A podcast in which five idiots get together to discuss the finest works of classic literature.
Listen to them struggle with subtexts, historical contexts, symbolism and the minor fact that none of them have actually read the book.
This week the Idiots discuss Jonathan Franzen’s most recent inquiry into the values of Middle Class America, “Purity”, talk about nominative determinism, get hung up on the question of the age of consent as it pertains to Whoppers and Big Macs, debate who the most famous wolf is, give literary giant Franzen some notes on his opus, and agree that they need to stop talking about the age of consent on the Podcast.
In this week’s episode, the Idiots are down by one because Alice didn’t bother reading the book and was put in a time out. The remaining Idiots discuss Audrey Niffenegger’s non-linear science fiction love story “The Time Traveller’s Wife”, Chin sings a song while Dan, Josh and Haran ponder whether there’s anything more time consuming than having a penis.
by Haran X
Modern people struggle with classic novels. Paralysed by an inability to read anything over 140 characters, their eyes rarely move beyond the first few sentences of the blurb of the abridged version of the Dummies’ Guide to the novel’s respective SparkNotes Study Aid. Naturally, such people are left bereft of any substantive understanding of the classics. Consider the following exchange with a student during my Russian literature lecture at the University of Bookarest:
“Now class, who can tell me what The Idiot is about?”
“Is it your autobiography, sir?”
Luckily, we at Faking Lit have much more tenacity than the decerebrated specimens that inundate Bookarest’s lecture halls and safe spaces. Yes, we are dedicated to reading classic novels in their entirety. One such book is The Bible. In Deuteronomy 6:16, someone (I assume Jesus) exclaims, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Of course, it later transpires that this ‘Lord your God’ character was merely trying to avoid an English exam for which he was ill prepared. He lacked tenacity.
By contrast, Faking Lit are happy to be tested on our literary knowledge. In fact, to prove that we have indeed read all classical novels to date (and not just the opening lines), I have taken the liberty of reproducing, from memory, some second lines from classical literature:
“Call me Ishmael”
“Ermm, I would prefer to use the term ‘transgender’.”
– Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure – basically she died when her plane crashed crossing the International Date Line during the start of Daylight Saving Time. “
– The Stranger by Albert Camus
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. So I stayed indoors and watched Netflix instead.”
– Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way. To summarise using formal logic notation: it was P and ¬ P.”
– A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. I later found out that this burning sensation was due to gonorrhoea.”
– Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. And also those almond croissants they sell at Pret.”
– Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“It was bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. That’s one o’clock in the afternoon using a 12-hour clock system. To be honest, I don’t know why I didn’t just simply write ‘1pm’.
– Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. Still, he consoled himself: as a cockroach, he could easily survive the impending North Korean nuclear attack.”
– The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good wife. Now, I ain’t saying she a gold digger, but Elizabeth Bennet wasn’t messin’ with no broke n***as.”
– Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Quod Erat Demonstradum.
This week the Idiots discuss Louis De Bernieres’ tale of love during wartime and ask all the tough questions such as “How did war?”, “Why is Hitler?”, “Who am gay?” and “What is ‘Lub’?”
By Chin Tee
By now we have all seen the movie and its sequels. Much like the gigantic prehistoric lizards that populate this narrative, Crichton’s cautionary tale of science and capitalism run amok loom large in the public consciousness and refuses to die. But does the book still hold up after all this time? Sadly, in this reviewer’s opinion, it does not. Time has not been kind to Crichton’s workmanlike prose, his thinly drawn characters and his by-the-numbers plotting.
But out of all the missteps that this book makes, perhaps the greatest was taking my daughter and leaving me alive.
I was immediately struck, upon picking up the book again, that despite my familiarity with the film franchise, the book was filled with much extraneous detail that my brain had consigned to oblivion, an indicator of just how forgettable many of the characters and sub-plots from the book were. However, I will not forget, nor will I forgive, should one hair on my daughter’s head be harmed.
Crichton seems to have an obsession with theme parks, having also written the screenplay for Westworld, another cautionary tale of science run amok set in another futuristic theme park. Perhaps he’s attracted to the innocence of theme parks, how they represent a place where people let their guard down and give in to the illusion of safety. A place where nothing bad can happen. But this is precisely the sort of complacency that prevented me from realizing the danger that my daughter was in. Only now do I realize that this mildly diverting narrative of dinosaurs resurrected through mosquitos and DNA was designed to make me take my eye off the ball. A mistake that I will never make again.
At times it’s hard to gauge the stance which Crichton wants the reader to take with regards to science, and it’s clear that novel owes a huge debt to that classic of rogue science, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. But Shelley’s book did not fetishize nor revel in the possibilities and wonders of science in the way Crichton clearly does. Indeed the heroes and the constant voices of reason tend to be the scientists. Dr Ian Malcolm perhaps comes closest to embodying this ambivalence to progress, being a chaos mathematician who comes across like a rock star and who effectively announces the moral quandary at the heart of the story in almost every line of dialogue he’s given. Namely that man must not play God. And if my daughter is not returned safely within the next 24 hours, God will not save you from my wrath. My vengeance will be swift and it will be brutal. And it certainly won’t unfold over the course of 448 pages of intermittent excitement.
