish Eton and all the other suspiciously posh alternatives to state schools and then seize and redistribute their assets to the proletarian toilers.” https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-public-private-school-abolish-eton-vote-conference-corbyn-education-policy-a9115766.html?fbclid

  174. per incuriam says:

    I gave an equivalent answer to a Quora question about why airlines don’t provide first-class seats when the regular seats get oversold (many people don’t show up, so airlines routinely overbook flights): the thing which airlines are selling when they sell first-class seats is the assurance that if you sit there, you won’t have to see any poors (apparently a current term for riffraff, hoi polloi, NOCD, etc.) except the servants. Gale, whose friend used to work for an airline, tells me that the same is true of VIP lounges: the luxury is amazing, but not (proportionally) that amazing: it’s the exclusiveness that sells it

    I fear you have misled the Quora community. None of the above is remotely true, at least in my experience. Even the question is wrong: operational upgrades to premium cabins happen all the time. Also, you won’t avoid the hoi polloi by flying first class, what with loyalty bonuses, airmile awards, special occasion splurges, gifts and so forth in addition to the upgrades. Anyway the elite up in the air, by and large, is not the rich, it’s frequent fliers like me, typically travelling at someone else’s expense, and the people you don’t want cramping your space is not “poor” people, it’s any kind of people (l’enfer etc.). Ditto the lounge.

    Proper rich people have planes of their own.

  175. J.W. Brewer says:

    Oh, and just to be clearer, my condemnation of “higher degrees” was focused on that ubiquitous American public-school credential the M.Ed. I intended no negative comment on the much rarer (in the US) phenomenon of holders of Ph.D.’s in fields other than “education” teaching at the secondary school level.

  176. Even the question is wrong: operational upgrades to premium cabins happen all the time

    Indeed. I’ve personally benefited from such on more than one occasion, most memorably after a snafu in Addis Ababa (…which sounds like an introduction to a Hemingway-esque “World’s Most Interesting Man” story, but was in reality a tedious tale of system outages and missed connections.)

  177. When I was in high school, one of the foreign language teachers finished up a Ph. D. in Russian literature, with a dissertation on Dostoevsky. Obviously, it was a topic he was passionately interested in, but since he never taught Russian (there being only two Russian language classes at the school, which were claimed by the foreign language teacher with the most seniority), it was of marginal specific usefulness.

  178. PlasticPaddy says:

    @jwb
    Toiler is a risky word to use as easily mistaken for another. At first reading I thought you were disparaging proletarian schools☺

  179. per incuriam: I fear you have misled the Quora community. None of the above is remotely true, at least in my experience.
    I haven’t flown first class for a long time but I used to do it a lot for work and I thought the same. There’s a huge variation in the lounges: British Airways has bedrooms for layovers, Virgin has minigolf & limos and SAS has nothing but hard Scandinavian wooden furniture and beds on the flights, so you need to know your airlines. And yeah, it’s just riffraff like me and business types on their cell phones, whose clients are paying, putting away as much free champagne as they can, greedy porkers. I always liked the BA cream teas.

  180. Proper rich people have planes of their own.

    I wonder what proper rich people have instead of private schools.

  181. David Marjanović says:

    Boarding schools in Switzerland, of course.

  182. Tutors are the equivalent of Learjets. British monarchs summoned maths or English fellows of Oxford colleges to live at the palace and teach the children (including the current queen). The late Tony Benn, left-wing politician and his ernest American wife sent their kids to Holland Park, a well-known local London non-competitive entry state school, and then had them secretly tutored privately at home in the evenings so they’d still be able to get into Oxbridge. Some people found this hypocritical, but you go with what’s available.

  183. It’s a seminarist surname

    No mention of Феоктистов /θεόκτιστος, though.

    Does Логофет /λογοθέτης belong there?

  184. Probably not relevant to this discussion since it refers to half a century past, but my only experience of flying first-class is when I was in the US army, flying everywhere on “military standby” tickets. I was frequently put in that section, if only to balance the plane (first-class cabins were often half-empty in those days).

  185. Does Логофет /λογοθέτης belong there?

    Could be; it’s not in Unbegaun, so I can’t tell you for sure.

  186. Логофет was a guy in the school I went to, a year or two younger. He may have been a Greek, though.

  187. David Eddyshaw says:

    a snafu in Addis Ababa (…which sounds like an introduction to a Hemingway-esque “World’s Most Interesting Man” story

    The uncle of an old girlfriend of mine, who (the uncle) was some sort of UN high official in Ethiopia, once arrived late to a family occasion and excused himself with the words “Sorry I’m late. Plane caught fire.” He made no further allusion to the incident at all.

    Despite myself, I found this quite impressive, and vowed to emulate it if the matter ever arose. Fortunately this has not happened to date. Milan airport once set fire to my luggage, but it’s not the same.

  188. “Sorry I’m late. Luggage set on fire,” would be pretty effective, I think.

  189. The late Tony Benn, left-wing politician and his ernest American wife sent their kids to Holland Park, a well-known local London non-competitive entry state school, and then had them secretly tutored privately at home in the evenings so they’d still be able to get into Oxbridge.

