Cervantes, Dickens, and You


With due apologies to our resident book reviewer, I thought I’d pick up on his last post and carry it forward into mine. I’m intrigued by the actions of the Venezuelan government; not just by the fact that they think it is a worthwhile thing to do to have their citizens read a novel, but by why they chose Don Quixote. What is it they want the citizens of Venezuela to learn from a 400-yr-old novel by an author who not only wasn’t Venezuelan, but was a citizen of Venezuela’s imperial (and rather brutal) colonizer?

I’m curious what novel, play, or short-story the readers of this blog, as well as the Houseflies themselves, would like all Americans to read in 2005, and why. What would head your “Recommended Fiction” list for America? Why? What is it you’d like Americans to take from that novel, play, or short-story? Do you think they would?

For my own part, I’m going to say Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Why? Because I think it’s a powerful warning against tyrannical tendencies, something a great many Americans seem to find tempting in an age of frightening new threats. Dickens’ novel portrays England (London) and France (Paris) at a time in their history when they, too, felt suddenly threatened: England by the American colonies, the French, and their own criminal element, and France by England and an internal insurgency. I think Dickens has much instructive to say about how those societies reacted to the threats they faced, and how those reactions were often worse than the threats themselves. The parallels between the secret imprisonments of Dr. Manette and Charles Darnay, and the actions of the current American administration in the Padilla case are particularly chilling, I think. And there are similar parallels between how England attempted to deal with its crime problem, and our Patriot Act.

Yeah, Dickens is preachy as all get-out and his style is a bit aged now, but he’s also wickedly funny and a master of plot. He’s worth a read in contemporary America.


10 Responses to “Cervantes, Dickens, and You”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’m not so good at this, but I’d go with a book you recommended to me once: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry.

    Since it’s a Newberry Medal winner, you could even hand it out in the school systems.

    I think we need to remember that Sameness is really not so wonderful for one thing, and that our culture’s preoccupation with no pain rules out love in the end.

    Just my thinking…

  2. wednesday Says:

    I’m a big fan of the “Hank the Cowdog” series.

  3. Joe Longhorn Says:

    “To Kill A Mockingbird” – Harper Lee

    For my money, Atticus Finch is the coolest literary character of all time. Not to mention he was portrayed by one of the coolest actors of all time (Gregory Peck)in the film adaptation. Lots of good themes and messages in this book that the whole country can learn from.

  4. Michael Lasley Says:

    I don’t think most people would actually catch on to the possible similarities in America and Tale of Two Cities (not because we aren’t smart, but because we wouldn’t want to see them [and, Amen, on his writing style]). I love To Kill a Mockingbird. One of the few books I’ve read multiple times. I’d probably choose something by Marquez, probably One Hundred Years of Solitude. Marquez induced many jaw drops on my part during the book, and I think it has a lot to say about small town vs world politics and moral demise and power and feminism and faith and ignoring the world outside of your one little village and etc.

  5. wednesday Says:

    For your nonfiction enjoyment, how about something from the David Sedaris collection?

  6. Michael Lasley Says:

    Yes. Anything by Sedaris. “Big Boy” and “Jesus Shaves” are both classic essays, I think. And he wrote this one about drowning a mouse for The New Yorker, I think, last summer that may be the best of anything I’ve ever read by him. But I think the Religious Right would jump all over your suggestion.

  7. Coolhand Says:

    I think every American should read the Great Gatsby and watch Citizen Kane and decide what they think the American dream is all about. They’re older, but I think they still speak to what we think will make us happy in this world and/or nation.

  8. wedfly Says:

    Why would the RR care about Sedaris? Because one MIGHT possibly infer by reading between the lines that he could perhaps just possibly but not definitely be slightly g_y?

  9. Coach Says:

    A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving still gets my vote. I read the novel as hopeful. That all thing happen by design.

  10. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I fail to see how pork chops could lead to intercourse.

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