In short, “Jurassic Park”, you messed with the wrong family. I am coming for you. There is no place on earth that you can hide. You made it personal. And now I am your judge, jury and executioner. Prepare for blood.
By Daniel Offen
Along with hundreds of thousands of other children I read The Old Man and the Sea as a part of my GCSE syllabus, I probably wouldn’t have touched it otherwise. The general consensus among our class was that it was a book about a man who was bad at catching a fish and not much else. The claims of our teacher that the fish, or the old man, or anything else, represented an attempt by Earnest Hemingway to talk about anything greater than fishing were viewed with extreme suspicion.
Just last week an old school friend told me over a disappointing Wetherspoon’s burrito (even given low expectations) that he’d generally enjoyed the books we’d read in school aside from The Old Man and the Sea because it was about fishing and nothing else, and he did not like fishing. He emphasised the point by slamming his fork down into his nachos in search of cheese but only sending tiny dry splinters all across the table.
Teenagers would have us believe that Earnest Hemingway is in effect a humble failed sports writer; his attempts to cover competitive fishing purposefully misinterpreted as religious allegory by charlatan intellectuals to obtain grant money. They imagine Hemingway getting increasingly frustrated as his simple accounts of events are ascribed meaning he’d never even considered. “Thank you sending me your report on the Champions League final Earnest, but you appear to have actually sent me a literary masterpiece concerning man’s competition with his inner beast. Could you perhaps write a little more on Carlo Ancolotti’s unexpected use of 442?”
The above image shows the general attitude towards literary analysis – the idea that writers might inject their work with subtext is seen as nonsensical. If a writer describes a thing, that’s what they’re doing, just describing a thing. Such detail is necessary because readers are incapable of imaging anything without being given the exact dimensions of every object they’re supposed to conjure up in their mind’s eye. Really, writers don’t generally bother laying out every dull detail of the world, simply because it’s barely relevant. The only writer who does is Dan Brown and he is, in fact, not a proper author at all. Instead, The Da Vinci code was instead a version of the Argos catalogue that got out of hand, subsequently cobbled into a book by a skilled editor.
Anyway, back to The Old Man and the Sea. I’ll do a quick plot summary, but honestly most of the information you need is contained in the title. An old man is having a dry spell, so he goes to try to catch one last fish and then catches a very big one, but it takes him ages. It’s a pyrrhic victory, with the old man, the name of whom I’ve since forgotten, returning with little more than a massive skeleton, which is useless because fish bones are irritating and barely even good for stock.
The great thing about simplicity in literature, or indeed art in general, is that is creates a vacuum of interpretation where the reader, starved of content, must formulate their own ideas of the text. This is more nuanced than, but comparable to, giving a restaurant patron only plain bread as a meal then insisting that they’ve actually been given a culinary masterpiece because “the true sustenance exists in the spaces between the food.”
Perhaps, though, Hemingway’s famously simple style is primarily the result of laziness, maybe he doesn’t use long words because he can’t be bothered to type them up, or look up what they mean. He does, often, seem to argue that his brevity is a particularly manly way of writing. It’s only women, who have nothing to say but so much time to say it, he implies, who can be bothered to use such long words. Men, who are too busy with manly pursuits like shooting animals, chopping wood and wanking, simply don’t have the time.
The Old man in the Sea is a triumph of this style, though. It’s such a slight book in terms of plot that if it were any longer it would be interminable. It seems odd to allow a book to be described as a masterpiece only because it’s so short that it never becomes boring, but short books are an enterprise of which I am massively in favour. Only unspeakable arrogant writers, like Victor Hugo and J.K.Rowling believe that their vision is so important it needs to be told at length. The most humble, and therefore best, writer is Eric Carle who’s masterpiece The Very Hungry Caterpillar said all that it needed to in about 12 pages.
And, really, does the Very Hungry Caterpillar, if you really think about it, say anything less than The Old Man in the Sea? It’s a similar story of ambition, hunger and rebirth. There’s a religious allegory in both. There’s a discussion of masculinity, though you need to look quite deep to find this in TVHC, whose gender is never actually revealed. The brevity of both is to their aid, never expanding on their themes to the point where they rule some out; they leave open a wealth of interpretation that would otherwise not exist. This in mind, I’ve decided to cut this article shorter than originally planned. True quality is not found in length, at least that’s what I always say, anyway.
In this week’s episode the Idiots discuss Paulo Coelho’s 1988 novel “The Alchemist”, figure out which is the best House Robot on “Robot Wars”, uncover the underlying racial themes in the movie “Predator” and discover that this book isn’t all that forthcoming on how to actually turn base metals into gold.
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