    I don’t know if that rises to the level of hypocrisy, but it’s at least weaselly, especially for a politician who professed to be a man of great principles. It’s not now and wasn’t then impossible to go to a state school and thence to Oxbridge.

    Then again, I always detested Tony Benn. One of many high-born and privileged left-wingers who delighted in telling the masses what was good for them.

  190. David Eddyshaw says:

    Holland Park has never been what you might call a bog-standard comprehensive.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holland_Park_School

  191. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Secretly” tutored? Presumably not a very well kept secret, then …

    At one stage I myself was not-at-all-secretly tutored at home in maths, on account of having been at that point pretty remedial. (It worked.)

  192. J.W. Brewer says:

    Having reviewed the list of notable former pupils and faculty of Holland Park at David E.’s link, I am now struck with intense curiosity as to whether any of the Benn offspring had Bryan Ferry as their pottery teacher.

  193. Golly. I had no idea Holland Park was that kind of a school. Even less reason for Tony Benn’s kids to need extra help. Perhaps they weren’t cooperating fully in their parents’ plans for them.

  194. January First-of-May says:

    …And now I’m wondering whether I should explain those for the benefit of the non-Russians (and/or the non-Russian-speakers, and/or the non-Russian-culture-fans) in the audience.

    Just for the record: I know that the thread had mostly moved on from that topic, but the offer still stands.

  195. You might as well, as a resource for future curious readers.

  196. January First-of-May says:

    You might as well, as a resource for future curious readers.

    OK, sure!

    I’ll start with the list itself, as a reminder, because the full explanation might take a while to type…

    “…Then again – how many of you have heard of Elektronik, Viktor Tsoi, Gelsomino in the Land of the Liars, Gianni Rodari in general, Monday Begins on Saturday, ivasi (food), Ivasi (band), Oberiu, Guest from the Future, socialist realism, the Emerald City series, Karlsson on the Roof, or Robert Wood?
    And I could probably relatively easily go on for another two or three dozen listings.”

  197. David Eddyshaw says:

    I score a thumping two: Monday Begins on Saturday (which I suspect a lot of other unSlavonic Hatters have also read) and socialist realism (because I’m sad.)

  198. January First-of-May says:

    …I sincerely apologize; the explanations have dragged on, it’s 3:30 AM, and I’m supposed to be up early in the morning.

    I’ve saved the parts that I have already written down, and will hopefully finish the list tomorrow.

  199. It’s very peculiar how the myths about Holland Park have accumulated. It wasn’t always the Eton of the state system and it didn’t always look like that (about ten years ago it was given a hugely expensive cutting edge architectural makeover). When I was ten and took the 11+ plus exam I knew, quite terrifyingly, that if I failed I would end up at Holland Park, the comprehensive up the hill, where I’d never have an opportunity to learn anything (this came from our primary school teachers) and just get beaten up all the time by the brylcreem haired louts we saw in the street after school (this was just pre-Beatles) and end up as a manual labourer (our primary teachers again). But I passed, and went to a single-sex state grammar school several tube stops away (where a lot of the pupils went on to Oxbridge, David L) and later to a fee-paying school. But you’d see the Holland Park failures, they wore a rather attractive uniform with a Fox badge on their blazers in memory of Lord Holland (and in a way of his relative Charles James Fox) on whose land the school was built. The girls wore very short skirts and looked fab like Twiggy (the younger ones) or Jean Shrimpton & Julie Christie (the sixteen year olds) and the boys had flared trousers and grew long hair and looked like rock stars. We at the grammar school looked like trainee accountants. There were a lot of Bennlike parents in Notting Hill back then, upper class left-wingers often with dozens of children. I had friends in the boy scouts who moved back and forth between Holland Park and Westminster every few terms because their parents were never satisfied, progress versus principles. I don’t charge the Benns or any of the other Holland Park parents with hypocrisy. Knowing what I do about Holland Park in 1963 it’s still amazing to me that they had such trust in their beliefs that they’d send their children there in the first place. And I too had private Maths tuition without which I’d never have passed my O Level, so I can’t blame the Benns for that without being a hypocrite myself.

  200. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    Ha! My dad and uncle went to Holland Park circa 1969 and my grandmother told me although it was a comprehensive it was one made to advertise the (relatively new?) concept and make it look shiny and appealing to doubters.

  201. Wow. She was right. Just from your name I’m wondering if you or they might have known the Panasewicz brothers Witold and Michael, who lived in Norland Square W11 and went to Holland Park around that time? They had Polish parents and had lived in Venezuela. Cool as hell, esp. Mike who had blond hair and a green leather jacket with long fringes.

  202. I love your Holland Park reminiscence/analysis, AJP.

  203. Thank you! I was thinking how dull it must be, but I’ve just about reached the age where I can spot the holes in the writing of the tiny bits of history that I’ve witnessed and they make me very uneasy because of all the history I’ve read and accepted as gospel.

  204. Yes, and I think it’s important to try to correct the tiny bits we know so that the general picture doesn’t get too fuzzy and unreal.

  205. David Eddyshaw says:

    I was just last week hearing the reminiscences of a friend who was in the year below Mick Jagger at LSE. He didn’t know him socially but remembers seeing him in the library a fair bit.

    (I’ve also just discovered that Mick Jagger’s father was called Basil Fanshawe Jagger.)

  206. Good god! No wonder he turned out the way he did.

  207. AJP: I’m struck by the fact that you say Holland Park was a comprehensive school in the early 60s. I grew up in a small town where there were two schools — a grammar school (boys only) and what was then called a ‘secondary modern’ which had boys and girls. The girls who passed the 11+ went to the girls-only grammar school in the neighboring town. It was not until circa 1972, when I started the sixth form at the grammar school — 10th grade in American, more or less — that the two schools in my town merged and became a single comprehensive . It also meant that about half a dozen girls arrived at my school, which was novel for us boys and must have been terrifying for them.

    Funny thing, I can’t remember any warnings from teachers about the 11+. We knew that if you failed you would go to the secondary modern but to the best of my recollection the teachers at my primary school sprang the 11+ on us without notice. We went in one morning and they said there was a test we had to take. Only afterwards did we find out, through letters to our parents giving the results, that it was the 11+. (I am not particularly confident in these memories, I should say).

    I didn’t know of anyone who got any private tuition. It was a small town and perhaps there wasn’t any such thing. Or maybe it was kept quiet out of embarrassment.

    As for the Benns — my beef is that such people would send their kids to the local school out of solidarity with the common folk, or because of the political downside of professing socialist values and then sending your kids to a private school, but then pay for tutoring on the side to avoid the disadvantages. I understand why they would do that but it still strikes me as trying to have it both ways. Yes, we believe in egalitarian education for all children (but no, actually we don’t).

  208. David Eddyshaw says:

    My younger brother got to sit the eleven-plus twice, for reasons which I cannot now fathom and probably never understood in the first place. I never sat it all, paving the way for me to become a hypocritical socialist in later life.
    (None of my own children went to a fee-paying school, but that is because I am an avaricious and uncaring parent. My socialist daughter is clear on this point.)

  209. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    Just from your name I’m wondering if you or they might have known the Panasewicz brothers Witold and Michael

    My dad says no but he does remember Hillary Benn. XD (As an aside, my family is… let’s say Yugoslav, but my dad and my uncle have a Sephardic last name.)

  210. Stu Clayton says:

    I am an avaricious and uncaring parent.

    Are we there yet, are we there yet, how much longer ?

    2 Timothy 3:1-5

  211. Panasewicz brothers Witold and Michael, who lived in Norland Square W11 and went to Holland Park around that time? They had Polish parents and had lived in Venezuela. Cool as hell, esp. Mike who had blond hair and a green leather jacket with long fringes.

    maybe this guy
    https://twitter.com/CarefreeMikeP

  212. Thanks for asking! It ought to have been obvious to me from the spelling – if not the Sephardic part, then at least that it wasn’t Polish – but I’m less familiar with east European languages than many people here are. Is your family still living in London? (I ended up Norway.)

  213. SFR: maybe this guy

    Yes! That’s the guy. Amazing. Thanks! I haven’t seen him since I was ten. It figures that he’d end up in Arizona. In Art at the Fox Junior School, he used to just draw Cadillacs with enormous tail fins. He was very popular with the girls in our last year (as I say we were only ten, but some were early developers and there was kissing in the cloakroom).

  214. Apropos of absolutely nothing, I’ve just learned that David Salle pronounces his name “Sally.” I always said it like My Gal Sal.

  215. socialist realism … my dad grew up in it

    Impossible, as far as I can tell. Socialist realism is a form of fantasy (should we call it “low fantasy”?). It is impossible to leave in it. It exists only as a costume party.

  216. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    Is your family still living in London?

    My uncle and gran, yes (grandad ended up being buried close to Amy Winehouse). My dad and his descendants, no. 😀

  217. David Marjanović says:

    Socialist realism is a form of fantasy

    It’s an art style, and that style was everywhere.

  218. David Salle pronounces his name “Sally.”

    The late Robert Hughes used to refer to him as David Silly. I’ve always assumed it was Italian. It was brave of his immigrant family to even try and get an English-speaking audience to pronounce the final E. I suppose he has no trouble in European countries (except France).

  219. grandad ended up being buried close to Amy Winehouse

    Me and Mr Bjelaković

  220. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    *Almuli but yes. 😀

  221. At least it wasn’t Jones. 😀

  222. Andrej, do you mind sharing with us what your father’s Sephardic name is? In my mind, the prototypical Bosnian Jewish surnames are Elazar and Papo, but I’m not sure if those are instantly identifiable as Bosnian Sephardic in, say, Israel. The are also more slavicized ones like Maglajlic where the Jewishness is not as readily apparent.

  223. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    It’s right there in my previous post! 🙂

  224. Almuli is derived from the Arabic al-mu’alli ‘the one who raises up.’

  225. D’oh! So it is. I gotta say that’s a very unusual name for Bosnia. Just goes to show you how little I know I suppose.

  226. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    For Serbia too! You usually get Koen, Alkalaj etc.
    This line of my ancestors came to Belgrade from Oran via Šabac

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